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Pledgeball embraces transformational opportunities

June 08 2023

Pledgeball is bursting into the public consciousness through a range of initiatives – and it has a busy roadmap that will encourage more people to take a stand with sustainability through the power of sport.

Pledgeball embraces transformational opportunities

It has been a transformational few months for Pledgeball, which leverages the power of fandom and sporting communities to drive environmental sustainability efforts. 

In February, the charity played a leading role in organising the inaugural Green Football Weekend – an initiative that surpassed all expectations by engaging 125 clubs across England and Scotland – 45 more than initially anticipated. 

Then in March, sustainability solutions provider RSK became the official lead partner of Pledgeball, offering game-changing backing to fuel future growth.  

“The onboarding of our official lead partner RSK has been hugely significant, providing us with the financial capacity to appoint a CEO and essentially enabling Pledgeball to continue in its work,” Katie Cross, who has transitioned into the role of chief executive after founding the charity in 2019, tells Global Sustainable Sport.

“Broadly as CEO, the plan is to streamline our efficiency, moving from a start-up of volunteers to an efficient, strategically led organisation, and to further develop our understanding of our impact and how to further develop our strategy to maximise this and to scale our work.

“Now that we know it works, we want to work with more and more ambassadors to advocate for this and therefore for climate action within their own communities, from fans to clubs, leagues to governing bodies and individual ambassadors.”

Expansion journey

Cross acknowledges that Pledgeball has been on a “remarkable” journey since kicking off as a grassroots five-a-side tournament in 2019.

“We expanded our reach in 2020 by forging a partnership with our pilot club, the amazing Whitehawk FC, having peer-reviewed academic research published off the back of this, and subsequently extending our presence throughout the sports community, launching with our first professional side, Bristol City FC, in spring 2021,” she adds.

“We now work with stakeholders across the sports community, from clubs and leagues to organisations like the Football Supporters’ Association and governing bodies, and we are very pleased to be one of the founders of Green Football Weekend.

“We are very grateful to have worked with an incredible selection of organisations who feed into this work including Climate Outreach, Loughborough University and the University of Warwick. Our network of stakeholders has been instrumental in our progress.”

Partnerships

Over the past 12 months, Pledgeball’s horizons have broadened significantly, with partnerships struck across the sports industry.

“Recently we launched a partnership with the Lawn Tennis Association – a partnership which has enabled us to not only support them on engaging their members on environmental sustainability, but also to thoroughly prepare strategy and assess the work. We are delighted to be able to support an organisation with such a comprehensive sustainability plan,” Cross says.

“The onboarding of a number of clubs last season including Burnley, Millwall, Norwich City, Bristol Rovers and Huddersfield Town has significantly increased outreach, and it is fantastic to work with these clubs on engaging their fanbase, especially as many of them already have such wonderful ambassadors within their communities of fans and staff.

“Organising Green Football Weekend was also a key development for us, pushing conversations around climate change into mainstream sport coverage.”

Green Football Weekend

Green Football Weekend was an initiative that heralded a new chapter in terms of reach, and demonstrated Pledgeball’s key goal of tapping into the competitive nature of sport in order to gain a wider audience than ever before.

Indeed, the Pledgeball concept is built on the premise of healthy competition.

In support of their clubs, fans pledge to undertake sustainable actions, which are scored accordingly. These actions can range from reducing their shower time to four minutes to turning the thermostat down by one degree to cycling to work to installing solar panels – and much more.

When the total scores are totted up, the clubs are ranked in the Pledgeball League Table, with prizes up for grabs for those who help to set the pace.

Green Football Weekend, which actually featured three weeks of events leading up to February 3-5, engaged supporters far and wide via the Football Association and Football Supporters’ Association, and leading sports broadcasters such as Sky Sports, BT Sport and the BBC, as well as Pledgeball’s fellow activation provider, Count Us In, which encourages people to reduce their impact on the planet.

Other partners included Athletes of the World, BASIS, The Church of England, Common Goal, County Football Associations across the country, Extreme Hangout, Football for Future, Football Manager, Forest Green Rovers, High Impact Athletes, Let’s Go Zero, Minute Media, National Trust, Opta, Possible, The OSCAR Foundation, Rainforest Trust UK, RSPB, Sport Positive, Students Organising for Sustainability, Supporters Direct Scotland, Transform Our World, UN Live and WeAre8 and We Play Green.

