STPT Annual Celebration

Blog: Save Today, Play Tomorrow

Read an update on the award-winning regional football sustainability campaign

Save Today, Play Tomorrow

The following article covers how the relationship between football and climate change is being addressed by one forward-thinking and pioneering regional governing body for football.

A blog written by Sustainability & Business Insights Manager, Richard Lindsay.

Birmingham County Football Association are one of the largest regional governing bodies in the English Football Associations network of 49 organisations. Unlike the name suggests we cover the 3 main cities in the West Midlands, namely Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry but our reach extends into the Black Country, Walsall, Warwickshire, Tamworth and into East Staffordshire.  

Our membership includes 1200 football clubs, 7 of which are professional, but the majority fall under what is more commonly known as “Grassroots”. This number of clubs equates to 5200 teams, 1200 match officials, 25,000 volunteers and coaches, and upwards of 80,000 players regularly participating in all formats of the game. Within the region over 48,000 affiliated games happen each season. 

The Economic Report for Football published by the Football Association in 2019 estimated that for our region, through social and economic value grassroots football generated c.£522 million to the local economy each season.  

On June 8th, 2021, we proudly launched Save Today, Play Tomorrow the first-of-its-kind sustainability programme in the UK that looks to empower and engender grassroots football to support the ambitious goal of creating a low-carbon greener game across the region. 

As a local governing body, we recognise the need to act now to ensure the beautiful game significantly reduces its environmental impact, whilst helping to educate those involved in football at all levels to make informed decisions that will shape how much future generations will be able to enjoy and sustain the game in the long term.  

The programme is made up of 4 workstreams that are aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These are Health and Well-being; Positive Education; Climate Action; and Reconnecting Football with Nature (Bio-Diversity). 

In February 2021, to coincide with this work Birmingham  County FA were accepted as participatory members of the UN’s Sport for Climate Action Framework,  the first County FA to do so, joining the likes of Liverpool FC, Tottenham FC, the Olympics Committee and over 270 other national and international sports organisations in using the power of sport to combat climate change. Subsequently, we have accelerated our commitment by joining Race to Zero committing to Net Zero by 2040.  

Before launching the programme and continuing after, we have made considerable transformational changes to our own facility to ensure we reduced our footprint and can robustly report to the UN  and others on our scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. These changes included. 

  • The installation of a full roof solar array 
  • GHG Protocol aligned Net-Zero Carbon Reporting and Accounting 
  • Zero to landfill 
  • Installed efficient low energy heating and lighting 
  • Installation of 2 Electric Vehicle Chargers 
  • Moved to digital programmes for all major events and cup finals
  • Adopted an agile workplace to reduce staff travel to/from the office 
  • Installed additional water refill stations on site for public use  
  • Qualified 5 members of staff as Mental Health Champions 
  • Switched to organic pitch maintenance products 
  • Staff completed Carbon Literacy training  
  • Created the first-ever Carbon Calculator based on Football travel  

As the regional governing body for football, we believe we also have a responsibility to support our clubs in helping us/them achieve a low-carbon greener game, which is why through the Save Today, Play Tomorrow Programme we implemented our Sustainability Pledge, a voluntary commitment by clubs that they would over the season proactively find alternative, active, or more sustainable ways to travel to and from football, reduce waste, consume less energy and water, offer alternative seasonal or vegan food, and engage in community-based projects and environmental projects. 

Just over 130 clubs from across the region of all sizes with almost 850 teams in total have already signed up and compete monthly using the Pledgeball platform to make carbon-saving pledges in support of their club. Whoever finishes top at the end of the month wins £500 towards the clubs operating costs like pitch hire, new kit etc. To date over 2000 tonnes of co2e has been pledged to be saved by the participating clubs, the equivalent to taking almost 500 cars off the UK roads.  

Linked to this also is a pilot scheme with Birmingham City Council (BCC) as they look to engage the football community in their city-wide decarbonisation plans. Using our sustainability pledge and the digital platform clubs that use BCC-owned or managed facilities for match days record their activities in return for a 25% reduction on their pitch hire costs. To some clubs, this could be worth up to £600  over the course of a season.  

