BBC Home
Explore the BBC
watch listen BBC Sport BBC Sport
Low graphics|Help
Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK
Can football save the planet?
By Sarah Holt

Football and the environment
Does football have a responsibility to go green?

Legendary manager Bill Shankly reckoned football was more important than life and death, but where does it stand on saving the planet?

The sport takes its toll on the environment by motivating thousands of fans to travel to matches, its stadiums guzzle huge amounts of energy and its star players can afford to live a consumerist life in the fast lane.

BBC Sport looks at just what is being done to reduce the impact football has on the global climate.


The impact of human activity on the environment is calculated in terms of a Carbon Footprint, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

With stadiums and training grounds to maintain and travel to and from games, football clubs are making a hefty imprint.

We will be the first stadium of any kind in the world to have its own turbine

Pete Bradshaw on Manchester City's plans

Ipswich Town chose to do something about it, and in May they became the first football club in the UK to become carbon neutral.

The club worked out it produced 3,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide a season and successfully off-set this by asking supporters to make specific pledges to save energy.

The incentive was based on football; when the club hit their target - with 14,000 pledges made - manager Jim Magilton was rewarded with a five-figure sum towards transfers by main sponser E.ON.

"It has never been done before," Ipswich captain Jason de Vos, who encouraged fans to take public transport, use high-efficiency lightbulbs and turn down their boilers, told BBC Sport.

"The club has made changes to the way the stadium is run, some of the players have been car-pooling - it's not going to save the world but it has raised awareness about the need to conserve energy."


Manchester City has gone further - by October 2007 the club will be producing its own energy.

City is building a wind turbine to provide all the electricity for Eastlands, with a further 20% sold on, though the club will still run the floodlights from generators.

"We will be the first stadium of any kind in the world to have its own turbine," City's social responsibility manager, Pete Bradshaw, told BBC Sport.

City are also making good use of all the rubbish off the pitch, turning glass into footpaths, grass cuttings into compost, paper into insulation and plastic cups and bottles - all 8 million of them per season - into blinds and furniture.

Liverpool's 'Sweeper Zone' truck
Liverpool's Sweeper Zone scheme encourages kids to keep the city litter free

"We recycle 90-100% of everything we use," explained Richards.

"This club grew out of Manchester. As a responsible community business it's important for us that the environment is on our agenda. It's essential."

Arsenal and Middlesbrough are also considering installing wind turbines, while Liverpool run a scheme that rewards youngsters who pick up litter with match tickets.

But when it comes to taking a holistic approach to its stadium, non-league Dartford have got the jump on their high-flying counterparts.

Princes Park is the UK's first sustainable stadium, built from renewable timber with a grass roof and sunk two metres below ground level to reduce noise and light pollution.

The average pitch needs 20,000 litres of water a day but Dartford have two lakes to feed the pitch while solar panels generate energy.


With cash to splash on thirsty sports cars, long-haul holidays and sizeable pads, it is hard to see footballers fretting over whether they have sorted their recycling properly.

What is undeniable, however, is that footballers are global role models and if the sport is to go green then the glamour boys need to get on board.

Portsmouth keeper David James
James is a green giant in footballing circles

"Rightly or wrongly people look up to footballers," said De Vos. "If we can do our part to get the message across that can only benefit the environment.

"I think we have an obligation because of the status we hold."

Amongst the elite players, England and Portsmouth goalkeeper David James has emerged as an environmental evangelist and is keen to strike an ethical compromise between success and consumerism.

"The are one or two gas guzzlers at the club but generally we're pretty good," James told the BBC.

"You can't stop people wanting to drive fast cars but there is an argument that the bigger car you drive, the higher tax you pay which would go to environmental causes."

For his part, James has converted his mammoth Chrysler car to run on rapeseed oil or "grow your own fuel," as he calls it.

The stopper also recycles, grows his own vegetables, is restoring his Devon farmhouse and set up the David James Foundation to nurture sustainable agricultural projects in Malawi.

"We do contribute to greenhouse gases and so there is no reason why football as a fraternity across the globe can't help."


Going along to support your team can be a painful experience but the average football fan probably does not know that they are doing an awful lot of damage themselves.

At Cardiff University, Dr. Andrea Collins researches the environmental impact of sporting events, amongst them the 2004 FA Cup final between Millwall and Manchester United.

That day, the average fan left a carbon footprint seven times greater than the average UK resident.

Food and drink consumption per average 10 fans at the 2004 FA Cup final
Food & drink consumed per average 10 fans at the 2004 FA Cup final

"At sporting events you have time-concentrated consumption," Collins told BBC Sport. "Fans travel huge distances, consume huge amounts of food and create a large volume of waste."

The biggest factor is match-day travel. The 73,000 fans who went to the Millennium Stadium travelled an estimated 43 million kilometres, with 47% of that distance covered by car.

"If car travel switched to public transport the impact could be reduced by 24%," said Collins.

"One simple solution would be to include the price of a train or bus ticket in the match ticket." James has already put that idea to the Football Association, who are "thinking about it".

Collins added: "There are still environmental consequences outside of the stadium, such as waste and pollution, that aren't being addressed.

"The organisers, the hosts and the spectators all have a responsibility. Sport is a very good vehicle to help communicate the link between sport and the environment - but more needs to be done."


James wants football's governing bodies in the UK to practise more "joined-up thinking" on environmental issues.

Both the karmic keeper and Collins suggest a green league that rewards environmentally friendly clubs with a place in Europe, rather than those that are friendly on the pitch.

It's about educating others about the importance of being environmentally aware

Premier League

That idea is probably a little too radical for the FA, but the governing body has been inspired by Al Gore's Live Earth concert, held at Wembley earlier this month, and is formulating a green policy this summer.

A spokesman said: "Anything we can inherit from the lessons of Live Earth we'll take on board, from noise pollution, to recycling and turning lights off."

While the FA is not being prescriptive, the Premier League is researching a policy of good practice for all their 20 clubs.

"We already know some clubs are acting in an innovative fashion to conserve energy, recycle and reduce water usage," a spokesman said.

"It's now about building on this and educating others about the importance of being environmentally aware."

If times really are a-changin' along with the climate then football could just be the next high-profile signing to the global "team green".

City stadium turbine plan backed
28 Sep 06 |  Manchester
London 2012's environment plan
24 Oct 05 |  Sci/Tech


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Daily and weekly e-mails | Mobiles | Desktop Tools | News Feeds | Interactive Television | Downloads
Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability sport | Olympics 2012 | Sport Relief | Other sport...

Help | Privacy & Cookies Policy | News sources | About the BBC | Contact us