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Premier League sustainability plan lacks ambition, charity claims

February 15 2024 - News Release News Editorial

English football’s Premier League has been urged to be “far more ambitious” by a UK climate charity after announcing a new Environmental Sustainability Commitment following a meeting with its clubs last week.

Premier League sustainability plan lacks ambition, charity claims

The commitment, designed to introduce “a minimum standard of action on environmental issues across the clubs and the league”, comprises four operational measures that will “provide a foundation to underpin long-term environmental ambitions”, according to the league.

Clubs will be compelled to develop a “robust” environmental sustainability policy by the end of the 2024-25 season and additionally designate a senior employee to lead activities in this space.

They will also be required to develop a greenhouse gas dataset spanning direct and indirect emissions under the Scope 1, 2 and 3 guidelines by the end of the 2025-26 season whilst working towards a “standardised, football-wide approach to measuring emissions”. 

Furthermore, clubs have committed to “support the development of a common framework for action via the Premier League Sustainability Working Group,” which was established last year.

However, Rob Bryher, Aviation Campaigner at London-based Possible, told Global Sustainable Sport that the league’s new measures do not go far enough. Earlier this month, the charity urged the league to adopt a no-fly policy for domestic games after its research found that 84% of matches can be reached by away teams via coach travel in less than four-and-a-half hours.

“While the Premier League’s environmental sustainability commitment is a welcome step, particularly in compelling all clubs to have a climate policy in place by a certain date, the Premier League should be far more ambitious in their current policy,” Bryher said.

“The Premier League’s long-term environmental ambitions do not include compelling clubs to report on their emissions for transparency and accountability, nor do they acknowledge the emissions clubs are producing in flying to games both domestically and abroad.”

"The Premier League’s long-term environmental ambitions do not include compelling clubs to report on their emissions for transparency and accountability." Rob Bryher, Aviation Campaigner at London-based Possible

Defending champions Manchester City took a private jet to 10 domestic matches last season, generating the same emissions as 402 electric coach return journeys, and only saved an average of one hour per trip, according to Possible. Research carried out by the BBC last March found that the average time in the air for Premier League clubs flying to domestic away games was just 42 minutes.

According to the latest information, Premier League clubs are yet to sign up to the Sustainable Travel Charter, which was launched last October by a working group comprising the Pledgeball charity, the Football Supporters’ Association and a number of English Football League clubs. However, Premier League club Crystal Palace does have a policy in place to avoid the use of flights unless they are deemed as absolutely necessary.

According to Pledgeball, Premier League clubs generate an average of 56.7 tonnes CO2e per season due to travel, with 85% of this total due to flying to and from fixtures.

The league signed up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework in November 2021. As a signatory, the league aims to reduce its own emission by 50% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

The English top flight’s latest measures have been unveiled in the wake of UEFA’s announcement of its aim to make the upcoming Euro 2024 football tournament in Germany the most sustainable edition of all time.

The event is set to feature 43 activities designed to achieve 18 major targets across climate action, sustainable infrastructure, and circular economy. It is backed by a €32m (£27.3m/$34.3m) investment by the continental body to achieve this.

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