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What's the carbon footprint of Premier League clubs?
Blog...What's the carbon footprint of Premier League clubs?

What's the carbon footprint of Premier League clubs?

Ecology News
football in a stadium
In this article, we’ll explore the carbon footprint and environmental impact of Premier League clubs.
Ecology News
football in a stadium

As the world struggles to deal with the growing challenges of climate change, attention is expanding beyond governments and corporations to scrutinize the carbon footprint of public events as well - this includes sporting events. 

The Premier League, the highest level of England’s football league system, recently stepped up its environmental ambitions. Acknowledging the substantial carbon footprint associated with their sporting events, the Premier League has committed to a groundbreaking Environmental Sustainability Commitment. This commitment marks a significant shift towards a greener future for English football, addressing the urgent need to reconcile the sport's widespread popularity and financial success with its environmental responsibilities. 

👉 In this article, we’ll explore the carbon footprint and environmental impact of Premier League clubs and examine what their recent Environmental Sustainability Commitment means for the future sustainability of football events.

Why the carbon footprint of Premier League clubs matters

The Premier League is England's top-tier football competition, consisting of 20 clubs competing annually. These clubs, including globally recognized names like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea, face off in a season running from August to May, with each team playing 38 matches. 

The Premier League is not just known for its top-level football but also its substantial financial success. According to Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance 2023, the Premier League's revenue exceeded £5.5 billion in the 2021/22 season, highlighting its status as one of the most lucrative football leagues in the world. This financial achievement is bolstered by broadcasting rights deals, sponsorship, and merchandise sales, making it a significant economic entity. 

As the Premier League enjoys its financial and global success, it's also important to consider its environmental impact, particularly its carbon footprint. The league's widespread activities, including international tours and the running of clubs, contribute notably to carbon emissions. In the next section, we'll examine the specifics of this footprint, exploring the sustainability challenges affecting Premier League clubs.

spectators cheering on a football team

What is the carbon footprint of Premier League clubs?

Football is the world’s most popular sport and the English Premier League in particular is viewed as one of the most elite leagues, home to some of the most celebrated footballers. However, the League’s global reputation and high spectator numbers (each match attracts crowds of up to 75,000 spectators) also mean that it is responsible for producing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. This footprint is generated through a variety of activities, including travel for international competitions and domestic matches, energy usage in stadiums, and the extensive operation of club facilities. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key statistics and data, shedding light on the carbon impact of Premier League clubs:

  • Travel emissions - The most significant contributor to the Premier League's carbon footprint is fan and player travel, accounting for 61% of Premier League clubs' GHG emissions. Take Manchester United for example, one of the leading Premier League clubs, during 2016 and 2021 the club traveled a staggering 94,460 miles to attend various matches, resulting in approximately 442,540,646 grams of CO² emissions. They also undertook the longest journey recorded in the Europa League competition, when they flew to Kazakhstan for a match. This extensive travel resulted in a substantial environmental impact, producing an estimated 33,824,000 grams of CO²! And other teams are not far behind, Arsenal traveled 87,421 miles over the same period. 
  • Stadium operations - The energy consumption involved in running stadiums - from lighting to heating and digital infrastructure - also adds considerably to the footprint of Premier League clubs. The carbon footprint of such activities varies by stadium with some Premier League clubs now implementing sustainability initiatives. Arsenal’s Emirates stadium for example is the greenest of any Premier League club with large-scale battery energy storage capabilities and operating on 100% renewable energy. 
  • Overseas competitions - The expansion of overseas competitions has also increased the carbon footprint of Premier League clubs. More teams participating in leagues like the Europa Conference League means more travel and associated emissions. Premier League pre-season friendly matches are also significantly contributing to the carbon footprint of the Premier League. In recent years this has increasingly focused on overseas matches in an attempt to expand the League’s overseas fan base. In 2022, 19 of the 20 Premier League clubs traveled abroad to play in pre-season friendly matches. In some cases, this was to locations as far away as the US, China, and Japan.  

Which Premier League clubs produce the most emissions?

According to the Certified Carbon Registry, the Premier League club responsible for the highest carbon emissions is Chelsea FC, followed not far behind by Manchester United FC. These clubs are responsible for 6,621 tonnes of CO2e and 5,965 tonnes of CO2e respectively. However, it’s worth noting that the reported emissions include Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions only, and exclude Scope 3 emissions. 

