How Borussia Dortmund are playing their part to build a culture of sustainability in the Bundesliga

May 23 2023

Environmental sustainability is firmly on the agenda for German football: last year the German Football League became the first major football league in the world to introduce mandatory sustainability criteria into its licensing regulations. But how are its clubs playing their part?

How Borussia Dortmund are playing their part to build a culture of sustainability in the Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund, one of the biggest clubs in European football, is building its own sustainability culture, embedded in its local community and centred around transparency and social action.

Sustainability on the agenda in the German Football League

In December 2021 the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 agreed a resolution to introduce mandatory sustainability criteria into its licensing regulations, becoming the first major football leagues to do so. Officially signed in May 2022, the resolution covers all 36 teams in the German Football League, and introduces minimum criteria in three areas: club management and organisation, environment and resources, and stakeholder groups. The criteria were piloted during the current 2022-23 season and will be fully launched in 2023-24.

While some have criticised the lack of penalties for clubs who don’t comply, the introduction of sustainability criteria onto the official agenda is a significant step forward, and German clubs have generally had a positive response to the change. In Borussia Dortmund’s 2021-22 sustainability report, the Chairman and Managing Directors stated that ‘BVB views the specific sustainability guidelines that DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH adopted in May 2022 for its licensing regulations not only as an obligation but also as a tremendous opportunity to promote sustainable development in professional football.’

While the impact of sustainability criteria is yet to be seen, many German clubs have been developing their own sustainability strategies over the past decade. 1. FSV Mainz 05 began its climate initiative in 2009 and have claimed to be ‘the first climate-neutral club in the Bundesliga’, while Werder Bremen have joined the UN’s Race to Zero campaign and FC Köln and VFL Wolfsburg are signatories to the UNFCCC’s Sport for Climate Action framework.

Borussia Dortmund, who were ranked eighth in the 2021 Sports Positive League for the Bundesliga, have produced a sustainability report every year since 2017 and launched their own sustainability strategy in 2021. But what exactly are their aims and targets, and what have they achieved so far?

Exploring Borussia Dortmund’s sustainability work through the lens of the seven Sustainable Pillars of Sport shows a world-leading commitment to community and transparency and a track record of social action—but with room to develop more concrete climate goals.

Borussia Dortmund’s sustainability strategy

BVB’s 2021-22 sustainability report states that the club’s aim is to be ‘one of Europe’s elite football clubs on the pitch’ as well as ‘one of the continent’s most sustainable clubs’. It aims to achieve this goal through ‘decisive actions’ and ‘credible, straightforward and transparent communication’.

To develop a sustainability strategy, BVB identified 16 material topics in five focal points, mapped on to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: professional football; fans and the region; economic approach; holistic HR; and environmental responsibility. This approach covers the key environmental, social, and governance elements of sustainability while also considering the specific potential of football to promote participation and make a positive impact on the local community.

In its 2021-22 report, BVB have also identified five long-term ‘match-winner’ projects which the club will prioritise over the coming years. These include aiming for certified climate and environmental protection for the stadium and club’s real estate; designing ‘significantly more sustainable’ merchandise by 2024-5; promoting awareness of environmental protection through education projects; developing a ‘sustainable mobility concept’ to cover fan and employee travel for the 2024-5 season; and to put in place a sustainable events management policy by 2025.

Partnerships: working together to achieve sustainable goals

Partnerships are crucial for clubs looking to achieve sustainability targets, and much of Borussia Dortmund’s sustainability work has taken place in partnership with other organisations.

BVB was the first Bundesliga club to sign up to the UN Global Compact, a corporate sustainability initiative that sets out ten principles covering human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. However, unlike other clubs in the Bundesliga, BVB has not yet signed the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action framework, which provides guidance specific to sport.

The club does work regularly with partners and sponsors to promote sustainability: BVB expanded its sustainability partnerships in 2021/22, adding Evonik, Rowe, GLS, Wilo, and DSW21 and STIEBEL ELTRON to its roster. Last year the club invited their partners to its first sustainability roundtable, providing an opportunity to share ideas and to promote their sustainability plan.

