Fifteen million fans attend UK Premier League football matches every year generating 20 million car journeys while UK teams travel over 300,000 miles by air to play overseas matches. It all adds up to vast amount of energy use and thousands of tons of carbon released into the atmosphere. And that doesn’t include the carbon footprint of millions of fans watching football on TV at home.
News reports that highlighted carbon emissions of UK football clubs revealed that top clubs playing at European matches produce over 165,000 lbs of Co2 during their travels. As the number of matches and resulting travel increases, what is the Premier League doing to reduce its carbon footprint and create a sustainable sporting future?
“The Premier League recognises the need to take action on climate change and is committed to reducing its overall climate impact,” says Harry Simmons at the Premier League. “In November 2021, the League joined forces with other leading sports organisations by signing up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. This includes aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.
“The Premier League is developing an environmental sustainability strategy which will set out plans to deliver climate action and address other priority issues including biodiversity and managing resources sustainably. As part of this strategy the League will continue to engage with and work alongside clubs and broadcast partners to find practical ways of reducing football’s environmental impact. We will also encourage fans throughout the world to consider how they can contribute to this action and reduce their own carbon footprint.
“Clubs have demonstrated their commitment to positive change in this area and continue to play an important role in raising awareness of the issue among fans, while also working on policies to improve their environmental sustainability across their business operations. This includes improvements around the use of renewable energy, sustainable transport options, provision of plant-based foods, reduction of single use plastics, saving water, biodiversity conservation efforts and more. The League continues to work with host broadcast partners such as Sky to ensure all match coverage is Albert certified, working together for a more sustainable future.”
The Premier League has signed up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework which brings together sports organisations from all over the world to achieve climate change goals. The Premier League organisation aims to reduce 50 per cent of its own emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, in line with the 1.5ºC global warming limit of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
In becoming a signatory to the Framework, the Premier League says it will continue and expand its work on environmental sustainability and will support and implement five climate action principles: undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility; reduce overall climate impact; educate for climate action; promote sustainable and responsible consumption and advocate for climate action through communication.
“In signing up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, the Premier League is demonstrating its commitment to a more sustainable future,” said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters. “Working alongside the UN and other leading sports organisations, we aim to help achieve the targets set by the Paris Climate Change Agreement for a low carbon future.
“Like all sports, football has the power to unite people and we hope that through our work and public commitment to climate change goals, we will also encourage football fans around the world to consider how they can reduce their own carbon footprint.”
The Premier League says development of its environmental sustainability strategy is ongoing and will outline central business plans to reduce its own impact and to engage with other stakeholders to achieve the principles outlined in the Framework.
The League says it will also continue to work alongside clubs to look at ways to reduce environmental impact and will encourage fans and their communities to support this action, inspiring long-lasting behavioural change.
A match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in September 2021 claimed to be the world’s first net zero carbon major football match.
For the match to be net zero, broadcaster Sky and Tottenham Hotspur worked to minimise emissions from match day activity such as energy used to power the game, travel to and from the stadium for both fans and clubs, and dietary choices at the stadium.
For any emissions that couldn’t be cut Sky worked with Natural Capital Partners to restore natural carbon sinks which remove emissions from the atmosphere by supporting reforestation in East Africa and creating new UK native woodlands to support the UK’s net zero objectives.
The world loses the equivalent of one football pitch of tree cover every second. By the time a football match ends the world will have lost around 5,400 football pitches of tree cover. This is important because forests are crucial to biodiversity and help soak up the carbon dioxide we all emit.