Addressing Greenwashing in Football by Will Glover

Like the rest of the world, football has a serious problem with climate change. There is a lack of strong, effective governance and decision-making from the key people in the sport. Because of this, the sport as a whole is struggling to see much improvement from a carbon emissions sense.

Key Facts

  • Football as a global industry produces over 30 million CO2 annually, equivalent to the emissions of Denmark.
  • By 2050, 25% of the 92 football clubs in the English football pyramid could experience partial or annual flooding of their stadiums due to climate change.

Calls for Action

Therefore, there has been increased calls from fans, the media, and other groups for the sport to start taking serious action towards reducing carbon emissions but little progress has been made. Some clubs have started to commit to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework which is an encouraging start.

There is one English club in particular that is well known for its sustainability efforts and is leading the way across the sport for this. Forest Green Rovers, a club in League 2, based 25 miles Northeast of Bristol. They were the world’s first carbon neutral football club, only serve vegan food on match days and have lots of initiative across the club to reduce waste, emissions and act more efficiently. They have set a strong precedent that many clubs are now looking to follow.


Influence of Supporters

It’s not just the clubs in football that can make a difference, supporters have a big impact on the carbon emissions from the sport. Travel to games, food and waste are three of the big areas that their impact stems from. Because of this, there have been numerous campaigns ran across the world aimed at encouraging climate action in football.


Green Football Weekend

On the weekend of February 2nd – 5th, the world’s largest climate-football campaign took place known as ‘Green Football Weekend’. The event involved more than 85 UK football clubs across the footballing pyramid including all 20 Premier League teams and saw various activities, promotions and marketing for a greener future in football.

The promotions included clubs/organisations providing greener transport alternatives for fans, specific deals on vegetarian snacks and plenty of discussion from high profile people within the game in the media. These kinds of events are great for facilitating important discussions, bringing groups together and raising awareness across the sport.

The weekend, however, was shrouded in greenwashing claims as many of the clubs involved in the promotion have faced regular criticism for their lack of action outside of this one weekend of the season. For example; Liverpool took a 33-minute flight back from a game at Newcastle and the BBC found evidence of 81 domestic flights being taken by Premier League Clubs in a 2 month period. Many people felt that being told to be ‘greener’ by these big organisations, who regularly make unnecessary short haul flights was hypocritical.


Challenges in Governance and Scheduling

In fairness to the clubs, they are not the only ones to blame for this. A lot of blame can be pointed towards the people in charge of governing and scheduling football matches. Often, games are scheduled at times and places that make it very difficult for the clubs and their fans to get to via more sustainable modes of transport such as trains.

Bournemouth vs Liverpool on 21st January 2024 was scheduled by Sky and the Premier League to kick off at 16:30 and finish around 18:00 but the last train from Bournemouth to Liverpool was at 17:06, meaning both fans and players would have to find other ways to get home. Governance like this is leaving fans and clubs with little choice and given Sky were at the forefront of the ‘Green Football Weekend’ you would think they would be pushing to stop these kinds of schedule conflicts.


Campaigns like the ‘Green Football Weekend’ showcase the positive and negatives of society’s fight against climate change. They show that there are good people and organisations who care about sustainability and want to make a difference. However, they highlight that the people with real power to ensure meaningful impact often fall short of this and abuse the campaigns to greenwash and put out fancy PR to make it seem like they are taking action.

It could be perceived that the campaigns that highlight the lack of action from the top is a positive as it puts more pressure on them, but the question is how many more of these campaigns need to happen until they start responding effectively to this pressure?

Interested in a discovery call to align your sustainability commitments? Get in touch with Will today.

For more information

Will Glover
Consultant Researcher

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