“Ten years ago we were an isolated voice with a radical idea, today it’s quickly becoming normal.”
But owner and chairman Dale Vince says a new table ranking the top 20 EFL clubs on their climate-friendly activities off the pitch shows real progress among the rest of English football’s pyramid.
Vince said: “It’s great to see how sustainability in football has become a thing, almost but not yet – an accepted part of the game.”
The first EFL sustainability table
The table – made by Sport Positive and first published by BBC Sport awards weighted points to clubs in 11 key areas ranging from energy (4 points), transport (3 points) and plastics (2 points) to education and communications less obvious (1 point for both).
Forest Green scored a maximum of 24 points for its many programs, including the stadium powered by renewable energy, an all-vegan menu for players, staff and fans, as well as electric car charging stations, recycling of water, an electric lawn mower and organic land. All contributed to Forest Green becoming the first carbon neutral football club certified by the UN.
Sport Positive produces the Premier League Durability Table since 2019. CEO Claire Poole said widening the search to the EFL’s 72 clubs had helped to “explore” some of the “incredible examples of leadership” at “all levels of the professional football pyramid”.
Forest Green manager Duncan Ferguson is one of the club’s newest converts to the sustainable ethic and told BBC Sport: “It’s really been an eye opener for me. I’ve learned how much he is easy to make small changes to the way we live our lives and if we all made those changes it would make a huge difference to our planet.”
Of the 72 EFL clubs, 47 provided information to Sport Positive; the scoring of 19 other clubs was based on publicly available information and six clubs opted out.
What else are EFL clubs doing to protect the environment?
The runners-up – and the championship’s most enduring team – were City of Bristolrecognized for the work they do in their men’s and women’s teams, as well as for their contribution to the local community.
Bristol City manager Gavin Marshall said he felt football clubs were “finally waking up to the challenge”, adding: “We are delighted to be among the clubs leading change in football. We recognize that we are having an impact and are working hard to mitigate this in a number of key areas.”
Bristol’s Head of Change and Sustainability, Peter Smith, said: “It reflects a lot of work in a number of areas, however, we will be the first to admit that we still have a long way to go. It’s good that football is in the spotlight and we really want clubs, authorities, fans, sponsors and suppliers to come together to bring about positive change.”
Rochedale director Tony Pockney acknowledged the “long journey” given the “challenging financial environment in which we operate”, and said: “When we have investment decisions to make, environmental sustainability is an important consideration.. “It’s not just about big decisions. We closely monitor utility usage and staff actively ‘shut down and shut down’ when possible to reduce our footprint and reduce costs.”
Other examples include:
Alexandra Crewe announced plans to install a 3,000-panel solar farm with ambitions to become carbon negative in the future. The energy produced will be used to power the stadium or sold to generate revenue.
Millwall has an ambition to reduce CO2 by 50% by 2030 (compared to 2019) with the goal of being carbon neutral by 2040. They have already reduced their carbon emissions by 15.8%.
City of Bristol launched a joint initiative on climate change ‘Project Whitebeam’ to minimize environmental impact. They have pledged to reach Net Zero by 2040.
Town of Ipswich have a partnership with Ipswich CAN (Clean Air Now) and the Ipswich Star with the aim of tackling air pollution in the city, encouraging supporters to think about more sustainable means of transport.
The EFL has its own ‘Green Clubs’ accreditation system which assesses environmental credentials and gives them a benchmark rating, as well as advice and guidance on change. About fifty clubs are concerned.
An EFL spokesperson said: “Climate change is an issue that all industries, including football, have to deal with, so highlighting the best practice work of EFL clubs is an important part of our collective progress to ensure we become environmentally sustainable.
“With much more to do across the league, the game and wider sport, the EFL remains committed to supporting our clubs who are all at different stages of their sustainability journey.”