Planet: measuring environmental impact

When it comes to environmental sustainability, BVB has tracked and published an impressive amount of data on energy consumption, water usage, and waste. The club has also implemented several initiatives to reduce energy use and waste and promote biodiversity in the local area. In its sustainability report, the club emphasises that ‘our focus is on becoming more energy efficient, reducing harmful emissions and using environmentally friendly renewable energy.’

The club measures its GHG emissions across Scope 1 and Scope 2, but has delayed Scope 3 reporting. In its 2021-22 report, the club reported a total of 1,054.8 tonnes of Scope 1 Co2 emissions, a year-on-year decrease of 3.6%. Scope 2 emissions stood at 2,064.9 tonnes, a year-on-year increase of 30% due to the return of spectators to matches after pandemic restrictions. The club produced 186 tonnes of waste in 2021, 20% less than in 2020, and reduced water consumption by 37.3% in the 2021-22 season.

BVB have committed to moving to renewable energy: the stadium has been powered using 100% green energy since 2014, and in 2019 the club moved to 100% green energy at its training ground. In 2011, the club invested almost €2m to install 8,768 solar panels across the roof of the stadium. They have also developed initiatives to improve biodiversity in the local area, introduced a reusable cup system, introduced electric and hybrid vehicles into its fleet, and have partnered with DSW21 to promote public transport use, including a return fare from anywhere in the region in the price of a match ticket.

The club’s commitment to becoming energy efficient and promoting biodiversity is positive, and its measuring and reporting practices are impressive: by measuring its emissions in such detail, the club is in a prime position to identify opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint.

But the sustainability strategy has not yet set any specific goals, and including Scope 3 emissions will be vital for BVB to truly grasp its carbon footprint. More concrete targets would help the club reduce its environmental impact even further. Hopefully this is on the horizon for BVB: official programmes to manage waste, energy, and water are due to be introduced in the 2023-4 season, and a sustainable travel management programme is also in progress. Meanwhile, as criticism of team flights in professional football grows, BVB offset 776 tonnes of Co2 emissions in the 2021-22 season to account for team flights. With the utility of offsetting schemes still up for debate, this is also an area where top-flight clubs like Borussia Dortmund will need to think carefully about how to genuinely reduce their footprint.

Participation: promoting health and wellbeing 

Borussia Dortmund is well-known for its academy programme and sports science department and the club is doing good work to promote health and access to sport in the local community.

The club’s academy programme aims to ‘promote local and regional talent’ and offers athletic and personal development courses to both girls and boys between the ages of 4 and 13. The Academy also collaborates with the club’s foundation and external partners to run wider participation initiatives: in May 2022, for example, the club ran a ‘healthy eating and fitness day’ as part of the “step kickt!” project in partnership with the DFL Foundation, which encourages local primary school children to take part in physical activity.

BVB also run a programme to encourage adult fans between the ages of 35 and 65 to develop healthier lifestyles. The Football Fans in Training Project, which is delivered in partnership with German Cancer Aid and the Institute for Therapy and Health Research (IFT Nord), includes a 90-minute training programme held once a week over three months.

Much of Borussia Dortmund’s work to encourage physical participation is carried out through its foundation, leuchte auf (“light up!”), which was established in 2012 and celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. By partnering with external organisations and targeting the local community, BVB has a particularly large impact on the adults and young people in the region, but the potential to promote participation on an international scale by developing its programmes even further.

People: improving environmental and social education in the region

BVB’s foundation also works with the BVB Learning Centre and the BVB Educational Garden to carry out charitable and social projects. Their work focuses especially on environmental education and anti-discrimination, driving awareness of both among its fans and local community.

The foundation works closely with the club’s Corporate Responsibility department, and ‘focuses primarily on project partners in Dortmund and the surrounding region’. At the end of the 2021-22 season the foundation had supported over 270 social projects, invested over €2 million to local causes, donated over €400,000 worth of goods, and reached over 15,000 people every year.

The club is clear in its commitment to anti-discrimination, anti-racism, and antisemitism. The BVB Learning Centre, located in the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK, focuses on teaching adolescents and young adults about ‘anti-discrimination, political education and sustainability’.

