Manchester United fan sat on their sofa smiling with their red, black and white football scarf around their neck
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By Alex Robinson, 10th July 2024

Sometimes when I watch, I can’t even sit down. I pace anxiously, stomach in knots, shouting futile instructions at the screen. Other times, things go our way, and I feel like I’ve had an injection of optimism and goodwill. The world is kind, and I’m content.

I’m talking – of course – about the power of football.

And I’m far from alone in my passion for the game: lots of you reading this will have plans for the England game tonight – maybe even some pre-match nerves – and about 300 million people are expected to tune in to the final of the Euros on Sunday. The World Cup Final gets five times as many.

Football is much more than entertainment. It’s a phenomenon that brings people from all walks of life together and creates incredibly strong bonds.

Research last year showed that fans feel more strongly connected to their football club than the actual community they live in.

It’s the combination of passion and cultural ubiquity that gives football a unique platform to drive change.

Players, clubs and organisers have long known this. From the Kick It Out! anti-racism movement and Black Lives Matter protests to recent mental health campaigns, there are plenty of instances of the beautiful game using its voice for good.

Next up? Nature and climate change

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in football clubs:

  • Amateur clubs face an average of five cancellations or postponements a season due to extreme weather (Utilita research, 2021)
  • By 2050, 25% of English football stadiums will be at risk of annual flooding (Tifo Football, 2021)

Campaigning group Football for Future point out that the effects are felt inequitably.

The lower down the football pyramid you go, the fewer resources clubs have to deal with extreme weather events made more likely by climate change.

Two Manchester City football fans sat side by side on their sofa smiling

Manchester is Green

The good news? Fans want to see football use its influence to make a difference.

A survey of Wolverhampton Wanderers fans found that 85% care about environmental sustainability and climate change and 80% felt their club has a responsibility to raise awareness.

The door to fan engagement is wide open: we just need more campaigns that speak fans’ language.

At Hubbub, we tapped into this with a project that supported fans of the two big Manchester clubs to put more plants on their plates.

Our match tactics:

  • A three-week challenge for Manchester-based City and United fans.
  • Each week followed a different theme: Cooking from Scratch, Plant-Powered Eating and More Taste Less Waste. Within each theme, we encouraged specific behaviours which have associated environmental, health and cost benefits.
  • In just three weeks, the Manchester is Green challenge led to:
70% of fans  who took part eating 77% more plants, 83% reported wasting less food, 68% of households saving £17.50 each week (average)

The project gave us great insights about how to engage football fans to change their behaviours, including focusing on the benefits, the power of social norming through peer groups, and the effectiveness of a challenge format – an approach the sustainable football start-ups Planet League and Pledgeball are both focusing on to great effect.

“I love bacon butties, pies and steak, I’m not really the kind of person that would normally go for this.”

Carl, Newton Heath, Manchester United fan – reduced his meat consumption from five or six days a week to one or two days a week.

In extra time

The conversation around football and the environment is changing fast.

While there’s still (legitimate!) anger at all the flights taken by clubs - and necessitated by tournaments like the Euros – there’s a huge amount of great work going on at club and grassroots levels.

In the West Midlands, for example, the Birmingham FA has a well-established campaign called Save Today, Play Tomorrow that runs everything from boot swaps to ride-sharing schemes. With over 100,000 regular players at the clubs they oversee, there’s enormous opportunity for influence.

It’s a great theme for our approach at Hubbub too, as football touches many of the areas we focus on:

  • Sustainable Diets: match day meals, stadium offerings, men & meat...
  • Travel: active travel, carpooling...
  • Waste and Litter: tackling litter around stadiums with the Big Ballot Bin and Ballot Bin...
  • Fashion: kit care and repair, boot swaps...
  • Nature: funding green spaces, spending time in nature, access for those without it…

We’re keen to do more work around sport and sustainability. If you have a challenge that needs a creative spark, then please do get in touch.

Are you a business that wants to collaborate?

If you have a challenge to share, or want to get involved with our work, we'd love to hear from you.

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