Weaving sustainability into the very soul of a club: Atlético de Madrid
After undertaking Global Sustainable Sport’s assessment to determine its sustainability rating, Atlético de Madrid’s Head of Sustainability and Responsible Business, Rocio Torres, was surprised at what the Spanish football club was already doing in this area.
Torres was searching for a benchmark against which the club could build a sustainability strategy and roadmap. After joining Atlético in February this year, Torres wanted to combine all areas of sustainability at the club in order to establish a more structured strategy.
Commenting on the GSS assessment process, Torres says: “Conducting the Global Sustainable Sports assessment has been of great help to the club. It has helped us to better identify our strengths and areas of improvement in terms of performance in sustainability, as well as to define a road map of next steps to continue sustainability integration. Conducting the assessment gave us this external additional input key to validate our recently defined sustainability strategy.
“Compared to other assessments, GSS is well oriented to the sports industry and sets the focus on the key materiality issues for the industry. In that sense, we found the pillars related to media and partnership very inspiring and of great interest, given that, as one of the most important football clubs in Europe, we have a great responsibility to become part of the solution to the global problem of climate change by generating social awareness.”
Within the European Union (EU), companies with more than 500 employees are required to include a non-financial statement in their strategic reports as required by the Non-financial Reporting Directive. In Spain, Torres explains that there is a focus on emissions and sustainability as part of this.
The club has been working in the sustainability space since 2018, but with the directive requiring a sharper focus on the topic, Atlético realised that being sustainable was not just about hitting targets on paper. It was, in fact, about integrating sustainability into the very fabric of its organisation.
"I think the club started realising what sustainability is, and it is more than just to be compliant with the law."
“I think the club started realising what sustainability is, and it is more than just to be compliant with the law,” Torres tells Global Sustainable Sport.
Last year, Atlético signed a deal with real estate company Cívitas for naming rights to its 70,460-capacity Estadio Metropolitano.
After joining forces with Cívitas, which would also become a sustainability partner, the company suggested that Atlético could be even more proactive in this area.
Torres adds: “What I have noticed is that inside the club this was something that was starting to grow. It was starting to hit different areas within the club as we also hold different types of events, concerts, and so on. New partners and companies and are starting to request non-financial information as what type of certifications do you have or if we measure our CO2 emissions?”
The club started working on the sustainability strategy bringing in all aspects of what could be considered part of the sustainability approach under one roof.
“We were surprised! There are things that we have been doing for years that we would have never said were related to sustainability,” she says.
“Namely, campaigns against racism or fostering respect, or all the energy and water consumption efficiency measures already in place. It’s all at the heart of the club.”
Sustainability is multi-faceted, and Torres and Atlético decided to concentrate on four internally established pillars: culture, communities, environment and governance.
“We have the culture at the heart. Embrace everything,” says Torres, adding: “That is something that gets to my heart. This club has very strong values that makes a difference. People that work at the club have these values deep inside and apply them to their work daily. So I understood that sustainability had to really become a part of that. In fact, it has been there somehow since ever, really from the beginning.”
Torres believes that organisations and clubs need to lead by example; helping to influence a change in behaviour and consciousness that will span multiple generations.
“What we can do most is to really raise awareness and engage people,” explains Torres, “and help to teach behaviours which will spread through the families and the children – an idea of being conscious that we cannot continue living this way. What we can do as a society, as a whole. Really, the Atlético family has to do that together.
The importance of collaboration
Atlético is part of several initiatives, including the United Nations’ Global Compact Spanish Network. Its Foundation is also a member of the ‘Football for the Goals’ initiative, another UN scheme that allows the football community to engage with and advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Previously, Atlético has worked with rival Real Madrid to promote SDGs with football players appearing with a banner at a match that fell on the anniversary of these goals. This demonstrates that there is no rivalry when it comes to the climate emergency – there is only one goal.
Elsewhere, Atlético has an agreement in place with Coca-Cola to work on initiatives such as the ‘Cleaning of Inland Seas’ and ‘Circular Seas’. The club also works with the ‘Foodball-Programme’ to campaign against food waste in collaboration with Aramark, a US-headquartered food services and facilities provider.
Not only this, but it has worked on anti-bullying campaigns, raising awareness of recycling among children and collecting material donations for hospitalised children, social kitchens and more.
Atlético’s Academy works with young boys and girls through a common training programme to train and educate about values through sport. The club offers 11 training centres for vulnerable children through its own Foundation, and also works with Foundación Querer with children with severe neurological disorders and rare diseases.
Using football and developed in four different schools, the club works with children with severe language disorders to promote the development of basic cognitive tasks and social skills, essential for integration.
Moving away from youth, there are also four centres utilising football for development purposes – with support from Atlético – across different prisons in the Spanish capital.
The environmental pillar of Atlético’s sustainability strategy focuses on efforts to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency, utilise renewable energy, cut water usage and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
At present, Atlético measures its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. There are plans in place to begin measuring Scope 3 emissions by the end of the current football season.
AnatolyPm, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The environmental aspect works alongside the other pillars that showcase the club’s community-focused efforts, while finance also plays an important role.
During the assessment, Atlético scored well in the ‘Prosperity’ category.
“There has to be balance between the three pillars: financial, environmental and social aspects,” says Torres, adding: “Putting together the financial part was really quite helpful.”
A long way to go
Atlético describes sustainability as a long-distance race instead of a sprint, in order to generate positive impact.
The Sustainability Strategic Plan defines different working areas linked to the strategic pillars. The recently formed Sustainability Committee will be in charge of fostering internally and externally them. Having a strong sustainability governance structure is key to successfully implement the strategy.
The Committee members are representatives from different areas of the club.
“It is important to put together what we are all doing,” says Torres. “If we really want to follow a strategy, we have to be on the same page.
“Also, having that top management saying now, ‘we are going to go for it’, is what I would really stress makes the difference.”
On working with Torres and Atlético, Mike Laflin, Chief Executive and Founder of GSS, adds: “It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Atletico and Rocio on their GSS assessment.
“What has been great to see is how the assessment has engaged all areas of the club and brought different departments together to understand the true impact that the club has in all aspects of its activities.
“The aim of the assessment is to move organisations away from regarding sustainability as an activity at the side of the organisation, to it being core to the running of the whole organisation.
“It is a complete mindset change and Atletico is now embracing this from senior management through to all areas of the club. This is what the sports industry needs to do. Sport needs to embrace its unique place in society and lead this change in thought and approach. Sport needs to balance profit with purpose to create a more prosperous future for everyone.”