On Tuesday, 23rd March, FSE hosted an event on ‘How football fans are tackling climate change: grassroots activities from across Europe’.

Our goal was to find out whether fans are concerned about sustainability, and if so, what they are doing to promote it.

The answers, it turns out, are yes and more than one might expect.

Over 40 participants from across Europe and even farther afield listened to Katie Cross from Pledgeball, Manuel Gaber from Zukunft Profifuβball, and Tristan Wooller from the Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association (HTSA) discuss fan-led efforts to make sure football meets its responsibilities when it comes to the environment.

Katie spoke first, outlining how Pledgeball encourages British fans to make “small, easy changes to their lifestyle” that, collectively, can have a positive impact on pollution and carbon emissions. To this end, fans can make pledges relating to specific clubs or fixtures, with a league table showing which group of fans has pledged to save the most kilograms of CO2e per year. Pledgeball has worked closely with non-league side Whitehawk F.C., but Katie mentioned they also have plans to team up with HTSA, whose own Sustainable Stadium Campaign was launched around 18 months ago.

Tristan explained that the campaign, which is backed by the local council and other community groups, aims to help raise awareness of pollution and climate issues, tackling both by making the John Smith’s Stadium more environmentally friendly. It has six core objectives, which Tristan described as practical, effective, and achievable:

  • Phase out single-use plastics in the stadium.
  • Improve the recycling capacity of the stadium.
  • Installation of water refill stations/and or access to free water.
  • Encourage stadium stakeholders to work with the caterers to redistribute food and other waste.
  • Improve and expand options for fans to travel to and from the stadium in a more environmentally friendly way.
  • Introduce energy efficiency measures.

Tristan stated that the campaign has had some early successes, including the creation of a multi-stakeholder working group. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a pause to the group’s meetings, and as Tristan opined, the stadium’s tripartite ownership structure has caused several unforeseen complications. Still, Tristan and HTSA are confident that further progress will be made next season.

Next up, Manuel detailed recent national policy proposals developed by German fan initiatives Unser Fuβball and Zukunft Profifuβball. Both have paid specific attention to ecological sustainability, calling for domestic football authorities to commit to:

  • Upholding the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set out by the Paris Agreement (through mandatory greenhouse gas accounting and disclosure, compensation for all non-avoidable emissions, etc.).
  • Developing additional binding standards for environmental management.
  • Creating new concepts for climate-friendly mobility on matchdays.

These pillars were submitted for consideration to the Deutsche Fußball Liga’s (DFL) Task Force on the ‘Future of Professional Football’. Although many of the task force’s recommendations ultimately fell short of fans’ expectations, Manuel pointed out that assurances from the DFL Executive Committee on sustainability were more encouraging:

“Binding principles regarding economic, ecological and social sustainability in German professional football are to be established centrally. As a first step, professional experts will be consulted in order to draw up a sustainability plan including environmental, social and governance criteria as potential future standards in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.”

Naturally, the three presentations provoked a lively and enlightening discussion, which touched upon a wide range of associated subjects, from the ways fans can lobby their clubs to the role and attitudes of commercial sponsors.

Reflecting on the event, host and FSE Board member Mark Doidge commented:

“As one of the first events to bring together European fans to discuss climate action, it was satisfying to learn that different groups in different countries are already taking important steps to make football more sustainable. Tonight demonstrated that there are countless fans who care about the environment and want to do something to bring about change. As always, we saw that fans can offer solutions to significant social problems that require collective endeavour.”  

The webinar was the first in a series of FSE events on football fans and climate change. We will publish details on the next event in the coming weeks.

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