English football league launches environmental sustainability scheme

England's second tier league EFL will launch a league-wide sustainability scheme affecting all 72 of its members. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER

The English football league (EFL) announced Monday (11 October) that it would join forces with the environmental accreditation scheme GreenCode to make the second-highest league in England more sustainable.

The EFL boasts 72 members, 69 in England and 3 in Wales, and its highest division is right below the Premier League. The EFL’s new scheme is called “EFL Green Clubs” and would support members in improving their environmental practices and operations.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing mankind today,” said EFL CEO Trevor Birch at the unveiling of the plans. “It is vitally important that the EFL and its clubs take steps to improve and minimise our environmental impact,” he added.

EFL Green Clubs is meant to share the expertise accrued by the world’s first carbon-neutral football club: the Forest Green Rovers. The club’s chairman Dale Vince happens to be the CEO of consulting firm GreenCode, the EFL’s partner in devising and implementing the scheme.

The Forest Green Rovers became the world’s first UN certified carbon-neutral football club in 2018 after chairman Dale Vince had implemented policies such as banning players from eating red meat in 2010.

“Forest Green Rovers have rightly been recognised by the UN and FIFA as pioneers of the green football club and it is fantastic to see their pioneering ways now being adopted right across the league,” said Nigel Huddleston, sports minister.

According to a press release by the EFL, the scheme will include an accreditation scheme that will benchmark clubs’ environmental rating, provide bespoke guidance and practical advice to help clubs implement change and recognise those that excel in this area.

It will also see the EFL provide funding to enable any club to access the scheme. The EFL as an organisation will also be undertaking a GreenCode assessment to help improve its environmental practice.

“A number of our Clubs are already taking practical steps to become more sustainable…we hope EFL Green Clubs will provide an opportunity for every Club in our competition to continue, enhance or begin their journey to a more sustainable future,” said Birch.

Putting England in the spotlight

England is generally acknowledged as one of the leading countries for enhanced sustainability in football.

“In England, you have more groups coming together at different clubs, wanting to support the clubs in enhancing their environmental sustainability,” Antonia Hagemann, CEO of fan organisation SD Europe, told EURACTIV.

For England, enhancing environmental sustainability in its national sport may be an issue of national image as well.

“COP26 in Glasgow is now just around the corner, and the EFL Green Clubs initiative rightly puts football clubs front and centre of those sectors doing their bit for the planet,” added Huddleston.

Germany’s Bundesliga will vote on making sustainability criteria mandatory for licensing clubs in the country’s largest league, featuring clubs such as Bayern Munich, in December.

Should the vote go through, top league clubs in Germany may be required to dedicate significant resources to enhancing their sustainability as early as 2024.

German Bundesliga aims to introduce sustainability criteria for clubs

German football league association DFL aims to anchor sustainability in its licensing criteria by 2024. The 36 first and second class clubs are to take a vote in December whether the recommendations by the task-force “Future of Professional Football” should be included.

This makes the push by the EFL the second effort by a large league within a few months, as the desire to decarbonise football seems to grow amongst fans and football club board members.

Yet, there are doubts whether the successes in Germany and England can be replicated elsewhere. Football fans outside of Germany and the United Kingdom are comparatively less interested in environmental sustainability, for now, noted Hagemann.

“It’s still early days of environmental sustainability in football, very early days,” she added.

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