The science shows us that the world must reach net zero before 2050, in order to avoid a climate disaster.
Urgent action is required to tackle climate change and decarbonise. Football clubs, at all levels, have an important role to play.
This guide explains how football clubs can become net zero.
Net zero means:
For an organisation, this applies to the emissions caused by everything it does, everything it buys and everything it sells.
Net zero is an ambitious challenge, but it is essential: the world must reach net zero before 2050 in order to avoid a climate disaster.
Climate neutral is an alternative term which means the same as net zero.
Carbon neutral tends to mean slightly different. It can be simpler to achieve, by purchasing carbon credits before carbon emissions have actually been reduced. It is an important marker of progress, but the goal is net zero.
Greenhouse gas, carbon and carbon dioxide are often used interchangeably to mean any emissions that cause climate change, even though carbon dioxide is just 1 of 6 different greenhouse gases.
Forest Green Rovers were the first football club to commit to achieving net zero.
A handful of clubs including Juventus, VfL Wolfsburg and Hibernian have since made the same commitment, and in November 2020, Arsenal became the first Premier League club to sign up. Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton have all now added their signatures.
Any football club can commit to net zero by signing the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.
The UN Sports for Climate Action Framework was established in recognition of the role that sport can play to combat climate change.
It invites sports organisations to voluntarily sign-up to the framework, take climate action and get on track for net zero 2050.
It sets out 5 principles for signatories to commit to:
The goal to achieve net zero globally was first established through the 2015 Paris Agreement. The EU has agreed to the net zero target and in 2019, the UK government made a legally-binding commitment to net zero.
Leading organisations are also rapidly embracing the transition to net zero, in recognition of the positive role they can play and the business benefits it can deliver.
The Business Ambition for 1.5°C programme calls on business leaders to set net zero targets which are in line with the latest climate science.
Football clubs should first sign and submit a letter of commitment to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.
The invitation is open to all clubs, even those at the very beginning of their sustainability journeys, and is a perfect way to initiate momentum.
Once committed, clubs should tell the world. The support of partners, suppliers, colleagues and fans will be integral to success.
It is important for a club to understand which of its activities cause carbon emissions, and how much. Emissions are categorised into 3 groups.
By collecting the data, understanding the full picture and establishing a baseline, it becomes clear where the opportunities to eliminate carbon are.
A roadmap to net zero is the plan that shows how a club will progress from it’s starting point, the current carbon footprint, to the end goal of net zero carbon.
This plan, or roadmap, will firstly consist of carbon reduction projects.
It is a good idea to start with what you can most easily control, such as energy used in stadiums and facilities, vehicles, and other equipment that uses petrol or diesel (Scope 1 & 2 emissions).
Prioritise the actions that will deliver the most significant carbon reductions. It can be helpful to scope projects using the “eliminate, reduce, substitute” hierarchy.
The value chain is complex and a club’s understanding of its Scope 3 emissions is likely to improve and evolve over the course of the decarbonisation journey.
There is no standard definition of what a club’s Scope 3 emissions should include. It is important to find the right balance between level of influence, scale of emissions and what stakeholders might expect to find included.
Initially seek to address emissions in business travel and commuting, water consumption and waste generated.
Beyond this, supplier engagement is essential. Explore opportunities to collaborate with suppliers and challenge them to come up with solutions that will deliver the most significant carbon reductions.
Once reduction opportunities are planned, the extent of carbon removals required to reach ‘net zero’ can be understood. Removals should only be used to offset remaining emissions, where no viable decarbonisation options exist.
Carbon removals can be achieved by investing in high-quality projects delivered by others, known as carbon credits, or directly delivering projects which increase the quantity of carbon locked into the ground.
The science is clear: climate change is happening, and human activities are the main cause. A warming planet causes climate patterns to change, making extreme weather events more common and more dangerous.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report showing that global temperature increase must be limited to 1.5°C, if we are to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.
Global average temperature has already increased by more than 1°C. Achieving the 1.5°C target means global emissions must reach net-zero by 2050, at the very latest.
The climate emergency is a concept that highlights this stark choice that confronts us: take climate action now, or risk the most disastrous impacts of climate change.
It is not difficult to imagine how increasingly extreme weather events could disrupt football, from elite levels through to grassroots.
Unbearable heat waves will put players and supporters at risk, while violent storms and rising sea-levels will lead to increasing postponements and cancellations
Carlisle United’s home ground Brunton Park was caught up in the extensive flooding caused by Storm Desmond in 2015. It was almost two months later before football could return to the stadium, and club staff were forced to work in temporary portacabins for nine months.
In Playing Against the Clock, it is shown that almost 1 in 4 men’s league teams in England “can expect total or partial flooding in their stadiums by 2050.”
While the total carbon footprint of football is not known, it is undoubtedly significant.
Think about the carbon impact of:
In 2014, Brazilian club Fluminese quantified and published their greenhouse gas emissions, giving an insight into the carbon footprint of an individual football club.
A commitment to net zero demonstrates that an organisation, or football club, is aware of the environmental and social challenges the world faces and recognises that it has a role to play.
It generates a sense of purpose that inspires colleagues and customers, both present and future, to feel part of something meaningful.
It also sparks innovation, presents new opportunities and prepares the business to thrive in a low carbon future.