The scientific community came to an agreement on the accelerated pace and complexity of climate change in the early 2000s [1]. Since the first industrial revolution, the planet’s median temperature has increased almost over 1.1 °C, estimated that global warming is growing currently per decade due to past and ongoing emissions [2]. Human-caused climate change is a significant issue that over the course of the next century might cause extremely high levels of social, ecological, and economic upheaval [3,4,5]. In its most current Climate Change Assessment Report Summary for Policy Makers, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated: There is no doubt that the climate system is warming, and many of the changes that have been seen since the 1950s have never been seen before across centuries to millennia. Sea level has risen, the amount of snow and ice has decreased, the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased [6]. The drastic change in climate because of human activities is a growing worry that could lead to hideous disruption of social, ecological, and economical for future generations [4].

Achieving a climate-neutral world by 2050 will require significant transformation across all economic value chains. In this context, it is important to recognize the roles of various actors in this transformation. All actors have a key role to play in the transition to climate neutrality [7]. Sports events can absorb a portion of air traffic given by supporters that travel to attend the events. Running a sports facility produces waste connected to spectators and daily maintenance, polluting the environment [8]. Therefore, sports organizations must understand the impacts of changing climate and how to reduce it in the future. Sports organizations, for example, football, like other sectors of society, need to address existing environmental problems and mitigate environmental damage [1]. For this reason, the United Nations (UN) has now included sport in its global climate action framework and aims for carbon neutrality for sport by 2050 [9]. International cooperation is required to reduce GHG emissions to fight against the global issue of climate change [7, 10], and this transition would not be successful with the cooperation of football [11].

Football is one of the most followed sports worldwide and the increasing popularity of this sport also generates various adverse environmental impacts through travel to matches, energy use in stadiums, water use to maintain the pitches, and waste generated through food and plastic use etc. [9]. Football is closely linked with the natural environment, and they both affect each other [12]. For example, football affects the natural environment through various operational activities [10]. On the other hand, the environment affects sport by providing appropriate weather conditions and natural resources such as the field to play [12]. Some sports organizations started taking the initiative if they are involved with big leagues, concerts, and events, and thus have begun to implement environmental programs to mitigate environmental impacts [13]. For example, the Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup aimed to promote energy consumption from renewables and enhance transport mobility programs’ effectiveness [14]. The National Football League’s (NFL) 2008 participated in urban tree planting, increasing renewable energy sources, and recycling waste [13]. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics aimed for carbon neutrality by building eco-friendly stadiums and transport facilities running on renewable energy sources [15]. The car manufacturing company Toyota, one of the Olympic partners, pledged to supply zero-emission vehicles, including hydrogen cars, to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics [15]. All the venues for the 2022 Beijing Olympics are operated by renewable energy [15, 16]. The FIFA targets to achieve carbon neutrality by the World Cup of 2022 in Qatar [16]. If sports organizations worldwide want to contribute to climate change action [17], they must first acknowledge their contribution to climate change and reduce their carbon footprint [18]. Thus, they need to know how much GHG emissions they produce and how much they can reduce [8].

There are few studies available where authors evaluated the travel pattern, waste management, and mega-events’ carbon footprints [4, 9, 19]. For example, Pereira et al. 2019 [9] assessed the carbon footprint of the English Premier League clubs’ travel habits and found 61% of the carbon impact is accounted for by transportation. Furthermore, Loewen and Wicker [20] evaluated the 2018–2019 season’s carbon footprint of soccer fans travelling to Bundesliga games in Germany. The results showed a Bundesliga fan’s average annual carbon footprint was 311.1 kg of CO2-e emissions, with 70% of those emissions coming from personal transportation. For the whole Bundesliga season, the combined carbon footprint of all supporters was 369,765.2 ton CO2e [20]. Orr et al. [21] comprehended how sport affects the natural environment, the link between sport and the environment through a scoping review. Since the organizational carbon footprint of football clubs needed to be sufficiently investigated, there is a reason to conduct this research. In this regard, this paper explores the football clubs’ overall carbon footprints. This study inquires the following research questions: (a) What are the hotspots and the most significant contributors to GHG emissions of a football club? (b) How to improve emissions management within the stadium organization of a football club? (c) How to establish a carbon reduction and management plan?

