How sustainable is Liverpool FC?
Two years ago, Liverpool FC launched a forward-thinking sustainability programme and was named the ‘greenest’ club in the Premier League. Social programmes, environmental initiatives, and official certifications set them firmly at the front of the pack when it came to sustainability in football. But how is the club faring in 2023?
Analysing LFC’s sustainability work through the lens of the seven sustainable pillars of sport proves how their aim of developing a sustainability culture has gone a long way. If they want to stay ahead of the game, Liverpool must continue to commit to accountability and transparency.
The Red Way
Launched in January 2021, Liverpool’s sustainability programme, The Red Way, sought to pull together all the sustainability work taking place at the club. Drawing together all of the club’s activities under one umbrella, the programme named three strategic pillars—people, planet, and communities—and laid out two key objectives under each area. The plan is aligned with fourteen of the UN SDGs.
Upon launch, the club’s managing director, Andy Hughes, iterated the club’s desire to ‘illustrate to our supporters and the people we work with what sustainability is, why it’s important, and how we’re helping to tackle key issues.’
The initiative had its roots in 2020, when the club mapped out the sustainability activities that were already taking place and identified the issues that were most important to stakeholders, highlighting any gaps. Together, this formed the basis for an action plan. Since launching The Red Way in January 2021, the club have continued to review progress and carry out internal audits.
Two years on, a recently-published report has highlighted some key milestones and successes of the programme. Meanwhile, Liverpool have received wider industry recognition for their progress: they came first in the 2021 Sport Positive Environmental Sustainability League, won two awards at the SEAL 2022 Business Sustainability Awards, and just last month topped the Football Sustainability Perceptions Index 2023.
The momentum is clearly growing. But how have Liverpool achieved their high-flyer status? Analysis of their work under the seven sustainable pillars can help us to unpick the elements that underpin a successful sustainability programme at one of the world’s most well-known sports clubs—and shows areas for improvement.
Planet: creating a ‘net positive’ impact on the environment
‘Planet’ is one of the three main areas of focus of The Red Way. The initiative lays out two aims in this area:
- To minimise our negative impact on the environment
- To create a net positive impact on the environment
While these aims are extremely broad, the club has also publicly stated more specific targets. The club is aiming to be net-zero across its sport operations by the end of the current 2022/23 season. By 2025, it aims to run 100 per cent of club operations on low carbon or clean energy sources. By 2030, it aims to reduce actual operational carbon emissions by 50 per cent.
Work towards these goals has shown some successes. The club is currently carbon neutral for scope 1 and 2 emissions, as verified by BSI. The club uses the Streamlined Energy & Carbon Reporting (SECR) framework for carbon reporting, and its carbon compensation plan aims to use only Gold Standard accredited schemes.
During 2020-21, all gas and electricity across Anfield, training sites, Liverpool and London offices and UK stores was switched to renewable tariffs, removing 2,636 tonnes of potential carbon emissions. Meanwhile, team buses now run on sustainable fuels, creating a carbon reduction of up to 90 per cent in comparison to regular diesel. The club chefs also use home-grown vegetables from Anfield and Academy allotments, while planting schemes have improved local biodiversity by planting over 900 trees, hedges, bushes, and wildflower plugs. The club has increased the recycling rate of plastic bottles from 25% in 2021 to 86% in 2022.
For remaining emissions, the club has published a detailed carbon emission reduction plan, outlining progress under scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and its goals to 2030. The plan shows good progress across scope 1 and 2, but also highlights no or little progress under many of the scope 3 areas: emissions from merchandise and fan travel, for example, have both increased since the 2019/20 season. Given recent controversy over teams taking short-haul flights for matches, it would also be useful to have a breakdown of team travel by form of transport.
