Football is certainly the world’s most popular sport, with the power to bring together over 4 billion fans through the unpredictability and artistry of the matches. To leverage off this influence, the United Nations Climate Change have urged football clubs to promote and follow the principles of sustainability at their stadiums as part of its overarching climate change goals.

With a Festival of Football taking place at the moment in Europe and the Americas, this two-part series looks at some of the most popular football clubs in the UK and the various sustainability programmes that they have initiated. We then explore the various waste management strategies that football clubs can implement to expedite their own sustainability goals, and set the tone for changing the mindsets and behavior of their legions of fans worldwide.

Forest Green Rovers l The World’s Most Sustainable Football Club

As their name suggests, the Forest Green Rovers are “world’s greenest football club” and are FIFA approved as such. The club competes in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, but it is in a sustainability league of its own. Its powered by 100% green energy installed by official club sponsor Ecotricity, with some derived from the solar panels installed on its stadium roof and solar trackers fitted at the entrance of the grounds. Electric Vehicle (EV) charge points located at the stadium encourage sustainable travel to the stadium.

The pitch is organic, free from pesticides and weed killers, and even mowed by electric mowers (Figure 1), that are charged by solar power. Further, it is irrigated using captured rain water harvested from the stadium roof. The club is certified 100% vegan, including all staff and players, as well as offering plant-based burgers and other snacks to satisfy half-time hunger pangs. Forest Green Rovers are currently trialing a kit made from coffee bean waste, and have plans to build an Eco Park, tipped to be the greenest football stadium in the world.

Forest Green Rovers

                                                                                                                        Figure 1: The Solar Powered Robot Mower at Green Forest Rovers

Premier League Sustainability Table

BBC Sport and the United Nations-backed Sport Positive Summit first published the Premier League Sustainability Table in 2019. The rankings have since been updated along with the criteria and methodology, and involves teams providing evidence of efforts in all eight categories below (Figure 2).  Bonus points are awarded to teams who have made concerted efforts in using their influence to drive changed behavior in their fans and the public towards sustainability and environmental awareness.

Premier League Sustainability Table and Criteria

                                                                                                Figure 2: Premier League Sustainability Table and Criteria

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club

Finishing at the top of the 2020 Premier League Sustainability Table, Tottenham Hotspur were the only club to achieve maximum points, won through their tracking of fan’s travel methods to matches and more importantly, working actively to engage and encourage fans towards positive environmental behavior and public buy-in to tackle climate change. This led to the club’s partnership in the development of Count Us In, a global movement aiming to “mobilise 1 billion people to act on climate change”. In support, bike racks have been installed around the stadium to encourage sustainable travel to matches.

To offset its carbon footprint, the club has planted 300 new and semi-mature trees and thousands of new plants across its training center. VivoPower, the clubs official battery technology partner, is exploring solutions that will see the club moving towards Net Zero carbon.

In addition, the club has:

  • Minimised water consumption across the stadium with waterless urinals and low-flow fittings and fixtures.
  • Rain water is captured and harvested through a green roof of Sedum perennials planted across strategic areas of the main building at the Hotspur Way Training Centre.
  • The green roofs also work to complement the club’s energy efficiency plans to reduce heating and energy use of its buildings (Figure 3).
  • Has a full site-waste management plan for its training center, and has implemented sorting at source protocols at the stadium with a two-bin system for General Waste and Dry Mixed Recycling. In addition, the use of single-use plastics such as plastic straws and cutlery are being phased out.
  • Encouraged food outlets to include vegetarian and vegan options in their menus and are encouraged to source its produce locally and from sustainable sources.

Tottenham Hotspur Training Grounds

                                                                                                                       Figure 3: The Green Roof at the Hotspur Way Training Centre

Arsenal Football Club

Arsenal F.C was the first Premier League Club to sign up to the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework, supporting the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Coming in second on the Premier League sustainability log, the club has also reported on the following initiatives:

Sustainability Arsenal Football Club

                                                                                                     Figure 4: Sustainability Initiatives at Arsenal Football Club

Manchester United Football Club

Tied in at second place with Arsenal and Brighton (Figure 2) on the Premier League Sustainability Table, Manchester United started its environmental journey in 2000 and now boasts many eco-standards, including: Carbon Reduction Commitment 2011; ISO14001 for Environmental Management System; the Carbon Trust Standard for Energy Efficiency and Carbon reduction; ISO20121 for Event Sustainability Management; and the Green Tourism Business Scheme- the gold standard for environmental best practice.   

The club actively manages the biodiversity of the Carrington Nature Reserve, near its training center, and uses it as an educational tool to promote environmental awareness and responsibility. Rainwater at Old Trafford is harvested and used for pitch irrigation and maintenance (Figure 5).

Over the past few years, Manchester United launched two main environmental awareness initiatives:

  • The ‘Reds Go Green’ campaign focused on waste efficiency and recycling, and was promoted by the education team at the Manchester United Museum. This filtered into a number of local schools, delivering lessons on sustainability, waste management and recycling.
  • ‘United to Switch Off and Save’ promoted energy efficiency amongst staff members through energy champions and promoting efficient energy practices at the stadium and training center.

Procurement staff are trained to seek local, regional and UK suppliers of goods and services, and promote sustainable procurement practices and ensure the delivery of the company health and safety, environmental and energy policies.

Reds Go Green Manchester United

                                                                                      Figure 5: The Manchester United Museum and Old Trafford Stadium

Liverpool Football Club

Winning the 5th spot of the Premier League Sustainability Table, Liverpool Football Club are also signatories of the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework.  With millions of fans across the world, Liverpool FC, have actively used its influence to drive awareness on climate change, the impacts of waste, water and biodiversity conservation under its Our Planet programme (Figure 6).

Sustainability initiatives Liverpool Football Club

                                                                                                    Figure 6: Sustainability Initiatives at Liverpool Football Club

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the UK football fraternity in particular, have taken active steps in ensuring their sustainability initiatives do not sway offside. Big brands, especially football clubs, have moved away from just paying lip service to environmental matters, and are using their influence to drive positive changes at their respective stadiums and training grounds, and promote a sustainable way of life to their fans.

Up next, Part 2: Guidelines for efficient and effective waste management strategies at football clubs.

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Don’t Waste provides industry leading business intelligence, site management, and waste management services to Property, Retail, Commercial, Industrial and Hospitality industries. Our customers include the world’s leading property management groups. Event Venues, Stadia and Sports Clubs produce significant amounts of Waste and can benefit from the System. To find out more about our innovative value-added systems and services in onsite waste operations, contact:

Linus Naik- Group Manager: Sustainability & Business Development (Email: linus@dontwastegroup.com I Mobile: +27 82 552 0675).

Michael Foreman- Managing Director UK (Email: michael@dontwastegroup.com I Mobile: +44 7939 027193).

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