Wembley is one of the oldest arenas hosting Euro 2020 matches. Can an old venue reduce its environmental impact as well as a newer one?
When it comes to legacy stadiums, it has no more history than Wembley Arena in London. Opened as the Empire Pool in 1934 for the British Empire Games, 90 years later it is perhaps the UK’s most famous venue for sports and concerts. At the end of the 1970s, it was granted protected status and renamed Wembley, the district of London where it is located.
The downside to this legendary status, of course, is that the building isn’t as energy efficient as newer stadiums. Nevertheless, the arena has made great strides in improving its environmental performance. In 2019, it received the ISO 20121 certificate, the highest international standard for sustainability in events, and was recertified in 2020.
This largely recognized the work done by the English Football Association, which manages the stadium. The FA developed an Event Sustainability Management System, led by Sarah Smith, in 2018.
The sustainability team “is continuously working to improve the areas of environmental impact considered most important to events at Wembley Stadium – energy and climate action, waste, plastic use, water, food and transport,” explains Smith. âTo name just a few of our many accomplishments in these areas over the years, we haven’t put any waste to landfill since 2010, we’ve installed water fountains in the stadium, increased meal options vegetarians and vegans, installed charging points for electric vehicles outside the stadium. stage, and switched to reusable cups for beer delivery. “
As for energy impacts, Smith says it depends on the type of event. âThey vary in duration and often have very different requirements for setting up before and after the event, which means that some will use less energy than others,â she told EURACTIV. âHowever, it also gives us a huge opportunity – in 2019 we switched to 100% renewable electricity and put the spotlights to LED, reducing energy consumption by around 40%. We continue to deploy LED lighting throughout the building and to identify and implement energy saving initiatives. “
This year Wembley has been chosen as one of 11 host stadiums for the Euro 2020 football tournament which has been postponed until June of this year due to the pandemic. This put him in the spotlight as people watch the climate implications of this year’s unusual event – less fan participation due to COVID but more team trips because the usual host country (ies) were extended to eleven.
âDue to COVID-19 regulations, at this time the stadium will be operating at reduced capacity for the safety of everyone at the event,â Smith says. âAs the majority of the environmental impact of our events comes from areas such as transport, food consumption, waste and energy, naturally, with fewer people moving and using the stadium, our impact in these areas will be reduced. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to tackle our environmental impact. “
Examples of smaller and newer stadiums
The inevitable reality, however, is that a large stadium hosting international football has limits on what it can accomplish. But there are certainly lessons to be learned from some of the UK’s smaller clubs. One example is the Forest Green Rovers, a non-profit football club based in Nailsworth, England.
The Rovers, who participate in the fourth tier of English football, have evolved into a green football club under the leadership of Dale Vince. It became the world’s first vegan football club in 2015, and a new lawn was installed with a number of eco-friendly innovations.
âThey recently designed a new stadium which is being built designed with sustainability in mind,â says Charlie Rogers, consultant with environmental consultancy Small World. âIt’s made of sustainable materials like wood and incorporates renewable energy sources on site. They also use public transport to get to their matches, use only locally sourced food, and spread environmental messages to their fans.
Such measures are currently not being considered for a large stadium like Wembley or a large international tournament like Euro 2020. Rogers says that some of the measures taken by the Forest Green Rovers have lessons for the upper leagues, and some do not. .
âIt’s so different being a team in a lower division in the UK compared to an international team,â she said. âThis of course poses huge carbon footprint problems. Many teams will play regularly in their respective countries and will not fly internationally all the time. Although they can fly for business instead of a mini-jet. “
âThere are huge challenges when you have an international fan base and international competition, because it’s extravagant,â she adds. âYou won’t be able to eliminate all the energy consumption issues from a large event like this. But one of the biggest impacts isn’t the actual power consumption of the tournament itself, it influences the millions of people who go to watch. You have so many eyes watching, and if they have the opportunity to change the ways of so many people.
Smith says Wembley has plenty of plans for further efforts to go green, and one area is in communication with fans. âContinuous improvement is a key aspect of maintaining ISO 20121 and our management system,â she says.
âThe general awareness of the impact of football on climate change has grown in recent years – we know that football can have a negative impact on the environment and we also know that a poor environment can have a negative impact on football. However, we also know that football has the power to create lasting positive change and that there are some really exciting things happening at all venues in the UK and around the world.
One example, she says, is the rise of sports organizations like the FA committing to the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate action framework and positioning the sector on the path to a low-carbon economy.
Euro 2020 can also provide lessons on how reduced audience capacity affects energy consumption and overall environmental impact. Of course, any stadium will naturally want to ensure that all seats are filled once the pandemic is over. But if some of the reduced environmental impacts evident during this unusual tournament could be replicated even at full capacity, it could provide some interesting lessons on how to make football greener.