A Green Football Pitch?

Green BallHere are a few questions about professional football (or soccer to those in the USA) that have piqued my CSR interest recently and need answering.

29.9 million* people attended a professional game in the UK last season – That’s one hell of a carbon footprint. How big is it, who cares and what is being done?

• Football related media is now dominated by gambling, alcohol and fast food brands – Is it really the right image for its large impressionable younger audience?

• Financial sustainability – How has football dealt with the recession and the impact of the  influx of foreign ownership?

• Community projects – Football is quite aloof about its community programmes but is it just shallow PR or inefficient waste of money?

* Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance 2009


Let’s get one thing straight from the start, football is not by any stretch of the imagination the best training ground for great business leaders with vision. As soon as you walk into the entrance of any football facility the ‘mist’ descends. It has improved, but football is still awash with tribalism and an over abundance of testosterone effecting decisions. Football has the power to attract even the sanest people into roles that frequently churn up employees and spit them out onto the surreal merry-go-round within the industry. Ever seen a job advertised for a football club? Elvis gets spotted more.

I’ll get through each of the questions over a couple of posts throughout the season and keep one eye on any potential influence coming from the World Cup 2010 in South Africa and the London Olympics 2012.


Let’s start with the biggest picture…

Climate change and football – nope, you’ve probably never heard that combination of words before or will anytime soon. Considering the industry’s global impact and size of audience that scares and saddens me. Environmental issues only rarely make it onto the team sheet. Here are a few direct significant aspects that football collectively needs to immediately deliver improvements on:

• 29.9 million journeys to and from stadia, with many by car. Clubs don’t care how fans get there, just how they spend their cash when they do.

• Millions of pies warmed, beers chilled and match-day programmes & tickets printed, plus undersoil heating and floodlights all burning fuel.

• Millions of litres of water required for a 92 stadium pitches in addition to hundreds of acres of training and Academy facilities.

• 29.9 million people all flushing a toilet (but not at the same time – although sometimes the queues suggest otherwise).

• Thousands of tonnes of beer bottles, pie trays, soft drink cans, waste food, used tickets and merchandise wrapping mostly sent to landfill.

…and that is without considering the impact of suppliers and contractors, local authorities, Police, and hundreds of match day staff.


The biggest problem for the environment from football is that nobody is taking responsibility. The Clubs themselves should but I’ve already touched on the lack of foresight at most managerial (of administration not playing staff) levels. To avoid getting a yellow card here, I have to say that some clubs have taken their first steps, but not many at all, and not far enough. You’re lucky to unearth a basic environmental policy, so don’t bother looking for ISO 14001. Clubs only care about the traditional revenue streams not the ones with water in them.

It isn’t high on the strategy radar of the governing bodies either, and it can get quite confusing who does what (or would like to) out of the Premier League, Football Association, Professional Footballers Association, Football League and other peripheral organisations. As footballs largest single financier, SKY TV does proclaim carbon neutrality, so maybe they should give the clubs a half time roasting in the changing room. I’d pay to watch that in HD.

Business in the Community tried to influence the sporting world with their ‘Clubs That Count’ programme, which I advised on during the early stages but alas, that sadly fizzled out after only a couple of years due to a lack of interest from the clubs. I was always keen on a community / environment / ethical league competition but the rest of the clubs didn’t want to be on the bottom of any table!

Somebody needs to grab those running the game by the scruff of the neck and enforce improvement across all environmental areas. Football is mistaken to think that by doing, in real terms, a mediocre job of community engagement (which could be so much more inclusive and effective) it can offset their other responsibilities.

There is no extra-time for the enviroment, only penalties.

6 thoughts on “A Green Football Pitch?

  1. Andrea

    Awesome article. My 7-year old son is a self-proclaimed eco-warrior and football nut. We can’t wait for his generation to change this situation, though. The biggest impact on organisational impetus to go green seems to be consumer pressure so if fans become aware of the carbon footprint at times other than when their own ‘mist’ descends at a game, an impact could be made sooner rather than later. You’ve just made a great first step.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Andrea

      Glad you liked it! The flaw in that plan is that most football fans don’t really care, sad but real life. The pressure has to come from legislation through the governing bodies and from those corporates involved with the industry who know better!
      The power of sport is an over-used cliche, and it can also have a negative connotation such as in this case by clouding logic and reason. With vision the football industry could tap into such global issues with a penetration no other group could ever achieve. Maybe your son will be a part of that!



  2. Donna Laframboise

    If folks weren’t driving to the football stadium, they’d likely be driving someone else – say the mall or the movie theatre. If they weren’t flushing the toilet at the football stadium, they’d be flushing it somewhere else. Wouldn’t they?

    As for your comment that: “Somebody needs to grab those running the game by the scruff of the neck and enforce improvement across all environmental areas.” Who would that somebody be?

    Are you arguing for more laws and more government bureaucrats? Whatever happened to the idea that, if you don’t succeed in persuading folks of your point-of-view you try again and again – rather than looking for an authority figure to take your side? Maybe the manner in which the football clubs were approached could be improved. Where did this idea come from that, if people don’t behave how we think they should then the answer is to FORCE them to?


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Donna

      1. Public transport in the UK has improved vastly over recent years and can easily provide an alternative to people clogging up roads not designed for such volumes of traffic, especially around inner city stadia. So no, they don’t have to drive. Ideally they should take responsibility for their own transport and attempt to break away from the convenience culture that is damaging far more than just our climate. The clubs pass on almost all of this responsibility to local authorities and do very little beyond the geographical boundary of their stadia.
      2. They may be flushing toilets elsewhere but sheer economies of scale could allow for impressive savings of both water and money- its common sense.
      3. I’d grab them if my hands were big enough.
      4. Yes, the clubs should do more as individuals, and a couple are, but if voluntary commitment is failing then action should be stepped up. I am more concerned about the lack of leadership from the governing bodies both UK and globally. There appears to be a historical focus on whay the industry defines as ‘community’ and little action elsewhere, especially environmental. You cannot offset your responsibilities.
      5. Do you really believe that governments should allow people to do whatever regardless of the consequences? I’m all for persuasion and incentives but this isn’t always the complete solution. Sometimes people do need to be given little choice, especially if they have demonstrated scant regard for everybody else bar themselves. Authority figures have a role to play in society or would you prefer mob rule?

      The point of the post was to highlight an industry where many employees earn well over £25,000 a week and have a worldwide influence are not as wholesome as their marketing budgets would have people believe.



      1. Joanne Wotherspoon

        I think it’s unfortunate that we have to rely on legislation to save and preserve our environment; however, drastic times call for drastic measures. Some of us are so busy living in the moment that we don’t always take the time to think about how our actions are affecting the future. It’s shameful how some of the “big boys” treat the environment with little or no regard. My parents taught me a very important lesson. Take care of the earth and she will take care of you.


      2. davidcoethica Post author

        Hi Joanne.

        I can’t agree more. It is incredibly sad how most people are oblivious to their impact on our planet but that’s the price to be paid for our developed world’s convenience culture. We have been too disconnected from the natural resources we rely on for our survival, becoming blasé about our consumption.

        Legislation appears to more and more essential as both individuals and businesses constantly prove their inability to be voluntarily accountable.



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