Thanks to the engagement of 3 employees (1 senior sustainability manager, 1 procurement manager, and 1 operation assistant), 10 kitchen staff (contractors from various catering facilities), and 5 ground staff of the football club. We developed a data collection framework based on active participation and rigorous interviews (qualitative) with the stadium’s employees. This engagement with them was capable of designing the double-entry matrix that considers the scope of the emission (1, 2, and 3 according to the GHG Protocol) and the degree of control and influence over the emission sources. The paper is divided into three parts. The 1st part provides a brief introduction of the relationship between sports and sustainability and sports and climate change. Then, it discusses the carbon footprints of sports organizations. The 2nd part discusses and explains the role of action research associated with this study. The 3rd and last section summarizes the implications, limitations, and recommendations for future research.

Sports and Sustainability

The concept of sustainability is omnipresent in sports development policy and practice [22]. However, a lack of clarity remains in the concept of practical knowledge of sustainability among various sports organizations worldwide [23]. The significance of globalisation in sports has long been debated by researchers [15]. Issues related to improvement in the sustainability of sports are a significant challenge [24]. Sports activities are becoming popular industries worldwide thanks to the growing standard of living, improving technology, and growing health awareness [25]. The sustainable development of international sports’ growing popularity shows that sports and other recreation activities have gradually become citizens’ fundamental needs [25]. Many governments worldwide have already started integrating their sports policy with tourism and other industries like culture and heritage. This step has seen significant progress and has drawn increasing attention in the last few years [25]. Gholami et al. [26], in their paper, state that sustainable development for sports is the current trend in sports sustainability and has been simplified to improvise the new paradigm of sustainable societal transitions.

Seeing the growing global interest in sports sustainability in societal well-being, many sports organizations are coming forward to bring a paradigm [27]. It includes Right To Play, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), agencies of the United Nations (UN) such as Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG), and Street Football World [26]. Most of the discussion about sustainable development relates only to the environmental dimension. Sustainable development also includes the social and economic dimensions that make three sustainable development dimensions [28]. There is an increasing demand for global acceptance of sport’s importance in the worldwide economy [25]. That is why it is fundamental to understand the two-way relationship between sports and sustainability [29]. Although the need for sustainability in the sports industry has been a topic of increasing discussion over the past 10 years, the issue’s central significance did not emerge until recently, as people began to pay more attention to the issues associated with climate change [30]. It is essential to understand sports’ impact on the external environment and whether changes in the external environment affect sports sustainability and are correctly understood to ensure its long-term viability [31, 32].

Sports and Climate Change

The sports sector is not spared from addressing its environmental impacts [33]. Every sports facility in the world has an environmental impact [34]. The impact of sports organizations on the climate could differ depending upon the organization’s size [35]. The effects of sports organisations including football clubs on the environment are now being recognised by numerous sports organisations and their supporters [36]. It includes associated travel of the fan’s supporters to the venue, energy use for the operation, construction of the facilities, catering for the events, etc. [26]. Moreover, increasing the environmental awareness of football club’s fans and the role of media’s broadcasting provides an active role for the sports sector to play an outstanding role in achieving sustainability and mitigate climate change [9, 37, 38].

The link between sports organizations and climate change is noticeable [39]. Climate change and its impact on sport is one of the top concerns for sports organizations around the world [22]. The deteriorating condition of climate change [40] and its impact on sports organizations raise a crucial need to control and preserve the natural environment from where they receive vital resources [39]. This relationship is affirmed by the fact that sport is dependent on the natural environment for its survival [41]. The long-term well-being of natural resources relies on sustainable consumption across all industries [42, 43]. Fortunately, it has been demonstrated that sports events can implement sustainability initiatives that are good for the environment and their financial bottom line [44]. Moreover, the sports sector has an advantageous position to be a leader to combat climate change because of the close affiliation spectators have with their favourite team [45].

Carbon Footprints of Sport Organizations

The term “carbon footprint” has attained significant acceptance in recent years and is now widely used by many agencies. Although it is widely popular, researchers shows that this term has not been appropriately defined in the scientific literature. Many definitions exist for this term. Despite the unavailability of the standard definition, this term has quickly become a widely accepted methodology.

As there is no standard definition available, but according to the definition of Carbon Trust [46], “A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by an (individual, event, organisation, product) expressed as CO2e”. Carbon footprint is expressed as a carbon dioxide factor and is the sum of the amount of heat captured by a certain gas regarding the amount of heat captured by a similar mass of carbon dioxide [47]. The carbon footprint is the sum of GHG emissions (directly and indirectly) generated by the organizations’ activity [48]. Sports organizations are relatively one of the contributors to global carbon emissions [48]. Therefore, it is crucial to evaluate sports organizations’ direct and indirect GHG emissions quantitatively. It is also crucial to know how those emissions are distributed across different sectors of the operation. Carbon footprint is primarily accepted as a method to measure environmental impact and the change in climate caused by GHG emissions [6]. The carbon footprint calculation is an important tool to assess sports organisations’ environmental impact [49]. It should be considered one of the important areas alongside other important sustainability issues [50].

Calculating carbon footprint is a widely accepted methodology for converting various GHG emissions into a single CO2e [51]. Every sport globally generates a substantial amount of GHG emissions [52]. The average estimated fan base of football is 3.5 billion [9]. This popularity of football also generates GHG emissions’ high intensity [9]. Direct emissions are the emissions from the energy used in the stadiums for its operation—the indirect emissions that come from fans and teams’ movement [46]. Dolf and Teehan [53] discussed the relationship between climate change and sporting events and its implications of how fans participate in the events and how football clubs operate. Dosumu et al. [38] discussed in their paper that the 2006 Germany FIFA World Cup 250,000 generated tons of GHG emissions. On the other hand, the 2010 South Africa World Cup generated 1.65 million tonnes of CO2e. In 2012, over 60 million spectators watched football in England [54]. The Premier League and other football associations have already started encouraging their clubs to acknowledge their operations’ environmental impacts and take actions to mitigate them. The ecological impact of football clubs are also beginning to be acknowledged and considered. Currently, sports organizations engaged with football are progressively moving to make it more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable [24].

With the recent development of football clubs’ environment initiatives, many sports organizations have started acknowledging environmental regulations. For example, UEFA has launched its innovative long-term commitment on the environment, Football Sustainability Strategy 2030—“Strength through Unity” [55]. This initiative is aligned with the UNSDGs, the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, the EU Green Deal, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the UN Global Compact Principles, and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) [55]. Investigating what drives and pressures sports professionals to participate in environmental management and operations is crucial. For example, researchers have investigated the barriers, challenges, and drivers of environmental sustainability in the sports industry philosophically and practically [56, 57]. Thus, to quantify sports organizations’ environmental performance, energy consumption, metrics like water use, and waste recycling should be tracked [55]. Although football stadiums at the big leagues like Championship and the Premier Leagues have started acknowledging their environmental impact, limited action is taken by the other football clubs in the non-league matches to reduce their environmental impacts. There is currently a lack of academic research in football clubs’ literature to assess daily ecological impacts. Therefore, this paper aims at carbon footprints and GHG emissions from all the facilities of one of the major football clubs in Europe. The assessment results are intended to help football clubs identify the most relevant business engagement areas and aid in integrating CSR into the core of their corporate principles and daily operations [58, 59].

Research Methodology

Action Research Explanation

To address the research questions, a participatory action research (AR) approach was applied. We chose participatory action research because rather of concentrating on research into action, AR focuses on research in action [60]. We applied action research in this research by following a systematic and iterative process that involves multiple phases. While the exact steps and terminology may vary depending on the specific framework or approach used, the following are common stages in the action research process. We chose participatory action research because rather of concentrating on research into action, AR focuses on research in action [60]. The fundamental tenet of AR is that it uses a scientific method to investigate solutions to significant societal or organisational problems alongside individuals who directly confront these problems [61]. Cardno [62] explains that AR requires researchers to find the problem and find out appropriate solutions. The researchers and practitioners see this approach as an approach to problem-solving [63]. The benefits of this approach include gathering insightful feedback from sectoral actors, establishing an assessment methodology that can accurately reflect the real contribution of the football stadiums to the global warming, and assisting managers and operators in making wise choices to improve corporate social responsibility of the football stadiums [64,65,66]. For simplicity for readers, we named the football club as Club A.

The study employed action research to assess the overall carbon footprints of the football club (Fig. 1). The AR approach was used for this study because it aims to strengthen the researchers’ practical concerns [67]. Accomplishing the goal of AR requires active collaboration between the researcher and the organization [68]. It also stresses the importance of co-learning as a central element to consider for the analysis [69]. Therefore, AR allows studying a problem orderly while the intervention is informed by theoretical application [69]. AR is a unique form of practice-based inquiry with a clear transformative plan to meet the researcher’s diverse needs and circumstances [70]. AR also incorporates theory and its relevance in practice through a cyclical and systematic research process that involves hypothesis testing, planning, observing, analysis, and taking actions [67, 71].

Fig. 1
figure 1

Action research steps (own elaboration)

The approach chosen for this research was inspired by the work of Heron and Reason [72]. It involved a range of data collection and assumptions, interviews with the managers and staff, and documents’ analysis [73]. The two researchers from the school visited the venue for data collection. After data collection, they tested the AR framework, reflecting on the research questions’ conclusions. The two researchers played an observatory role during interviews, particularly toward the onsite venue visit's end [74].

According to the AR methodology literature [67, 68, 73,74,75], the following primary steps served as the foundation for the research project’s creation and use of an evaluation methodology to calculate and evaluate Club A carbon footprints and environmental effects:

  1. a)

    Identification of needs and main gaps to measure sports industry’s carbon footprints (identification of the problem)

  2. b)

    Mapping and evaluation of key performance indicators (KPIs) developed to measure carbon footprints by both academics and practitioners (data collection on the identified problem)

  3. c)

    Development of the framework categorizing different scope of emissions (development of a plan to address the identified problem)

  4. d)

    Development of the carbon footprints methodology and implementing in the Club A’s boundaries (implementation of the developed framework)

  5. e)

    Collection of feedbacks of collected data from different modes of emissions (scope 1, 2, and 3) (verification of results of undertaken actions)

  6. f)

    Implementing obtained outcomes to reduce carbon footprints of Club A (identification of a new problem and its resolution)

Research Design and Conceptual Framework

The sports sector was chosen as the focal unit in the first step, and its boundaries and primary characteristics were identified and defined. Desk research was done to determine the key components, study aims, relationships, and boundaries as well as to examine academic and grey literature sources in order to address this issue. In-depth research on sports, sustainability, and its connection to climate change was also included. After that, all of these findings were further combined using original data/information gathered from case studies and reports. Managers, contractors, and employees of the football club were directly involved in gathering and organising specific KPIs associated with environmental-socioeconomic factors that may emphasise the essential requirements and characteristics of sustainability in sports.

The second step was to conduct a systematic literature review of previous studies related to the keywords (env* AND (sports OR management* OR GHG OR carbon) AND football) AND (LIMIT-TO (DOCTYPE, “ar”)) AND (LIMIT-TO (SUBJAREA, “SOCI”) OR LIMIT-TO (SUBJAREA, “BUSI”)) AND (LIMIT-TO (EXACTKEYWORD, “Football”) OR LIMIT-TO (EXACTKEYWORD, “Sport”) OR LIMIT-TO (EXACTKEYWORD, “Sports”) OR LIMIT-TO (EXACTKEYWORD, “Soccer”)) AND (LIMIT-TO (LANGUAGE, “English”)). Relevant case studies related to carbon footprints of sports events/organizations were also considered in the analysis. The inclusion and exclusion criteria for the analysis are mentioned in table below (Fig. 2). After preparing the dataset of the relevant documents, we started with the current critical issues of the needs of the sports organizations to reduce their environmental impacts. We then identified the activities or inputs needed to achieve the intended impact. For this purpose, we considered 20 documents relevant to our analysis, out of which 5 were case studies on the carbon footprints of the sports organizations, 10 were sustainability reports from the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), International Olympic Committee (IOC), United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), Global Sustainability Benchmark in Sports (GSBS), Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), etc., and 5 were academic articles published in the peer-reviewed journals. Workflow for selecting studies for the analysis can be seen in the Fig. 2.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Data Collection Methods

Defining Organisation’s System Boundaries

The first step towards determining the data collection strategy was to draw the organisation’s system boundaries (Fig. 3). From the GHG’s emissions point of view, to follow the scope/control logic, club A’s activity assessment can be divided into several business areas as follows:

Fig. 3
figure 3

Organisation’s system boundaries

Offices and internal facilities (kitchens, private room, changing room, etc.)

