Lower league and smaller clubs will struggle financially with the push for net zero, so governing bodies will have to step in, writes Laura Lawrence.
The COP26 climate conference is in full flow and green credentials are becoming the major focus for businesses. With UK emissions set to net zero by 2050, it’s reaching a point where football clubs need to think ethically. The joke writes itself…
Tottenham Hotspur topped the Premier League chart for sustainability, according to a report released in January this year. They came top for clean energy and efficiency, sustainable transport, reduction of single use plastics, waste management, water efficiency, plant-based/low-carbon food, and communication and engagement.
They have some way to go before they catch up to Forest Green Rovers, but they are making every attempt to ensure they become a net zero football club. Spurs even played the first net zero professional game in September against Chelsea. Before you ask, no, it wasn’t powered by their managerial revolving door; although if they did utilise this feature it could power most of the South-East.
It helps that Spurs have a new £1bn stadium where these greener capabilities were factored into the build. Aston Villa, who came bottom of the league in terms of sustainability, has a stadium that is a product of the Victorian age. Retrofitting this stadium to survive in the Green Age will be as tricky as overhauling other Victorian feats of engineering like the railways and sewage systems. It will be difficult and costly.
The BBC recently gave advice to football fans about becoming sustainable supporters. Travel by public transport. Don’t buy kits every year because fast fashion accounts for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Go paperless and don’t buy a programme. Choose meat and dairy free options for your half-time feast.
For supporters there is obvious convenience to travelling by car, especially when fixtures are constantly rearranged for TV schedules at inconvenient times. What about not buying kits and programmes? Smaller clubs in the league must take a deep inhale of oxygen at that suggestion. Extra trees required for the exhale. Loss of revenue and costs to update their antiquated equipment will worry clubs who are already on the brink after the pandemic.
These aims are achievable, but like advising people to change their home heating to ground heat sources, or to buy electric rather than fossil-fuelled vehicles, the risk is penalising people and clubs who can’t afford it.
Whenever news channels interview a sustainable family, they are always achingly middle class. People who have the time and means to consider their environmental impact – much like Spurs investing their TV millions. For working-class people they want to know they can get to their jobs, earn enough money to buy food without the organic price tag, and hopefully be able to afford their leisure activities.
Fans and lower league clubs will need support in order to make these changes. We all want to save our planet from a climate disaster, but the topic does fall down the agenda when it takes all you have to stay afloat.
If the football industry is to lessen its impact on the planet, clubs need help from their governing bodies to achieve this, including grants and subsides. Much like the general population will need help from its government to pay for the everyday environmental changes we will need to make.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR