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Will EURO 2024 be the most sustainable European Championship ever?

July 21 2023

With one year to go until the next edition of the men’s European Championships, UEFA launched its EURO 2024 ESG Strategy this week.

The event has made headlines for its policy of encouraging teams not to fly between matches. But what else does its sustainability strategy cover? And will next year’s event really be “the most sustainable European Championship of all time”?

EURO 2024: Sustainable beginnings

Next year’s event will take place in Germany between the 14th June and the 14th July. Ten cities will host matches, including the country’s capital, Berlin, and Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. Venues will include Berlin’s historic Olympiastadion, Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, and the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Sustainability has been integrated into the event since the initial bid in 2018. Together with DFB, the German national football association, UEFA presented an Event Social Responsibility Strategy in 2021. Since then, UEFA’s Social and Environmental Sustainability Division has aligned the strategy with UEFA’s wider Football Sustainability Strategy 2030. The result is its newest plan, published earlier this week.

Several initiatives and partnerships have already been unveiled, including the announcement of a partnership with Deutsche Bahn at the inaugural UEFA Respect Forum, held last month in Frankfurt.

Senior figures within UEFA have made it clear that the event will take a comprehensive approach to sustainability, covering social, environmental, and governance aspects.

“EURO 2024 is a big opportunity for us to show how sustainability can be a driving force for the event’s success. The legacy is not only for Germany, but all of European football and other sports if we can inspire them,” said Michele Uva, UEFA’s Director of Social & Environmental Sustainability, at the Respect Forum last month.

Meanwhile, Andreas Schär, managing director of EURO 2024 GmBH, has said that sustainability will be “part of the tournament’s DNA”.

As awareness of the climate crisis grows, more and more events are making ambitious sustainability claims. The 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar claimed to be the first ‘carbon-neutral’ World Cup, but regulators later ruled that these claims were misleading. Meanwhile, organisers of next year’s Olympics, which will be held in Paris, have committed to staging the first-ever ‘climate positive’ Games.

As ambitions for sports events grow, does UEFA’s sustainability strategy set them on the path to holding the most sustainable European Championship to date?

The EURO 2024 ESG Strategy: Pillars, actions, topics, and targets

UEFA’s men’s European Championship is the third-largest sporting event in the world, and its new ESG strategy reflects its vast reach.

The EURO 2024 ESG Strategy focuses on ‘targeted investments and measures’ that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The strategy is structured along three pillars—environmental, social, and governance—and eleven areas of action, which include climate action, sustainable infrastructure, circular economy, diversity & inclusion, health & wellbeing, good governance, and education.

These eleven areas of action cover 28 separate topics, including carbon management, energy, water, waste, anti-discrimination, accessibility, procurement, transparency, and accountability.

With 48 individual targets and 83 key performance indicators falling under these topics, the ESG strategy covers a lot of ground. But what concrete goals are in place?

The Environment Pillar: Planet

The focus of the strategy’s environment pillar is to reduce the event’s impact on the environment and to establish a climate fund, which will be dedicated to mitigation projects and will account for the tournament’s unavoidable emissions.

Plans to invest in a climate fund are a clear break from the use of carbon offsets. As offsetting schemes are increasingly coming under scrutiny, more and more events are looking for alternative ways to mitigate unavoidable emissions. Though the strategy doesn’t provide much detail on how the climate fund will work in practice, it will be interesting to see how UEFA develop this initiative.

The event will measure its own carbon footprint in line with the GHG protocol, and will implement a carbon footprint reduction plan to reduce it.

Organisers will also introduce measures to reduce the carbon footprint of its staff, participating teams, and spectators by incentivising the use of public transport, raising awareness of environmental issues, and requiring each team to implement an emissions-reduction plan.

Other actions will focus on energy, water, and waste. Planned actions include reducing energy consumption by reducing floodlighting, reducing electricity use, switching to renewable energy, minimising water consumption, providing packaging-free products, and implementing a food donation plan.