Critically, Liverpool recently became the first Premier League club to be awarded the ISO20121 certification in sustainable event management verfiied by BSI. The club has also achieved ISO50001 certification in energy management, ISO45001 certification in occupational health and safety, and PAS2060 verification for carbon neutrality. By mapping on to the SDGs and working within accredited certification schemes, the club should be well-placed to work towards their 2030 emissions targets.
Participation and People: building on community roots
‘Community’ is another central pillar of the Red Way, and the club are clear that its community is key for the success of the broader sustainability programme. The recent highlight report states that, while Liverpool is a global brand, the club remains ‘rooted’ in its communities. It contends that ‘from our earliest days as a Club, we have aimed to look out for each other, particularly those in need’—an ethos which ‘sits at the heart of our community pillar’.
The two goals under the community pillar emphasise opportunity and impact, stating that:
- We will deliver a positive contribution to our fans and create life changing opportunities for our communities both home and away
- All our partners will be aligned to our sustainability values and support scalable impact across our wider impact programme
Most of the club’s work in this area is carried out under the LFC Foundation, and the range and diversity of programmes is impressive. Programmes cover sport and physical activity; health and wellbeing; education and life skills; employment and training; youth interventions; and community engagement. During the 2021-22 season the Foundation supported over 83,000 people, over two-thirds of whom came from the most deprived areas of the UK.
Key initiatives include the MOVE programme, which works with young patients with cystic fibrosis, asthma, and endocrine disorders to encourage physical activity and improve quality of life; Red Neighbours, which works to address food poverty, education, and increase physical activity in the local Anfield area; and Sound Minds, which uses music and sport to help young people develop awareness of mental health.
Liverpool’s programme also reaches beyond the local area: a partnership with Right to Play works with vulnerable children in Thailand, Senegal, and Tanzania, while the This Means More challenge engaged supporters’ clubs across Europe, North America, Africa and Asia.
The third and final pillar of the Red Way, ‘People’, lays out two aims:
- To create an inclusive, safe and inspiring working environment
- To build knowledgeable, informed and respected sustainability leaders and champions
The club have publicly committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion, with a specific focus on issues surrounding disability, gender, LGBTQ+, and race and ethnicity, through its Red Together programme. Initiatives in this area are varied: for LGBT History Month this year Trent Alexander-Arnold met with a fan to discuss Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ work, while the club have also worked with local organisation Homotopia to create digital artwork representing the club’s LGBTQ+ fanbase.
Meanwhile, an Accessibility Hub and Liverpool Disabled Supporters Organisation provide accessibility support, while Employee Inclusion Networks help provide support for staff. More recently, the club have lent support to a new UN initiative, ‘The Game Plan’, which focuses on ‘identifying and reporting hate speech’. The club also emphasises its commitment to empowering employees: the club is an Includability Committed Employer, a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workplace, and has committed to becoming an accredited menopause-friendly employer.
The club’s work in EDI has been widely recognised: manager Jürgen Klopp was nominated for Celebrity Ally of the Year at the 2022 LGBT Awards, while Liverpool received a further three nominations. The club was also the first to be awarded the Advanced level of the PLEDIS (Premier League Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Standard).
The club has clearly placed people and participation at the heart of its sustainability work for several years, particularly through its Foundation and a commitment to achieving official accreditation. Unlike its clear carbon emissions goals, however, its recent report has not laid out any specific aims for developing its social programmes or its EDI work. Clear targets may well help the club to continue to develop programmes that meet the needs of its community.
Partnerships: working together to drive sustainability
Collaborating with partners and working within key initiatives underpins all of Liverpool’s work under their people, planet, and community pillars, and the club have demonstrated a consistent commitment to accreditation, industry standards, employer schemes, and UN frameworks.
Liverpool are one of only three Premier League clubs that are signatories to the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework, and the club has also committed to the UN Race to Zero. As their work across their three pillars has shown, they have also mapped to the UN SDGs; worked with the UN on a hate speech initiative; and achieved three key ISO certifications.
