UEFA’s Champions Innovate gives sustainability chance to shine

June 06 2024

UEFA’s Champions Innovate recently allowed a trio of sustainability organisations to gain exposure on club football’s biggest stage.

UEFA’s Champions Innovate gives sustainability chance to shine

The governing body utilised the global reach of its men’s Champions League, a flagship event in club football, to elevate sustainability.

Months of research was undertaken to find ways of making the Champions League final more sustainable, ahead of this year’s decider on June 1 between eventual champions Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

It resulted in three Champions Innovate finalist start-ups – Pavegen, My Emissions, and Pledgeball – with each presenting their projects to a judging panel at a showcase event in London City Hall prior to the match at Wembley Stadium.

Champions Innovate brought together UEFA, commercial partners, the host city of London, and start-up companies. The latter were tasked with finding innovative solutions to sustainability challenges.

After being narrowed down from a pool of 100, the three were paired with a Champions League sponsor in the form of PepsiCo’s Rockstar Energy Drink, Just Eat, and Mastercard.

“UEFA’s sustainability drive definitely gives us a platform to work on things like Champions Innovate,” PepsiCo vice-president Bart LaCount told Global Sustainable Sport.

“We have done things in past editions of the Champions League such as how to reduce plastic consumption, but we had more activations in the Champions League fan zones that encouraged people to use reusable cups and return them. From that they could get prizes for recycling. The partnership definitely helped and gave us a broader platform to activate all of our brands.

“It is different to just a specific brand programme but it also opens up opportunities to do things beyond what our brands can do. This is a great example because Rockstar was hosting concerts which could happen with or without us. This coming in now has a more positive benefit and makes people more aware and helps Pavegen get more visibility and hopefully more money for what they are trying to do.

“I think it is a win-win for everyone.”

For Champions Innovate, Rockstar teamed up with Pavegen for the ‘Green Energy Challenge’. Pavegen was created by Laurence Kemball-Cook and produces kinetic floor tiles that can generate clean electricity.

The two collaborated to deploy an energy-generating kinetic dance floor at the Champions League Festival in Trafalgar Square, which took place from May 30 to June 2.

The interactive feature converted attendees into active participants and the energy they generated helped to power both the microphone and DJ booth at the Friday Night Show before the final.

In addition to Trafalgar Square, the Festival was held at five locations across London and was packed with social and environmental sustainability programmes over its four days.

These included carbon labelling on menu boards to bring transparency to fan food choices, inclusive communication, wheelchair and blind football demonstrations, and a food waste management pilot.

Collective action

My Emissions’ partnership with Just Eat operated the menu labelling and conducted carbon assessments of the Festival’s food trucks as well as at concession points and hospitality areas of Wembley Stadium during the final in the ‘Sustainable Food Challenge’.

These were aimed at allowing customers to make informed choices. Even a simple decision can make a big difference, for example if 3,000 people decide to have a chicken burger instead of a beef burger it would power Wembley Stadium for 90 minutes, according to My Emissions co-founder Matthew Isaacs.

The pair were ultimately crowned as the inaugural Champions Innovate winner for its changes to the food industry, which is currently responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon labelling is taking off at other major events too, and is set to be implemented at the Wimbledon tennis championships next month.

It is hoped that giving people the choice to eat sustainably will be received much more positively than telling customers what they can or cannot eat.

Those within the industry are not satisfied just yet, however, and see much more potential on the horizon.

“What’s really exciting is to see where we can go after this,” Isaacs said.

“With some of our other partners we are starting to tie promotions into low-carbon choices and that adds an extra, really exciting layer.

“For example, with one partner they have changed the traditional stamp cards where customers get something for free after buying it a certain number of times. Now it’s buy 10 A-rated meals, get one free.

“It is bringing some kind of joy and pride to choosing lower carbon and more sustainable choices.

“So, we are thinking ‘how can we bring that joy whilst also educating and, hopefully, encouraging people to make more sustainable choices?’”

My Emissions will continue to take collective action with other organisations to ensure impactful change.

This combined effort was also the area of expertise for Pledgeball and Mastercard during Champions Innovate, as they were given the ‘Fan Engagement and Sustainable Behaviour Challenge’.

Together they developed the Champions Innovate Pledge League, an online platform engaging football fans to commit to taking actionable steps towards addressing climate change in the context of the Champions League final.

Pledgeball works by having users sign up and obliging to do something environmentally friendly which could range from going vegan to doing beach cleans.

For Pledgeball chief executive Katie Cross it is essential for the public to come together, but she has also called on people to vent their concerns in order to ignite change.

“Technology is not going to solve the climate crisis, even technology that replaces the use of fossil fuels,” she said.

“We have to have public engagement around climate, and we are not talking necessarily about behaviour change.

“We know that the biggest emitters are the high earners, not those going to games every day.

“What we do need is a population that feels empowered to challenge the things that they are not happy with and speak up.”

All three of the UEFA Champions Innovate finalists shared the theme that working together is the most effective way of tackling the climate crisis.

The programme offered a platform to share their message and continue their mission. It will continue for the 2025 final in Munich with the theme of physical activity, as UEFA looks to keep using football as a tool for positive impacts on global sustainability issues.


Image via UEFA

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