💡 Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions produced by the club (for example, emissions generated by the stadium's gas boilers, which are utilized for heating purposes). Scope 2 covers emissions stemming from the energy that is purchased by the organization (for example the electricity it uses). Scope 3 emissions on the other hand are indirect emissions outside the direct control of the club. This could include emissions linked to purchased goods and services, the production of merchandise, employee or team catering, event catering, waste disposal, and most significantly spectator and team travel. Given that around 61% of a Premier League club’s emissions are directly attributed to travel, this means that the carbon emissions being reported by the clubs significantly underrepresent their true carbon footprint. 

footballer kicking a ball

Premier League sustainability commitments

On February 9th, 2024, the Premier League released a statement communicating the agreement of a new Premier League Environmental Sustainability Commitment.  The move reflects the growing awareness and responsibility towards climate action in sports. This commitment sets a minimum standard of action on environmental issues for both the clubs and the league. Key aspects of this new commitment include:

  • Developing environmental policies - Each club is tasked with creating a comprehensive environmental sustainability policy by the end of the 2024/25 season.
  • Assigning leadership roles - Clubs must appoint senior employees dedicated to driving their environmental sustainability efforts, ensuring accountability and continuous progress.
  • Compiling comprehensive emission data - The Premier League has set the target of developing an extensive GHG emissions dataset by the end of the 2025/26 season. This will cover the Premier League club’s greenhouse gas emissions across all scopes, including the often-overlooked Scope 3 emissions. Additionally, the league has committed to standardizing the way that emissions are measured to facilitate transparency and comparability.
  • Collaboration through the PLSWG - The Premier League Sustainability Working Group will serve as a platform for clubs to develop and implement a common framework for environmental actions, sharing best practices and innovations.

This impressive commitment is the result of discussions between the Premier League and its clubs. It follows a number of other sustainability commitments and initiatives that have been undertaken in recent years. For example, the Premier League and a number of its clubs have already signed up to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework

football pitch seen from above

Sports for Climate Action Framework

Premier League clubs that have committed to the Sports for Climate Action framework include Arsenal, Liverpool, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newcastle United, and Tottenham Hotspur. This framework is a global initiative aimed at harnessing the influence of sports to support and guide the realization of climate change goals.

By signing up to the framework, these clubs have made a series of commitments that reflect their dedication to environmental sustainability:

  • Reducing emissions - A critical component of their commitment is to measure, reduce, and report their greenhouse gas emissions consistently. This process aligns with the Paris Agreement's objective of maintaining global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. Specific targets include reducing GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2040. 
  • Five key principles - These clubs are pledging to adhere to a set of five principles that integrate sustainability into their strategies, policies, and procedures, mainstreaming these concepts within the sports community. The principles include promoting greater environmental responsibility, reducing overall climate impact, educating about climate action, promoting sustainable and responsible consumption, and advocating for climate action through communication.
  • Transparent reporting across all scopes - Engaging in this framework requires transparency and accountability. Clubs must regularly report their progress, ensuring their actions are tangible and measurable. Targets should include consideration of Scope 3 emissions as well as Scopes 1 and 2. 
  • Pledge, plan, proceed with action, report - The framework requires clubs to initially pledge at the leadership level to reach net zero by 2040, then develop and submit detailed plans within 12 months to achieve the 2030 targets. Immediate action towards reducing emissions is crucial, reflecting the urgency of climate change. For credibility and accountability, clubs are also mandated to provide annual public reporting, aligning their efforts with the global Race to Zero campaign.

Other Premier League club sustainability initiatives

In addition to the commitments and targets set by the UN Sports Climate Action Framework and the Premier League’s Environmental Sustainability Commitment, a growing number of Premier League clubs are implementing initiatives to calculate and offset their carbon footprints at an individual level. 

Several Premier League clubs are taking progressive steps to calculate and report their Scope 3 emissions. By acknowledging and working on these emissions, clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Brighton, Chelsea, Brentford, Crystal Palace, AFC Bournemouth, and Newcastle United are ensuring that their carbon footprint is fully comprehensive - a crucial first step if they want to effectively reduce carbon emissions. 

Individual club sustainability initiatives 

  • Arsenal FC - Arsenal is one of the Premier League's most impressive clubs when it comes to sustainability. The club has implemented green electricity and a water recycling system at their training ground, significantly saving resources.
  • Tottenham Hotspur - The team’s new stadium is an example of sustainable infrastructure, with features like reusable cups and a plastic ban, showcasing their commitment to reducing waste.
  • Liverpool - Through initiatives like 'The Red Way,' Liverpool is focusing on renewable energy and biodegradable packaging, alongside substantial tree planting efforts for carbon offsetting.

These actions by Premier League clubs indicate a strong movement towards a more sustainable future in sports. The combined approach of addressing all emission scopes, including the significant yet often neglected scope 3, alongside the proactive environmental measures, sets a precedent across the football world.  

The challenge of reducing Premier League emissions

However, despite these initiatives, reducing the overall carbon footprint remains a formidable challenge, primarily due to the reliance on travel, which constitutes about 61% of their emissions. Even if efforts to adopt lower-carbon travel methods like train travel are promoted, the global nature of the sport often necessitates air travel, especially for international matches. This necessity makes significant reductions in travel-related emissions difficult to achieve.

Moreover, the issue of spectator travel adds another complex dimension. The carbon footprint of fans traveling to games, particularly for large-scale, international matches, forms a substantial part of the emissions associated with football. Since this aspect lies largely outside the clubs' direct influence, it complicates their efforts towards comprehensive carbon footprint reduction. While clubs can encourage fans to opt for more sustainable travel methods and facilitate eco-friendlier options, completely transforming spectator travel habits presents a significant hurdle in the path towards achieving more substantial reductions in their environmental impact.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly, we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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