The initiative was an enormous success, ensuring a second Green Football Weekend is  inevitable.Initial expectations of around 60,000 so-called ‘Green Goals’ being scored were smashed, with more than 84,000 such actions setting a lofty benchmark for future editions.

"The platform of sport and football offer a unique platform from which to initiate the transformative shift in thinking we need to see when it comes to mobilising people to take climate action." Pledgeball Chief Executive Katie Cross

According to Cross, the level of support for the event from clubs, fans and governing bodies was “far beyond what we expected” and showed that “the appetite for everyone, individuals and organisations, to address sustainability is there – and what Green Football Weekend did was make this visible: sustainability has to be prioritised in all of our decision making.”

However, when asked what the key has been to Pledgeball’s success so far in mobilising fans to take action, Cross says there are multiple contributing factors.

“The platform of sport and football offer a unique platform from which to initiate the transformative shift in thinking we need to see when it comes to mobilising people to take climate action,” she adds. “Pledgeball makes sure to play off these, engaging existing communities who are already emotionally engaged and in a method that moves them from paralysis to action.

“Pledgeball is very much driven by research: not only does our monitoring and evaluation strategy monitor our impact, but external research also feeds into our strategy. Our trustee, Loughborough University’s Dr Mark Doidge, and consultant Jenny Amann have been invaluable in overseeing and feeding into this.

“The impact we have on fans is outlined within the journal article based on the research at our pilot club, with key takeaways being that engaging with Pledgeball provides those who have engaged with a raised awareness of the impact of their choices together with an increased drive to prioritise the sustainable decision, realising that they are part of a community of people taking action rather than being isolated in their concern. We have also seen conversations about climate change happening more frequently, in spheres where they haven’t previously.”

Research 

The research referenced by Cross illustrated the potential of Pledgeball to spearhead positive change. For example, if every fan in a full Wembley Stadium reduced their shower time to five minutes, it would save the equivalent CO2 as taking 6,000 cars off the road.

Small individual changes can therefore contribute towards significant broader societal change, and in that context, it is crucial to empower fans; not only in terms of taking steps themselves, but also in order to encourage their clubs to take action.

“Fans have a huge amount of power to drive change, as we have seen from their activity in other areas such as the European Super League,” Cross says. “Not only can they reduce individual emissions and have a significant impact by doing this as a collective, but they can also accelerate infrastructural change, both by making these decisions and applying consumer pressure and also by speaking to their clubs.”

Pledgeball is prepared for a busy roadmap of events and initiatives over the coming weeks as it seeks to build on its momentum. 

The opening of the LTA Pledgeball League, featuring different tennis clubs up and down the country, will take place this coming Monday, June 12.

Beyond that, the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, which will be hosted in Australia and New Zealand and get underway on July 20, will provide a further launchpad for change.

“Fans have a huge amount of power to drive change, as we have seen from their activity in other areas such as the European Super League." Pledgeball Chief Executive Katie Cross

Pledgeball is looking for as many individuals and organisations as possible to join its Women’s World Cup Campaign, with the aim of rallying the international community of fans to collectively reduce emissions and take a stand on environmental sustainability whilst simultaneously supporting girls’ access to sport and education in the UK and abroad.

In a bid to drive change through the biggest-ever Women’s World Cup, which is featuring a record 32 countries, including England’s Lionesses, Pledgeball is inviting support from individuals, clubs and organisations to act as ambassadors, seeking sponsors and prize providers.

After the 2022 Euros, the Lionesses sent an open letter to the UK Government calling for the availability of football to girls in PE lessons. Girls accessing education has the potential of avoiding nearly 85 gigatonnes of carbon emissions and girls who play sports are more likely to get better grades in school. Further information about the Women’s World Cup Campaign is available here.

In addition, the announcement of the 2023 Pledgeball League winners will be swiftly followed by the start of the new season, and the next edition of the Green Football Weekend is certain to generate widespread interest following the success of the inaugural edition.

For Pledgeball, a transformational time appears to be only just the start.

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