When the balls roll in the Bundesliga on any given weekend, tens of thousands of fans criss-cross Germany on their way to the stadium — the majority by car. This often causes kilometrer-long traffic jams in front of the stadium, air and noise pollution.
Before the season, teams get in shape at training camps abroad — accompanied by an entourage of fans, sponsors and media representatives. And then there is the Bratwurst (sausage), which is an essential part of any stadium visit and leads to the mass use of disposable tableware. These are just a few examples of the climate-damaging impacts associated with professional football.
In the future, the DFL’s 36 teams intend to be better positioned and start meeting ecological, economic and social sustainability targets. From the 2023-24 season, criteria imposed will become a mandatory part of the licensing procedure.
“This means that German professional football is taking on a pioneering role internationally,” sustainability expert Tanja Ferkau told DW.
She is the founder and managing director of the German non-governmental organisation IMPCT, which helped develop the sustainability standards for the German Football League (DFL), which operates the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. These are divided into two categories, the first of which will come into effect at the start of the 2023-24 campaign.
They include the minimum requirements of providing proof of a sustainability strategy, an environmental strategy and a code of conduct. The clubs will seek to actively measure their carbon footprint, manage the pitch and the club’s own buildings sustainably in the long term.
In times of an energy crisis those measures include controlling the use of energy, water and heating output, introducing “smart” lighting and fertilising the pitch in a sustainable manner. In the future, the movement of fans pre- and post-match will be analyzed and optimized while there are also plans in place to develop a food concept for sustainable nutrition.
“The decisive thing now is implementation, which will take place in individual steps as we sharpen the criteria and set them in stone,” explained Ferkau. It is an immense challenge to shift an organization such as the DFL towards sustainability given billions in turnover and the different shareholders and stakeholders it represents.
“Depending on the maturity of sustainability in the respective clubs, the criteria tend to be easier or more difficult to meet. But they are feasible for all,” she said.
Some criteria could have been stricter, but you must make sure that they are also feasible for a club promoted to the third division, Ferkau added.
Some clubs are already very far along on the issue, others not so much. The clubs will be given an additional year’s time to fulfil some of the criteria. However, if they do not implement the criteria, they will not have to fear any penalties — so the license, or permit, to compete in the Bundesliga won’t really be at risk, a point that former DFL managing director Andreas Rettig recently criticized on German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
“I would have liked to see a different standard. I’m reminded of the introduction of the youth development centers in 2006, when we used a sharp sword,” Rettig said. “We said: if you don’t invest in young talent and meet the criteria, you don’t get a license. That’s completely missing here.”
Ferkau, on the other hand, argued that the clubs are “committed” by the change in the statutes and are therefore obligated to act.
“The clubs’ self-motivation is high right now, because stakeholders are demanding more sustainability anyway. The pressure here has increased massively in the last 18 months. On top of that, the issue of sanction versus reward is still being discussed.”
Mainz’s floodlight system at the MEWA Arena has been completely converted to LEDs
She also claimed that what the DFL is doing is unique.
“To my knowledge, no other league has developed its own sustainability standard. For this, the DFL deserves praise for the clarity of its approach.”
She added that German professional football already was already pioneering in specific aspects of sustainability, such as the ecological alignment of a stadium, waste management, merchandising or social commitment.
Mainz see themselves as one of these pioneers.
“The principles of sustainability, resource conservation and energy saving have been firmly anchored at Mainz since 2010. Since 2010, we have been the first climate-neutral club in the Bundesliga, and we have been earning this status every year since then,” Tobias Rinauer of Mainz’s media relations department told DW. He shares the tasks in the sustainability area with a colleague.
Since 2016, the lighting in the stadium including the floodlighsts — has been converted to an LED system and a heat meter has been installed for the turf heating system.
“Sustainability in all its facets has been part of Mainz DNA for a long time and has thus always been very high on the agenda,” Rinauer said.
Cologne are the first Bundesliga club to boast a national authority certificate for sustainable corporate management. RB Leipzig have already unveiled their sustainability plans, and second-division club St. Pauli produces “the most sustainable team sports apparel in the world,” according to its own statement.
All these measures also stand to benefit the clubs during the current energy crisis,” Tanja Ferkau said.
“For (some) clubs, (partial) energy self-sufficiency is paying off right now. Those who switched to renewable energy years ago are now reaping the rewards.”
This article was translated from German
A solar power system in the form of the BVB logo that adorns the roof of Dortmund’s stadium supplied around 485,000 kilowatt hours of electricity for the local power grid in 2018. In cooperation with a green electricity supplier, Borussia is aiming to save a total of 81,365 tons of CO2 or one ton per seat. The training areas are irrigated with rainwater collected on site.
