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World’s first major net zero carbon football match? – Not quite

4 weeks ago

It was Spurs v Chelsea on Sunday and the game was being billed as the world’s first zero carbon football match.

So, was this just a bit of greenwashing on the part of Sky and the Premier League, or was there any truth to this?

I’ll assume that you already know enough about climate change to understand how serious the situation is that we find ourselves in, including of course, Newcastle United fans, along with everybody else. We need to rapidly decarbonise, which means finding ways of producing electricity, heat, food without generating greenhouse gases. Likewise, transport will also need to be decarbonised.

So how do you decarbonise an entire football match?

First, you need to figure out where to draw the line. The energy used by the stadium is obviously the responsibility of the football club but what about emissions from supporters travelling to the ground?

What about the emissions from the food that is served?

If the food waste goes to landfill and rots, producing methane (a greenhouse gas), should this be counted against Spurs?

This is an incredibly ambiguous question and I’m not going to try to answer it here – instead, let’s just consider a few of the obvious bits – energy, transport and food.

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will need to be heated (well, the prawn sandwich brigade areas will be) and lit up, with all appliances powered as well. Spurs claim their electricity is all from renewables, but this isn’t strictly true – the grid just provides electrons from whatever sources are generating at that time – click here to see where our electricity is currently coming from, but still, green energy tariffs mean that electricity used by Spurs must be produced from renewables somewhere along the line, so we’ll give the Spurs chairman the benefit of the doubt on this one.

The heating, however, is another matter. If it is produced electrically, then see above. But if the heating relies on gas, well, that’s going to produce a lot of that carbon dioxide.

As for transport, part of the PR for this game was that supporters are being encouraged to walk, cycle, or use public transport. The first two would not produce emissions, although supporters would need somewhere to leave their bikes. Fortunately, Spurs were recently commended for installing some bike racks for just this purpose. Their stadium holds 62,850 people and in the surrounding areas there are now enough bike racks for….maybe 3000 people. Not ideal.

Its probably also worth noting that both teams (and plenty of supporters) would arrive on buses, which run on diesel. So, transport will probably make up the majority of emissions associated with this game and definitely will not be low carbon overall.

Low carbon food was also on the menu apparently at Spurs v Chelsea, with supporters encouraged to try the plant-based food options on offer. However, despite the best of intentions this food will be delivered to the stadium, probably in vans that run on diesel or petrol. In addition, any leftovers will go in the bin – hopefully to be taken to a food processing plant instead of landfill, but Spurs haven’t mentioned that. Side note: For those of you who haven’t already, I strongly recommend giving Greggs vegan sausage rolls a go!

So, Spurs v Chelsea would produce some greenhouse gas emissions. But that doesn’t mean the game couldn’t be carbon neutral – any emissions generated on Sunday afternoon could be offset by carbon sequestration (a fancy term for planting trees and doing other things which remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere). Will the famously tight-fisted Daniel Levy be forking out to offset a few hundred tonnes of CO 2? I doubt it.

Still, I don’t want to end this piece on a negative note, because this is a watershed moment. Humanity’s greatest challenge has finally become relevant to top-flight football clubs who are now scrambling to prove their green credentials. The fact that this is being advertised as a triumphant moment by Sky, means that they are acknowledging the importance of this issue. And that is at least progress.


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