Climate Action Programme case study: Bristol Sport
12th December 2022
Bristol Sport have set up a cross group environmental sustainability strategy covering Ashton Gate Stadium, five sports teams and their training grounds, as well as four charitable foundations. In this case study, Peter Smith, their Property and Development Project Manager shares the steps they’ve taken so far towards their net zero 2040 goal, and how they are hoping to bring sporting fans on the journey with them.
Our group includes Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol City Football Club, Bristol Bears Rugby Club, and Bristol Flyers Basketball. We set up Project Whitebeam as our cross-group environmental sustainability strategy to set targets, agree a common strategy and make the most out of the power of the sporting group. We wanted to recognise our impact on the environment as sports clubs and start measuring it at the same time as taking steps to mitigate. We know we’re not ‘saving the world’ but we have an opportunity to reduce our footprint as well as influence our supporters.
Set a target – even if you don’t know how to get there (yet!)
Our clubs have joined UN Sports for Climate Action Framework high-ambition track and are on the UN Race to Zero with our targets of 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2040. We don’t yet know how we are going to achieve it, but we needed to start with the end in sight. If the only organisations to go on the journey to net zero are the ones who already know how to get there, it wouldn’t achieve the level of change needed.
We’ve broken down our strategy into five key areas; climate change, waste, water, biodiversity, and air quality. Some actions will address issues in just one of those areas but others will work across a few simultaneously. This approach makes sure we are not just focussing on carbon and ignoring other vital impacts such as nature.
The sporting context
We are at the start of this journey but compared to many sports clubs we believe we’re ahead of the curve. Sport in its current format isn’t sustainable so we need to think now about how the clubs and stadium can operate long term. Some sports, such as Sail GP and the German football league are being more ambitious by providing financial or regulatory incentives.
In our sports, incentivisation and auditing is in the early days but there are schemes such as Sport Positive league tables and English Football League Green Clubs status. There are also some awards which we’ve been recognised in; we were a finalist in the British Association for Sustainable Sport annual awards for our work on food sourcing and waste, and we won the Football Supporter’s Association inaugural climate action award for our work so far on Project Whitebeam. Schemes and awards like these are a first step towards all clubs having to make changes, rather than one or two doing stuff because they can and want to.
Progress so far
So far, the biggest impacts of Project Whitebeam have been in relation to energy, food, and transport. We’ve invested in making our building portfolio more efficient over the last few years and now Ashton Gate has over 750m2 of solar panels and Bristol Bears training ground has them too, while Bristol City’s training ground is heated via air source heat pumps and is a zero gas facility. They also all have a building management system which, might sound a bit boring but makes a huge difference to energy output.
Food wise we now have 14 plant-based options on match days, and over 50% of food and beverage purchased at Ashton Gate comes from less than 12 miles away. Any matchday surplus food goes to St Mungo’s women’s shelter, and for the last 2.5 years we have hosted FareShare rent free so almost 5 million meals have been delivered out of Ashton Gate, diverting well over 132 tonnes of food waste from landfill.
Supporter transport makes up a large percentage of our emissions. People travel from all over to come to matches so we need to ensure there are a combination of transport options. We’ve increased buses for supporters from two Bristol Park and Ride locations, as well as Bristol Temple Meads and the coach station. We estimate that this season fans will travel 525,000 km collectively on these services.
The power of sport
The biggest impact we could potentially have is influencing our supporters. Sport connects people and we want to take the clubs on the journey with us; fans, staff, owners, sponsors, foundations, and players. For that to work, we have to be making those changes internally, not just asking fans to change their behaviour, and we need to make the ‘better’ options easy and available. So far the reaction has been really positive, if anything, people are saying we should be doing more and doing it quicker. We want our supporters to be proud of their clubs, and not just for the results on matchday.
One way we’ve helped to get fans engaged is through our partnership with Pledgeball which is a way for sports fans to make positive climate pledges with a bit of healthy competition thrown in. We were the first professional club to partner with Pledgeball and last season Bristol City won the league by our supporters making pledges to save more carbon than any other club. Pledgeball is simple, engaging, well researched, fun and competitive without being overly onerous so a massive credit to Founder Katie Cross.
- Wrap your head around what you actually want to achieve and get it down on paper.
- Say internally and publicly that you are going to go on this journey – it will motivate you to do it and you will quickly realise how many positive changes you’re able to make with little effort.
- We’re lucky in that we have the support of our owner, and as a sporting group, we can share resource and initiatives across the clubs. Look at how you can work with others in your sector to share ideas and best practice, such as through the Climate Action Programme.
- Be alert for greenwashing but don’t be paralysed by fear and end up doing nothing. Perfection is the enemy of good! Our staff want to make positive changes around sustainability but previously, hadn’t necessarily felt they had the power or knowledge. With Project Whitebeam we now have a shared strategy but each sports team have their own individual taskforce, joining some of the dots as well as devolving the power for change to different clubs, departments and teams. This is important because they are all experts in their own areas of work and know exactly what potential they have for change.
- Put on your green goggles – for any business decision don’t just think traditionally about cost, money and ease, consider is it the right thing to do?
- Think about environmental sustainability as being hand in hand with your business sustainability. Get ahead of the curve because inevitably in a few years’ time you will need to make changes whether due to public opinion, financial penalties, or regulations.
Find out more about Project Whitebeam on the Bristol Sport website, and take a listen to A New Kind of Winning – a podcast that Peter did with Katie from Pledgeball. For support with your organisation’s efforts to become carbon neutral and climate resilient, take a look at the Climate Action Programme resources.