At Schalke’s stadium, used plastic cups are collected after the games and processed to granulate, from which new cups are made. The dishwashers are water-saving and a special process is used to generate water from food waste. Environmental protection is also anchored in the club’s code of conduct.
In 2011 Mainz declared themselves to be the “first climate-neutral Bundesliga club.” The roof of the stadium features a solar-panel system which, according to the club, saves 470 tons of CO2 per year. Further CO2 emissions are offset by the purchase of certificates to promote climate protection projects. The club also produces its own honey at the stadium.
The relegation strugglers participate in a waste prevention project and use energy-saving methods to heat their pitch. Billy goat Hennes, the club mascot, is driven to the stadium for games in an electric car from Cologne Zoo. However, Effzeh are unpopular with environmental groups over plans to build three new training facilities in a conservation zone that is the habitat of protected bats.
To reduce paper usage, the autograph cards handed out in the club shop are printed on a paper made from grass. Hoffenheim are the only top-flight outfit to support Alliance for Development and Climate of the Federal Development Ministry and offset their carbon footprint with projects in Uganda. Also, anyone who buys a ticket can then buy any amount of tree seedlings for a euro each.
Like Hoffenheim, Werder also support the “Sports for Future” initiative, which aims to use the connecting power of sport to overcome the climate crisis. Bremen try to avoid using plastic packaging where possible and the club has their own beehives. Fans are also encouraged not to drive to the game by car and the Weserstadion is the only Bundesliga stadium that can be reached by ferry.
The Wolves were the first Bundesliga club to use LEDs for stadium lighting and have been using 100 per cent green electricity since 2011. Meanwhile, the water used at the stadium comes from the nearby Mittelland Canal and electric cars are made available to club employees. Wolfsburg also have their own forest, where over 2,000 trees have been planted.
The Berliners focus their sustainability efforts primarily on the garbage that accumulates around the Olympic Stadium. It is separated and the club have their own waste press for bulkier items. Each year there’s a refuse collection campaign around the stadium while cleaning agents with an environmental certificate are used when washing clothes and cleaning.
As much as possible, the products that Union Berlin have on offer at the concessions stands have the Fair Trade stamp and/or come from local producers. Only reusable cups are on offer at their home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Fösterei. In 2016 Union received the Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) award as the leader in waste management among first and second-division teams.
In terms of being ecologically friendly, Freiburg were a pioneer in the Bundesliga. They installed a solar panel system on the stadium roof, all the way back in 1995. This was followed a year later by waterless urinals. Freiburg have also been working for years with the World Wide Fund for Nature on nature conservation projects.
As is the case in many other Bundesliga stadiums, at Gladbach you will find only LED lights and reusable cups – both have been in use for around 20 years. The club buys its food from local producers and unused food is distributed to charitable institutions. Borussia also promote the use of renewable energy sources through their own electricity company, in cooperation with a local supplier.
Starting this season, only returnable cups that can be reused up to 150 times are in use at the BayArena. Like many other clubs, Leverkusen use electricity from renewable sources and well water to irrigate the pitch. Since 2016 the club has also been offering local youngsters classes on environmental protection – in the stadium’s own classroom.
Fortuna are a tenant in their stadium, so their influence on sustainability is limited. However, the club is in negotiations with the city about improving ecological standards at the Merkur Spiel-Arena. The one major step they have taken so far is to introduce the exclusive use of reusable cups in the stadium.
Augsburg say that theirs is the world’s first CO2-neutral stadium. It uses geothermal energy and up to 200,000 liters of water per hour are pumped from two wells through heat exchangers to which the heating system is connected. Augsburg say this saves more than 750 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
RB Leipzig are currently still working on a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, and were not able to provide DW with any details of what’s in the works. An interesting fact, though, is that RB Leipzig never take the train to away games, flying instead to most. The club uses the team bus to get to three away venues in the Bundesliga.
In 2011, Eintracht Frankfurt built its youth academy in accordance with the latest ecological standards. The club has also done away with the use of disposable plastic cups at its home games.
Having switched to reusable cups, Bayern received the Reusable Award at the European REUSE Conference, which is awarded by the Environmental Action Germany (DUH) amongst others. The club have been members of the Bavarian Climate Alliance since 2015. The Allianz Arena is kitted out with LED technology and, at the end of 2019, one of the parking garages was equipped with a photovoltaic system.
With just 15,000 seats, Paderborn’s stadium is on the small side, but the area with which the roof is covered in solar panels is not. 4,750 square meters produce almost 500,000 kilowatt hours of clean electricity, while under the roof, fans drink from reusable cups. The Benteler Arena also boasts the biggest bike parking lot of any European football stadium with roughly 2,000 parking spots.