  • External areas and Access to the stadium

  • Parking floor

  • Pitch

  • Common areas and stands.

To obtain an overall acceptable data quality, primary data was gathered for those data categories for which the organization has complete control. The significance is high when preliminary data was no longer available. We referred to secondary data or assumption to attempt the more affordable scale up as possible. Secondary data was sourced for the remaining data categories, and extrapolations and assumptions were also considered. Following the operational control method and the relevance accounting principles, we considered within the boundary’s emissions generated from the activities on which the organization has “direct control” or “indirect control”. The following matrix explains these criteria. The chart summarises system boundaries’ definition as defined by using the stadium’s scheme’s operational control approach.

Data Collection Phase

This section describes the methodology proposed to determine the carbon footprint of stadium under the facility of Club A. This stadium is a part of one of the biggest football clubs, which operates, manages, and maintains various facilities. The 2 researchers conducted onsite visits for 3 days, from 19 to 22 Feb 2020, to this sports facility to evaluate environmental impacts and conduct qualitative interviews. With the collaboration of the managers, contractors, and employees, direct interviews were conducted to collect primary data. In developing the carbon footprint methodology, we drew upon on best practice guidelines, most notably the GHG (Greenhouse Gas Protocol on Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard) of World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) related to product carbon footprint. The data gathering strategy and the calculation method is represented by a double entry matrix that considers the scope of the emission (1, 2, and 3 according to the GHG Protocol) and the degree of control and influence that the organization has over the source. The methodology rationale is based on the degree of control, influence, and management capacity that the club has over each identified source of GHG emissions, which is equivalent to the actual ability of the organization to reduce or minimize each of the emission sources’ impacts. The ISO 14064:2018-1 and the GHG Protocol guidelines for organization and product life cycle from the WRI have been considered the main reference standards to develop the present simplified methodology.

Due to the complexity of football club’s activities and the number of facilities, it is recognizably valuable to collect primary data for all the sources where possible and feasible for all business units and activities. Therefore, it was necessary to develop a rational and simplified data gathering methodology that ensured that primary key data was collected, and secondary data and general assumptions completed the tailored map of the emission sources. As a result, several assumptions and secondary data were used, and thus a set of founded calculation methods needed to be used. The proposed approach focuses on data collection efforts on the areas in which the organization has the most remarkable ability to reduce or minimise emissions. In this sense, the methodology has some similarities with an environmental impact assessment or risk analysis. The assessment results aim to assist the football clubs in decision-making processes to identify the most relevant areas for business engagement. They strengthen the overall awareness and attention towards environmental issues associated with football.

The starting point was to collect information on an organization’s current activities to calculate a standard of carbon footprint. It provides a vigorous quantitative measure of GHG emissions and the organization’s activities (or events). It was considered, therefore, necessary to develop a simplified. Our designed methodology responds to the necessity of developing a practical framework protocol to collect and manage the emission sources data for all Club A’s activities. The effort was focused on collecting primary data, but it is also necessary to establish a prioritization scheme to guide the process in a consistent, accurate, and transparent way. The rationale of this simplified methodology is based on the degree of control, influence, and management capacity Club A’s has over each identified source of GHG emissions.

Furthermore, we ensured that these included, as a minimum, the six Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases, direct and indirect emissions, and a data quality assessment. We used commonly available, standard datasets with tools to support and facilitate data sharing and integrated planning. Finally, we established key performance indicators. The methodology complies with accounting and reporting principles: relevance, completeness, consistency, transparency, and accuracy (Table 1). However, given the difficulty of obtaining a complete data set, a trade-off was necessary between all these principles.

