German start-up leads sports clubs towards sustainability

Vanessa Nord believes that the time has come for sustainability in sports. [Vanessa Nord]

Vanessa Nord believes that a rethinking is underway in Germany’s professional sports. In 2019, the 28-year-old founded a company that supports clubs on their way to sustainability: ecologically, socially and economically. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Apparently, she struck a chord: Nord has already worked with FC Bayern Munich, the second German ice hockey league, and the German Boxing Association.

Soon more and more organisations will jump on the sustainability bandwagon, Nord is convinced. The topic will become more and more important in sports, and “those who have not yet understood it now, will have to understand it slowly,” she said in an interview with EURACTIV Germany.

Nord studied sports management and quickly gained a foothold in the German industry. Her last position was with the German Boxing Association, where she helped organise the Men’s World Championship in Hamburg in 2017.

Climate and environmental protection have always been concerns of hers. When she applied for state funding for major events, she asked herself: “We are handling German taxpayers’ money here, but what is left of it in Germany? What do we do for the next generation?”

New initiative hopes to get football clubs reporting their carbon footprint

As European football leagues began to resume play, the NGO Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) rolled out a new initiative to get more clubs thinking about their carbon footprint. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Sustainability becoming a basic requirement

Nord believes in the power of sports to make a difference. “Sports bring emotion, have immense charisma. You can use that,” she said. That’s why sports clubs can make a difference, especially in climate protection: inviting people and taking them along. Nord wants to help them in this.

She currently advises her clients mainly on the strategic level.

At FC Bayern, for example, she was part of a project group that aimed to create a more sustainable Allianz Arena. Together with the association “Sports For Future,” she developed a workbook with concrete sustainability measures as guidelines for clubs. She will soon be helping the European Championships 2022 in Munich to develop their sustainability goals.

This high demand shows that sustainability is slowly but surely becoming a part of sport, Nord thinks.

She believes that it started with the corruption cases, for example at FIFA in 2015: “Sport, especially football, lost its credibility back then, and its contact with society,” Nord said.

This became clear to her when the Olympic bids of German cities led to fierce resistance among the population, for example in Hamburg. The fact that teams are now increasingly assuming their social responsibility, including in the area of ecological sustainability, is also a reaction to this.

And now a generational change is imminent – not only in the organisations’ leadership but also in the audience. “If football does not rethink, it will lose access to several generations,” Nord said.

While the leadership’s generation is already looking at sustainability, it will become a basic requirement for the next generation – those who take to the streets on Fridays for climate protection.

German football fan initiative calls for green reforms

Football is Germany’s national sport and enjoys loyal fans. But some of them see an urgent need for reform. Now, armed with a declaration and many signatures, a supporters group has concrete demands, among them stricter requirements for climate protection. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Image at risk for sponsors

This is particularly relevant for sponsors. After all, companies don’t want to see their logos on jerseys of a team that is in the headlines because of climate sins.

This is a real threat to sponsors, as shown, for example, by the case of the short-haul Basel flight that the German national team took in September instead of taking the train. Fans were outraged, major newspapers reported.

“Sponsors invest in teams because of the image transfer,” said Nord. Now companies are making efforts to become greener because consumers are increasingly demanding it. They will take care not to damage this image by sponsoring non-environmentally friendly teams, she thinks.

However, many German football clubs have not seen this yet.

A certain amount of hubris prevails in some management levels, according to the motto: “We have seven million active fans anyway, 80 million watch World Cup matches, nothing can happen to us,” Nord said. Bundesliga clubs in particular often hope for an emotional bond between fan and club – one doesn’t change clubs because of their carbon footprint.

But this thinking ignores the bigger picture, Nord believes.

The future of popular sports in general is at stake. For the next generation, the question is not “Football or handball?”, but “Netflix or sport? Therefore, it is vital for every sport to pick up this generation and offer them an experience that is compatible with their values.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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