Protecting our planet: Professional clubs
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How can sport be part of the solution? Part three of this series takes an up close look at professional sports clubs that are leading the charge for climate action.

All organised sports involve sports clubs. Due to the diverse characteristics between them, it is hard to clearly define what a sport club is. Nevertheless, they represent perhaps the most widespread structure in sports participation, from professional to grassroots clubs. So how can sustainable practices be integrated into professional sports clubs to set an example for the rest? 

Paving the way for sustainable clubs is a football club currently playing in England’s Football League Two, who FIFA have termed “the greenest football club in the world”: Forest Green Rovers. In 2010, facing financial difficulties, the club teamed up with the founder of Ecotricity, a green energy company, and began its revolution towards sustainability. Here’s how they earnt the title of “greenest football club”:

  • The entire club is powered by renewable green energy, some of which comes directly from solar panels on the roof of the home stadium stands
  • The grass pitch is organic and watered with collected rainwater. The grass is also cut with a solar-powered electric “mow-bot” 
  • There are charging points in the stadium parking lot for fans to charge their electric vehicles 
  • Forest Green Rovers is the first ever completely vegan football club, offering fresh, plant-based food to all fans, staff and players (plus their on-site pub, the Green Man, serves local vegan beer and wine)

Forest Green Rovers was the first club in the world to be certified as carbon neutral by the United Nations, thanks to its efforts to bring environmental consciousness to the forefront of the club. 

Of course, there are other examples of sports clubs making strides in sustainability popping up around the world, including:

  • The Portland Trailblazers (an NBA basketball team) partnered with numerous organisations to increase the energy efficiency of its venue, donate leftover food and plant three trees for every three-pointer scored in the season. The club also went beyond its own operations to engage fans in the “Live Greener Challenge”, which saw over 1,000 fans register and monitor their progress in reducing their own environmental impact in areas such as reducing water consumption, avoiding single-use plastics, reducing meat consumption and travelling by public transport via the custom designed platform EcoChallenge.org
  • VFL Wolfsburg (a football team in the Bundesliga) prioritises using resources efficiently. This includes using 100% green energy, having motion sensors for lighting in the stadium, using recycled paper, watering the pitch with greywater from a nearby river, eliminating plastic bags from the shop and starting an upcycling collection programme for old replica kits
  • The New York Yankees (a Major League Baseball team) was the first major North American sports team to sign the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. The team has honoured the framework by installing energy efficient LED lighting in Yankee Stadium, offsetting all unavoidable emissions, encouraging fans and employees to travel by public transport (there are no parking spaces at the stadium), composting and recycling, recovering cooking oil to be reproduced as biodiesel fuel and having efficient plumbing to conserve water 

These clubs, among others, are setting the scene for sustainability to become engrained in sporting culture through their own initiatives, which is no small thing when talking about professional sports clubs. But what happens when it isn’t one club and its home stadium, but a sports mega-event attracting multiple teams and supporters from all over the world, with multiple venues? Find out in part four of our “Protecting the planet” series, which will be published in two weeks.