No Football on a Dead Planet

David Marples explores the need for football, and Nottingham Forest, to think about the future of our planet and work towards making the game more environmentally sustainable.

Admittedly, the title of this piece is rather stark and hyperbolic.

It is a riff on the Music Declares Emergency group. The group is supported by a wealth of artists and is working towards making the music business ecologically sustainable and regenerative.

It’s a lofty aim but all utopian visions need to start somewhere. In terms of football, Football for Future has similar aims, with perhaps its primary one being to make football environmentally and economically sustainable.

But first, some context. David Goldblatt has written and spoken eloquently about the issues facing football from an environmental perspective and what it can do to lead the way and take radical steps to create a carbon neutral world. He points out that 70% of football’s emissions come from spectator travel. He also calls for football to end its reliance on hydrocarbon sponsorship. Thirdly, and perhaps most pertinently for Forest, he calls for every football association, broadcaster, sponsor and club to commit to carbon-zero practice by 2030.

Easier said than done, right? Especially when a Championship football has far more pressing and difficult concerns they are desperately trying to address. Yet football, given its reach, has to take some responsibility for tackling climate crisis, rather than simply looking the other way or at best, say they have installed a cycle rack for supporters to park their bikes should they wish to. We can do better. Football can do better. Forest can do better.

Fortunately, models already exist on how to do things better. Naturally, Forest Green lead the way in this area. You probably don’t need to be told about their ecologically conscious approach from top to bottom but what is striking about their model is how the owner won fans over – a traditionally difficult demographic to appeal to, to say the least – and got them on board. In this interview, Forest Green owner, Dale Vince, explains how he has created an identity for this football club.

Naturally, such a model like Forest Green’s doesn’t come easy or quickly and moreover, Nottingham Forest are not in a position to simply flick a switch and implement a fully ecological and sustainable model – few clubs are. However, a club like Forest should consider taking small steps to make the club a more ecologically conscious institution and the way to do this is to perhaps take the lead from Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association. They launched a campaign to make their John Smith’s Stadium more environmentally friendly and specified six simple steps to do so:

1. Phase out single-use plastics in the stadium
2. Improve the recycling capacity of the stadium
3. Access to free water (and, it should be added, if this is not already in place, free sanitary products for women)
4. Work with the caterers to redistribute food and other waste
5. Improve accessibility (cycle racks, etc)
6. Introduce energy efficient measures (on-site generation, etc)

Naturally, it is accepted that perhaps these aims are tinkering round the edges of such a huge issue and furthermore, the Trust should be channelling its energy into campaigning on other issues such as safe standing, cheaper ticket prices and such-like. Perhaps so. Yet surveys indicate that this issue is a high priority for supporters and is one which we feel the club can take steps to improve. Besides, none of this means that everyone will be force-fed a vegan burger and made to hug a tree (although, come to think of it, as Forest fans, hugging a tree comes weirdly naturally), but simply that maybe together, supporters and the club, going to watch Forest can be done in a more environmentally conscious manner.

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