In addition to this, we recognised that finance would be a reason football clubs may not be able to make changes which is why on September 21 we launched the Green Innovation Fund, a ringfenced pot of our own capital to the value of £25,000 per season for clubs to implement their own green schemes. So far, we have funded 150 projects over the last 2 seasons, investing nearly £43,000 back into the game locally, supporting the removal of an estimated 9000 plastic bottles per week by switching to reusable, as well as funding the installation of water refill stations, solar panels, EV chargers and cycle racks at various sites across the region.  

Furthermore, to reduce waste from within the game we have partnered with the energy company Utilita and their Football Rebooted programme that aims to keep 1 million pairs of football boots in use and out of landfill using a network of over 50 West Midlands-based grassroots football clubs to act as collection and distribution points.  

The largest proportion of grassroots football’s footprint is travel with data showing over c.2.6 million football travel movements each season in our region alone. We also know from research that within Birmingham there are 30 venues with PM2.5 pollution levels that exceed WHO safety guidelines. To support reducing the reliance on the car we have partnered with Liftshare the UK’s largest carsharing organisation to launch the first Liftshare scheme in grassroots football offering all clubs, teams, officials, players and spectators a more sustainable alternative in how they travel to football. So far almost 1000 members have joined the scheme, which is supported by Birmingham City FC and Corporate Travel Management (CTM) with free matchday tickets to incentivise lift sharing.  

So, what’s next for Save Today, Play Tomorrow? 

First and foremost, we are keen to share our programme with the wider County FA network and have created a shared value model that we are hoping to pilot with 4-6 others at the beginning of  2023. This model will allow them to access elements of the programme that will bring them the greatest initial impact, both from an environmental aspect and also from a financial aspect with key investment agreed.  

Following the launch of our charity of the year partnership with The Birmingham and Black County Wildlife Trust we will now offer staff one “Back to Nature” volunteering day each year coupled with one well-being day for more personal activity. For the club network there will be opportunities for rewilding at venues, membership to the Wildlife Trust, education, club or team volunteering days as well as fundraising at key events during the season 

January is seeing our pioneering Carbon Literacy in Grassroots Football Education Course go live where clubs, teams, volunteers and participants are provided with an awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions,  on an individual, community, and club basis. We hope also to have this course accredited by the FA education team so that it can be included as part of the volunteer CPD offering.  

With our partners UtilityWorks we have gone live with the BCFA Green Energy Product that offers football clubs of all sizes the opportunity to move complete energy audits to understand how they can immediately make efficiencies using smart tech, innovation or just behaviour changes to reduce their consumption and in time switch to a 100% renewable energy tariff provided by a tier one supplier at rates usually only accessible by the most energy-intensive industries.

By combining their consumption clubs can take huge strides in their own sustainability journey and open further opportunities to deploy carbon-saving technology like solar arrays or EV chargers. This innovative energy product will also create both a Sustainability Fund for clubs to access support for other infrastructure but also a Community Fund that will help alleviate the burden of cost on clubs for kit, equipment, or clubhouse renovations for example.

Early February sees the football community come together for the Green Football Weekend (3-5 February) and Save Today, Play Tomorrow will carry the message for Birmingham County FA to its leagues and clubs to take positive action that supports awareness of the relationship football has with the environment and how together we can achieve the ambitious aim of a low carbon game.

Finally, in the spring of 2023, we will be hosting our annual County Cup Finals, all 14 of them from Youth, Women’s, and Veterans right through to the most prestigious, the Senior Challenge Cup which is over 100 years old. This season using our friends over at Planet Mark, we will implement a Carbon Management Plan to record measures put in place plans to reduce the carbon footprint of these finals. Planet Mark will review and verify that PAS2060 standards have been met and are gold standard or VCS offsets will be procured for the finals to be Carbon Neutral events, as we look at more long-term solutions to reduce the impacts of these events.  

The programme is evolving constantly as we find new ways for grassroots football to be a fundamental game-changer in the fight against climate change. 

To find out more about this work please visit our website.

Richard Lindsay
Sustainability & Business Insights Manager, Birmingham County FA