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Posted November 2, 2021 | Published in General

Net Zero: Football’s Golden Goal

It’s been a successful year for English football on the pitch, but what about the off-pitch goals? Decarbonisation and environmental sustainability are now key targets in the construction industry, and football clubs are kicking ahead. 

Beyond new initiatives, such as swapping plastic for paper, introducing vegan food options and providing bicycle spaces and electric car points for fans, the core environmental impact of any football club lies in the construction and maintenance of its stadium.  It is the iconic stage on which matches play out and lasting memories are made, so new or revamped stadiums are inevitably high-profile developments.  English football clubs have huge followings across the globe. As a result, they have the ability to shape and influence new construction methods and attitudes towards environmental sustainability for sports facilities of all types, at home and abroad.

Any club can make its kits from sustainable bamboo, and water its pitch with recycled rainwater, but unless it designs its proposed new stadium with the right building materials, its carbon footprint will grow.

Approximately 75% of the whole life carbon impact of any stadium is embodied in its materials.1 The production, journey and lifecycle of any material combine into a total carbon record, imprinted in the material’s identity. Using materials with high embodied carbon will increase the overall environmental impact of the project. A club with a stadium made from concrete and steel will be more harmful to the planet than a club which chooses more sustainable alternatives. 

Forest Green Rovers FC (“FGR”) is leading the way in efforts to promote the use of wood in construction by designing the world’s first timber stadium. Components, which would normally be steel or concrete, will be timber instead. Making this swap to the lowest embodied carbon material on the market means that the stadium will also consume carbon, just like trees do. 

" English football clubs have huge followings across the globe. As a result, they have the ability to shape and influence new construction methods and attitudes towards environmental sustainability for sports facilities of all types, at home and abroad."

The recently constructed Brentford Community Stadium used half the amount of concrete originally planned for the project after an environmentally conscious re-design. The amount of steel used in the project was also cut by 30%. Design is key when it comes to embodied carbon, and the right design decisions could make a significant improvement to a club’s impact on the planet. 

Use of natural light and solar panels are also increasingly popular amongst football clubs. FGR plan to install a transparent roof membrane to ensure its organic pitch can grow in natural sunlight. No doubt, they will also take their solar-powered pitch mower with them to the new Eco Park Stadium once built. 

Brentford Community and Tottenham Hotspur’s stadiums were both constructed with hundreds of square metres of solar panels. LED lighting, insulation, solar shading, and air source heat pumps are all features used by these clubs to decarbonise.  Everton FC will adopt a similar approach for its new stadium, including the installation of a battery storage system instead of a diesel generator. It won’t be many years before non-LED lighting is eliminated across all football stadiums in the UK, and many clubs have already achieved this target, including Southampton FC and West Ham United. 

Greenery and biodiversity projects are being introduced at new and existing stadiums. FGR will be planting hundreds of trees, and over 1.8km of hedgerow at its new stadium, in addition to a nature reserve. Tottenham Hotspur has grown an ecological habitat at its training centre, and Southampton FC currently has a plan in place for new natural habitats, including log piles, wildflowers, long grass and hedgerows. The club has also made a pledge to plant 250 trees in the local area for every academy graduate that makes their first team debut. The design of any new football development is now likely to include a commitment to nature, in one form or another. 

Luton Town FC, Southend United and Peterborough United all have brand new stadiums in the pipeline. It will be exciting to see if the smaller clubs can get ahead of the game and set an example for the future of stadium construction.  

FGR’s Eco Park Stadium is certainly set to be the trailblazer for all – we can’t wait to see it! 

By Aurelia Russo, Trainee Solicitor, Fenwick Elliott 


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