Commercial partners have also been a key part of Liverpool’s sustainability work. Through a partnership with Quorn the club have increased consumption of meat-free products, while the company also pledged to double donations to Fans Supporting Foodbanks. Meanwhile, a partnership with SC Johnson has helped improve plastic bottle recycling on match days, while a campaign with Nivea Men has addressed men’s mental health.
The club’s Red Way programme and recent progress report states that all their partners ‘will be aligned to our sustainability values’. It isn’t clear, though, how the club will be measuring the sustainability commitments of the companies they work with. Given the club’s record of high-profile partnerships—including a recently-announced partnership with Coca-Cola— it will be interesting to see how the club align reducing their recycling rate by 80% whilst aligning with a brand that is associated with millions of tons of plastic pollution and health issues. A more aligned policy on their commercial partners would push Liverpool’s sustainability credentials even further.
Power and Profit: remaining accountable
Liverpool was named the world’s third richest football club in this year’s Deloitte Money League, and transparency around power and profit is a particularly critical element of sustainability for the world’s biggest clubs. Recent outcry over Liverpool’s decision to raise season ticket prices has shown how important continued transparency is if teams want to retain fans’ trust.
The club publishes its annual accounts on its website, providing an insight into media, matchday, and commercial revenue, as well as administrative costs. The club also publish gender pay data, a UK tax strategy, and an overview of its sanctions process. This level of transparency is a positive step towards remaining accountable.
The club’s sustainability activities are reported and assessed in line with their BSI ISO20121 certification, and the recently-published overview and highlights report is the first to take a look at the club’s sustainability progress. The report provides a useful overview of the club’s sustainability work, but an in-depth, regular annual sustainability report, clearly outlining aims and achievements under each pillar, would make future progress even easier to track.
Profile: building on a global brand
Liverpool’s profile has a truly global reach: the club has over 127m followers across social media channels and has the largest YouTube viewing figures in world football. In a recent report reflecting on Liverpool’s first place ranking in the football sustainability index, Commercial Director Ben Latty noted that, ‘as a global brand that spans the world and reaches millions’, Liverpool has ‘a responsibility, and an opportunity, to play our part in creating a healthy planet and thriving communities’.
The club, then, is in a unique position to promote sustainability to its fans, community, and the broader public. The launch of The Red Way in 2021 was an important step forward towards achieving this. The sustainability programme now has a dedicated section on the club’s website, and the club regularly reports on its sustainability events and activities. The club raises awareness of important EDI issues through its social programmes and has taken part in wider awareness-raising events, including the first-ever Green Football Weekend in February.
Engaging and educating the broader public on sustainability is a huge task, and the club could do more to raise awareness around specific environmental issues: while social and community programmes are focused on issues such as sport, health, education, and employment, the club does not currently have a specific environment-focused education programme. This could offer one way for LFC to further use its impressive platform to drive awareness of environmental topics.
The Red Way continues
When it was launched in January 2021, The Red Way sought to ‘put sustainability at the heart of everything LFC does’. In the two years since, Liverpool has clearly taken strides towards a more sustainable future. Industry-standard certifications, a commitment to global initiatives, and accolades and awards have made the headlines, but the everyday work taking place at the club and through its foundation, often grounded in the club’s community roots, is what is truly making a difference for people and the environment.
As always, though, true sustainability requires a commitment to change and transparency across the board. More measurable goals and an official annual sustainability report would help the club and its fans to keep track of progress, while a clearer approach to sustainability criteria for brand and commercial partnerships would make Liverpool’s claim to be a global leader in sustainability even more credible.
With such huge global profiles, the biggest clubs in the Premier League have a particular power—and platform—to promote change. Liverpool’s achievements to date are admirable, and the club holds a unique position to encourage others to follow suit. Let’s hope the Red Way soon becomes the ‘Football Way’, and that more clubs, both in the UK and across the world, follow Liverpool’s great example.
Read moreBethany White