Becoming the first Chief Sustainability Officer in football

When I first reached out to Hanwell Town FC, to talk about sustainability amid Covid chaos, I had no idea what to expect.

I became aware of the club while researching the area for a possible house move. Having spent the last few months in conversation with various Premier League clubs about sustainability, I decided to give them a call.

Immediately, I knew this was a project with potential. Nigel Hunt, CEO, was open to new ideas, motivated by improvement and well aware of the social and environmental role of football.

Since joining the club around 5 years ago, Nigel has overseen something of a transformation at the Powerday Stadium.

Experiencing first-hand how climate extremes in summer and winter can disrupt fixtures, Hanwell upgraded their pitch in 2018, improving the drainage and irrigation system to Premier League standard.

Then in 2019, the club unveiled renovated changing rooms for players and officials, with separate player booths in the hugely spacious home facility.

Had EURO 2020 gone ahead, their ground could have welcomed the superstars of the English, French or Spanish men’s national teams, as a training base for semi-finalists playing at nearby Wembley.

This is a club which is proudly part of the local community. Posters around the supporters’ viewing platform remind fans of the club’s family friendly values. The clubhouse doubles up as a children’s nursery. The club has the largest youth set-up in the London Borough of Ealing, and it’s 25 teams ranging from U7s to U18s provide a footballing opportunity for local youngsters, including those dropping out of professional academies.

As I was agreeing plans with Nigel to move our project forward, Hanwell were also gaining hundreds of new followers on social media. ‘The Geordies’, so called because they were founded in 1920 by railway workers from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, were enjoying an extended run in the ‘FA Cup of non-league club nicknames’ with the support of Newcastle United’s fanbase.

Everything seemed exciting and upbeat, even though there was no sign of any actual football being played. Sustainability represented an opportunity to make yet more progress. Nigel was already looking at options to upgrade the energy intensive floodlights, address the lack of recycling and improve facilities for cyclists.

I introduced the idea of Hanwell Town FC signing up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. This is a voluntary framework which invites sports organisations to commit to climate action, though only a handful of clubs, including Forest Green Rovers, Juventus and Hibernian, have made the pledge. With Arsenal having signed up at the end of 2020, Hanwell Town would become only the second club in London to do so.

Alongside this, we agreed I’d join the club in the newly created role of Chief Sustainability Officer in order to deliver the pledge. We believe this to be the first CSO role in world football and representative of a clear commitment to climate action.

Both actions should help to further raise the profile of Hanwell Town, draw attention to the general lack of sustainability leadership across football and show that all clubs, regardless of size and stature, can play an important role in combating climate change.

I’m proud that Hanwell Town FC have dared to lead, and I’m excited about what lies ahead!

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