Sustainability in football: What can we do better?

Forest Green Rovers © Urban Pitch

I think that 2022 is going to be a massive year for sustainability in football. In fact, it has to be. Building on from the spotlight that COP26 placed on the need to take climate action, football must use its reach to become a leader in the field.

One of the stories that showed football taking sustainability seriously was Brentford FC’s decision to stick with the same home kit for two seasons. This action caught my eye because in their first ever season in the Premier League, and first in the English top flight since the 1946–7 season, there was an opportunity to generate extra revenue by launching more merchandise. Instead, the club along with their kit maker prioritised sustainability, saving their fans money in the process. This move is a break from the current culture amongst premier clubs which sees a new home, away and third kit (as well as multiple training kits) launched each season. Although other clubs have started making kits with sustainable materials like recycled plastic bottles, Brentford’s move stands out as an effort to move the sport beyond a culture of disposable fashion and prioritising profit making that has a negative impact on the environment.

Sky’s #GameZero between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea was another step in the right direction as the world’s first carbon net zero major world football match. This effort to reduce matchday emissions was a great example of top footballing institutions throwing their weight behind the sustainability agenda. The conversation has been bubbling and there have been examples of many in football raising awareness on sustainability but 2022 must be about this movement breaking out of a bubble and into the mainstream.

Forest Green Rovers are perhaps the most well-known example of the action that has already been taken in football and the club have been able to punch well above their weight in terms of advertising and profile due to the popularity of their sustainable mission. Norwegian club FK Bodo/Glimt have also incorporated sustainability into their club’s strategy by adopting the Action Now programme based on the UN’s political goals for sustainable development. We also have figures like Morten Thorsby, the Norwegian Serie A midfielder, who has set up the We Play Green initiative to boost climate engagement in the broader football community. FC St. Pauli in Germany showed more potential for growth in sustainability in football by taking responsibility for their own in-house kit manufacturing to ensure the production process is truly sustainable.

With these examples it is evident that there is a link but there is still a disconnect from people who view football and sustainability as two different things. If you look at Formula 1 the sport has adopted a clear path to tackle its issues with carbon emissions and has made sustainability a central goal. Lewis Hamilton, the leading character in the entire sport, has spoken out about being an environmentalist, a vegan and reducing his carbon footprint. 2022 could be a year for football to do the same. With the Qatar World Cup there is a platform for leading players to step up and push our understanding of sustainability and the sport.

When football makes a stand, it has incredible power to generate behaviour change. Nothing connects people in this world better than football, it is a global language that billions understand and feel passionate about. But why should football take sustainability seriously?

Katie Cross, founder of Pledgeball, an organisation that rallies football fans to tackle climate change, explains that at the most basic level football needs to secure its own survival: it has been well publicised that by 2050 several professional clubs in the UK will be threatened by regular flooding that will shut the matchday experience down and climate risk is also a necessary consideration in relation to clubs’ financial sustainability.

Short video made by HeyBigMan! to promote Pledgeball’s #cop26 activities

At HeyBigMan! we are taking sustainability seriously. We are really excited to be joining up with Pledgeball and starting the journey to improve ourselves and our other football (or non football-related) clients. We are looking into actions we can take as an organisation and how we can participate in initiatives like creating more sustainable jerseys to make 2022 a year that mainstreams sustainability in football.

If you have been through a similar process with your organisation/clients and have recommendations on how to make the football industry more sustainable I would like to hear your thoughts. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.

This article was written in collaboration with Carlos Kassman and Katie Cross at Pledgeball.




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