The club has also taken part in programmes and action days to raise awareness around specific topics. Since 2017 the club has held three action days with local partners to raise awareness of various forms of discrimination: in 2022, for example, the club partnered with the city of Dortmund and KoFas to focus on tackling homophobia. BVB also emphasises fostering ‘a culture of remembrance’: the club has held events to mark the Memorial Day for the Victims of National Socialism, and in 2021-22 worked with the Anne Frank House, the Fare Network, and Feyenoord Rotterdam on a two-year project, Changing the Chants, to tackle antisemitism.

The club also works to support local initiatives: since 2020 the “leuchte auf!” foundation has worked with Nordstatdliga, a street football league in the north of the city, as one of its flagship projects. In 2021, 250 young people took part in the tournament. Meanwhile, the club has developed a volunteer programme and has taken a public stand against the war in Ukraine, taking part in a charity match against Dynamo Kyiv last year and raising €400,000 for Libereco.

Biodiversity and environmental education also take centre stage. The Educational Garden, which is a partnership between the foundation and the Learning Centre, offers educational courses focused on ecological issues and sustainability. The club’s Stadt.Nah.Tour (City Nature Tour), developed with the City of Dortmund and Stadtnaturentwicklung, gives younger fans the opportunity to engage with biodiversity and learn about local plants and animals in the area around the stadium.

The club has publicly committed to gender equality but has opted out of introducing gender-based quotas. Over the past two years, however, the club has made particular progress in promoting the women’s game: despite being one of the last major European clubs without a women’s side, BVB finally established a women’s team in July 2021, and the side has had considerable success since, winning promotion to the county league.

BVB has a well-developed social programme that targets its local and regional community and places a particular emphasis on anti-discrimination and environmental education. Its work shows how a well-funded foundation programme, as well as carefully chosen partnerships, can make a positive impact through well-targeted programmes. As with its participation programmes, though, the club’s work does not yet reach beyond Europe.

Power, Prosperity, and Profile: the responsibilities of a major football club

As one of Europe’s biggest clubs, BVB has a particularly powerful platform and the ability to reach football fans around the world. In June 2022, the club had 55,000 season ticket holders, 996 fan clubs, and over 52.5m followers across its social media accounts. With this platform comes responsibility: to run a sustainable business, to remain transparent in its activities and accounts, and to use its profile to promote sustainability more widely.

The club publishes good data on its activities: it publishes its annual accounts, annual budget, and details of public and private funds received on its website, and its sustainability report provides clear details on management, shareholder and legal structures, as well as a breakdown of its revenue. The ‘Key figures at a glance’ section of its sustainability report provides a good overview of the club’s governance and accounts as well as environmental and social impacts.

The sustainability report also sets out the club’s responsibilities as an employer, as well as its emphasis on responsible procurement. The club has a sustainable procurement policy, a code of conduct for suppliers, a risk management strategy, and an anti-discrimination and equal opportunities policy.

The club’s corporate responsibility department has published an annual sustainability report every year since December 2017, and club also has a dedicated sustainability section on its website. A Fan Delegates’ Meeting is held once a year and Fan Council meets every five weeks.

In all, BVB are leading the way when it comes to transparency and good governance. There is, though, still potential to use their profile to drive sustainability more specifically: with over fifty million followers on social media, online campaigns could have unparalleled reach.

Conclusion: strengths in governance and community, but clear goals will drive change

Borussia Dortmund is a club with a global reach, operating in a league that is leading the way in embedding a culture of sustainability in professional football. It has huge potential to drive change, not only in its local area but in the wider football ecosystem and in communities across the world.

An in-depth examination of BVB’s sustainability work reveals some real strengths: the club has well-developed social and community education programmes, promoting health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, and anti-discrimination to its communities. The club also has a commitment to promoting green energy and a strong track record of measuring and publishing data, leading the way in transparency and accountability.

Despite this, though, the club doesn’t yet have clear, well-defined environmental targets in place. Publishing specific targets would make it easier for the club to track its progress and would demonstrate exactly how the club is making changes to reach ambitious international climate goals by 2030.

Over the coming years, clubs across the German Football League will have to respond to the Bundesliga’s public commitment to sustainability. Borussia Dortmund has already taken important steps, and with its vast reach, comprehensive data, and influence in the local community, it has the potential to play an even bigger role in building a sustainable future for football and the world.

Read moreBethany White

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