Two major initiatives have already been announced. A partnership with Deutsche Bahn, which was unveiled in Berlin last month, will allow ticket-holders to buy discounted long-distance train tickets for use across the country. Meanwhile, spectators travelling to Germany from 32 European countries will also be able to buy discounted Interrail passes. Once they reach host cities, fans will be able to travel free of charge on local public transport for 36 hours.

Meanwhile, match schedules have been arranged so that fixtures will be divided into three clusters, in the north, west, and south of the country. Each team will play twice in one cluster, reducing the need for travel. Teams will also be encouraged to travel by train or coach within Germany.

By encouraging travel by train and reducing the need for fans and teams to take high-impact flights, these two measures could reduce the event’s overall carbon footprint across scopes 1, 2 and 3. Promoting public transport also sends a strong message about the need for fans to think carefully about their travel choices.

Dr. Richard Lutz, CEO of Deutsche Bahn, said at the launch of the initiative that organisers have “the unique opportunity to make UEFA EURO 2024 a thrilling event entirely dedicated to green mobility”.

Picking up on this point, Dr. Volker Wissing, German federal minister of transport, added: “Our mobility concept focuses on rail and public transport. The partnership that has now been concluded between Deutsche Bahn and UEFA is a strong signal in this respect. I would like to see as many fans as possible take advantage of the offer to travel climate neutrally.”

The Social Pillar: People, Participation, and Partnerships

Under the social pillar, EURO 2024 will focus on preventing and fighting discrimination, advocating for health and physical activity, and fostering ties with grassroots football in Germany and Europe.

Key actions laid out in the plan include addressing discrimination through a match observer scheme, implementing all-gender toilets, and ensuring stadium accessibility.

To promote physical health, the event will provide healthy food and drink options and dedicated walking routes to stadiums, as well as hosting grassroots sports activities in Fan Zones. Importantly, the event will also build on existing activities run by the UEFA and DFB Foundations.

Planned measures also include a focus on workforce equality, developing ties with grassroots football, and implementing a child and youth protection policy.

In June, tournament director Philipp Lahm emphasised the importance of holding a socially responsible tournament. “UEFA EURO 2024 will mark a positive turning point for international sports tournaments, focusing on solidarity and responsible, socially and environmentally sustainable activities,” he said.

The Governance Pillar: Profile, Profit, Power

Beyond the environment and social measures, the EURO 2024 ESG strategy also details plans to promote good governance and to leverage the event’s huge platform for good.

The tournament will focus on adopting transparent and responsible forms of conduct in operations, supporting fair supply chains, sharing knowledge and best practice, and cooperating with cities and partners to ensure a positive legacy.

Some key measures will include performing a human rights risk analysis, adopting a sustainable procurement process, engaging sponsors in sustainability activities, and training its workforce and volunteers.

Importantly, the strategy states that the event will make key sustainability-related documentation publicly available. It will also publish a post-event ESG report and an impact study.

Genuine transparency and accountability will be crucial for EURO 2024 to demonstrate its impact.

While the ESG strategy covers a lot of ground, some areas lack detail. Post-event reports, a report on emissions and the planned climate fund, and an impact study will be three key elements to look out for after the tournament concludes.

The beginning of a new era for sports events?

Plans to reduce team flights may have made the headlines, but there is far more to UEFA’s EURO 2024 ESG Strategy.

By focusing on three pillars, UEFA have produced a plan that addresses social and governance aspects as well as environmental measures. The result is a comprehensive strategy that covers all seven of the GSS Sustainable Pillars of Sport.

Plans to measure and mitigate emissions, invest in a climate fund, and promote public transport in partnership with Deutsche Bahn have the potential to decrease the event’s carbon footprint, while actions addressing participation, diversity & inclusion, accessibility, and transparency should help leave a wider positive legacy.

But making key sustainability-related targets, figures, and documentation publicly available will be key if the event is to remain genuinely accountable.

As with all major international sports events, it will be impossible to measure the true impact of next year’s tournament until long after the final whistle. But, by using its platform to put sustainability centre stage, UEFA EURO 2024 has already taken positive steps towards creating new standards, encouraging fans and players to play their part in a more sustainable future for sport and for the planet.

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