Improving sustainability: On the home straight

Green energy, reusable packaging and social engagement – clubs, athletes and their fans can all play a major role in sustainable development. A great example of this is RENN.west’s “Goals Need Actions – Sport in the West” campaign. Among those breaking new ground are prominent football clubs.

Every year, German sports grounds produce around 7.5 million metric tons of environmentally damaging CO2, or the equivalent of six major cities. This is according to the German Olympic Sports Confederation, the umbrella organization for German sport. Calculations from Environmental Action Germany suggest that in the 2018/19 season alone, more than nine million disposable cups were used in just the first and second German national football leagues. According to a study carried out by the IcoachKids+ project, across Europe, boys usually take on a much more active role in sport than girls. But there is another way, a better way.

This is the core message of the “Goals Need Actions – Sport in the West” (“Ziele brauchen Taten – Sport im Westen”) campaign, which aims to promote the 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals set by the international community in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda. The campaign was launched by RENN.west, one of the four Regional Hubs for Sustainability Strategies (RENN) in Germany. These hubs support anyone who wants to advance solutions for the future. The starting point is information. RENN.west has enlisted the help of 17 well- and less well-known athletes who will all draw attention to one of the 17 goals in a series of short video messages. Among them, boxer Regina Halmich.

Fighting for women’s rights

The clip shows Halmich stepping into the ring and asking: “What’s the difference between a fight in the ring and a fight at home?”. Instantly, she answers: “In a fight at home, there are no rules”. She goes on to explain that around one in six women experience physical or sexual violence in a relationship, and concludes: “Together with you, I want to fight for women’s rights and to achieve greater gender equality”. This is in line with Goal 5 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Additional clips show the other “faces of sustainability” playing their sport. All the videos, which anyone can share on social media, are structured in the same way: question, answer and explanation, all rounded off with an appeal. Swimmer Britta Steffen, for example, front crawls a length and asks: “What’s the difference between a seahorse in the sea and a child in the pool?” Representing Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Life Below Water”, Steffen is talking about the waste littering our oceans and referencing the seahorse swimming badges children in Germany earn for swimming progress.

The celebrities didn’t hesitate to get involved, says Mona Rybicki, part of the team running the campaign at LAG 21 NRW. On the contrary, “most of them said they thought it was great to be able to actually do something as they’d already been thinking about how they could help shape the future for a long time”. Decathlete Frank Busemann calls for an end to hunger, while table tennis player and wheelchair user Holger Nikels motivates people to protect the climate.  And there are many more. Rybicki believes: “We’ve hit a nerve”.

Indeed, athletes themselves are affected by climate change and other issues and have to consider how they can defend themselves against heat, for example. Is the answer, then, to plant more trees around sports grounds to give them more shade. Or do we need to reschedule training times and set up sunscreen dispensers? There is no shortage of recommendations, but that’s just one part of it. Clubs and sports fans have long been looking for ideas on how to become not just more climate-friendly, but also more ecological and inclusive – that is to say more sustainable overall. In Germany alone there are around 90,000 sports and athletics clubs with 27 million members and the power to make a huge difference. “There’s a lot already going on, but if you think of the challenges facing society, it’s just not enough”, adds Rybicki.

Common good clause in football

Football clubs like Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart or TSG Hoffenheim all purchase green energy, for example, and have solar power systems in place. However, the champion of sustainability among the German professional clubs is surely VfL Wolfsburg. As part of a whole range of measures, the club has banned disposable cups and switched to reusable ones instead. It has signed the “Sports for Climate Action” climate protection agreement and committed itself to the United Nations’ “Race to Zero” initiative.

Examples like this show just what is possible. Now, the campaign aims to raise awareness by slowly introducing those breaking new ground and publishing background information. Equally, sports journalist and stadium commentator Arnd Zeigler will be regularly publishing interviews until the end of August 2021 under the motto: “Passion meets mindset”. These interviews will focus on the subjects’ impressions and ideas of how best to anchor sustainability in the world of sport.

Jan Lehmann, 1. FSV Mainz 05 Board Member for Finance and Commerce, believes, for example, that the German Bundesliga can reach climate neutrality by 2030. Andreas Rettig, CEO of FC Viktoria Köln, explains the common good clause that contractually prescribes player social engagement in his club – be that donating blood, caring for the elderly or visiting children’s homes and nurseries. He is convinced that: “Sustainability is like nurturing young talent – you’re investing in the future!”.

RENN.west warmly invites all interested parties to the Conference for the Future (“Zukunftskonferenz”) on 4 October 2021 to jointly develop further ideas on how to make sport sustainable. After all, the ultimate aim of the campaign is to face the future as a team by sharing ideas and networking.

More information on the “Goals Need Actions” campaign can be found on the website or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.