A match between London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea is always a big deal, but in September 2021, they definitely gave us one to remember – the world’s first net-zero carbon major football match.
Dubbed Game Zero, the match was a collaboration between Spurs, the joint-greenest club in the Premier League, and Sky, ahead of the Cop26 conference late last year. The idea was to raise awareness of how climate change impacts football and highlight the easy lifestyle changes clubs, players and fans can make to help tackle it. To achieve net-zero, Tottenham and Sky focused on minimising emissions caused by matchday activity and offset any that couldn't be reduced by supporting the restoration of 'carbon sinks', which remove emissions from the atmosphere.
Activists have been warning world leaders about climate catastrophe for decades and the wide-reaching impact it will have on every community across the globe. It’s an issue that football can’t ignore. According to Sky’s Game Zero case study, more than 5,000 people will be displaced from their homes due to climate-related disasters such as storms and floods in the time it takes to play a football match. The report also states the world loses the equivalent of one football pitch of tree cover every second. That means 5,400 football pitches of tree cover are lost in the time it takes to play one 90-minute game, which significantly reduces the size of forests that help to soak up our carbon dioxide emissions.
While full climate catastrophe could take decades, environmental changes are already impacting the game. Bad weather caused by climate change has resulted in fixture cancellations and damaged pitches. The financial impact can be huge, especially in grassroots football, and the rearrangement of games causes fixture congestion, which impacts the wellbeing of players. Sky’s report also warns that a quarter of English league football grounds are at risk from flooding over the next three decades, including Chelsea's Stamford Bridge, West Ham’s Olympic Stadium, Southampton’s St Mary's and Norwich’s Carrow Road. By 2050, both Hull City and Cardiff City’s grounds could be entirely underwater.
But there is some hope. Game Zero proved that clubs can reduce and offset the carbon emissions caused by a professional football match fairly easily. In addition to playing at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is 100% powered by renewable electricity and uses efficient LED bulbs instead of high energy floodlights, players arrived on coaches powered by green biodiesel and all food served inside the stadium was locally and sustainably sourced.
Game Zero was a great example of what clubs could achieve, but in the EFL, there’s another club creating a blueprint for clubs who want to be greener. League Two Forest Green Rovers are the first football club to be certified carbon neutral under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Owned by Ecotricity founder Dale Vince, FIFA crowned the Rovers the greenest football club in the world in 2017 because of their unwavering commitment to sustainability at every level. The fully vegan club has an award-winning menu certified by The Vegan Society and prioritises a variety of eco-friendly behaviours that show how simple it can be for football clubs to combat climate change.
The club are powered by 100% green energy, some of which they create using solar panels on the roof of their stadium and a solar tracker at the ground entrance. Their pitches are free from pesticides and weed killers and maintained with a solar-powered lawnmower and collected rainwater irrigation. Forest also encourage fans to travel sustainably for matches and provide electric car charge points at their New Lawn stadium. In February 2021, they even experimented with a porotype kit made from waste coffee grounds and recycled plastics after debuting the world's first bamboo football kit in 2019.
After reducing their carbon footprint by 30% between the 2017/18 and 18/19 seasons, they're now focusing on building Eco Park – a 5000 capacity wooden stadium designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. Set to be the greenest football stadium in the world, Eco Park will also be surrounded by parkland containing 500 trees and 1.8km of hedgerows, which will help reduce emissions.
In his Big Team Talk with the BBC in November 2021, Dale Vince said, “We’re all passionate about sport, let’s get passionate about the environment because actually, it's a little bit more important than the sport we follow. This is where we live. This life support system on earth is all we have, and we can’t enjoy sport without it.”
Earlier this year, BBC Sport ranked Premier League clubs on their green credentials. However, while many clubs have adopted innovative policies to reduce emissions, we can still do more. So this Earth Day, let us commit to sustainability as fans, players, clubs and stakeholders to protect the future of the game we love.