Table 1 GHG accounting principles requirements

All emissions from energy consumption and petrol consumed by the team-owned automobile fleet are calculated based on the quantitative data regarding energy use, kilometres driven by automobile class, and the corresponding emission factors [46]. Emissions from water consumption are calculated based on VfU indicators. In the case of consumed electricity, the Club uses annually updated location-based country emission factors to determine national averages unless more precise information is available in a market-based approach. If precise electricity or heating energy supply input is public, Club A applies local emission factors deriving directly from a specific municipal utility [46]. GHG Assessment and Quantification Methodology–Data Sources and General Principal Club A has adopted the principles and methods of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions and assessment of scope 3 impacts. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is an internationally recognized standard that was developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

  • Relevance: Ensure the GHG inventory appropriately captures and reflects the GHG emissions of the organization.

  • Completeness: Account for and report on all GHG emission sources and activities within the chosen inventory boundary. Disclose and justify any specific exclusions.

  • Consistency: Use consistent methodologies to allow for meaningful comparisons of emissions over time. Transparently document any changes to the data, inventory boundary and methods in the time series.

  • Accuracy: Data should be sufficiently precise to enable intended users to make decisions with reasonable assurance that the reported information is credible.

  • Transparency: Address all relevant issues in a factual and coherent manner, based on a clear audit trail. Disclose any relevant assumptions and make appropriate references to the accounting and calculation methodologies and data sources used.


Based on the evidence of the gap analysis audit, some of the activities that are inside the physical border of the stadium have to be excluded from the direct emission based on the control approach methods:

  • Emissions related to the activity of Canal company have to be accounted in scope 3 if directly measured.

  • Emission related to the external facilities, the area included in the aggregated energy bill for thermal energy have to be accounted in scope 3 if based on estimation and not measured.

  • Emission related to the energy consumption of the offices of the other.

  • Emission related to the Club A’s museum are excluded from the scope of the study.

  • Emission related to the employees of other companies working regularly inside the stadium facilities have to be accounted in scope 3 while the emission related to employees of other Club A’s company (such as player and talent scout) are excluded from the scope of the study.

Data Categories

The corporate footprint will include scope 1 and 2, and the applicable scope 3 emissions. The scope 3 categories that will be considered in the present study are as follows:

  • Purchased goods and services.

  • Energy consumption and other emissions from external services for management, maintenance, events support, catering.

  • Upstream transportation and distribution of goods.

  • Waste generated in operations and disposal.

  • Business travel.

  • Employees commuting.

  • Supporters and teams commuting.

  • The rest of scope 3 categories are considered not applicable or not relevant for Club A’s emission profile. As mentioned before, the data gathering efforts are done based on the one side, on the relative significance of the emission source, and on the other, on the control approach. These criteria may vary for the four business or organizational areas identified before, and therefore data gathering needs to be tailored according to that.

Definitions of scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions are described as follows:

  • Scope 1 (direct emissions)

    Direct GHG emissions occur from sources owned or controlled by the organization, for example, emissions from combustion in owned or controlled boilers, furnaces, vehicles, etc. and emissions from chemical production in owned or controlled process equipment. Scope 1 emissions include direct emissions from controlled and owned sources. This includes fuel consumption for lawn equipment and deemed off-road transportation. Direct emissions of operations come from fuel consumed to mow the soccer pitch. The mowing of the playing field is critical to maintaining a playable surface. Extreme care must be taken with the management of professional sports fields. Accuracy of cutting, painting, and measuring the area are essential aspects. Of these, mowing the field is an operation that is a direct emission source. Lawn mowing estimations were made based on the regulation size of the area, assumed width and speed of the mower, and average fuel use calculations. This category of emissions is transportation, as it considers gallons of fuel burned.

  • Scope 2 (electricity indirect emissions)

    Scope 2 accounts for GHG emissions from the generation of purchased electricity consumed by the organization. Purchased electricity is defined as purchased or otherwise brought into the organization’s boundary. Scope 2 emissions physically occur at the facility where electricity is generated. These emissions are indirect emissions related to use of the stadium including electricity needs for the building and lighting of the field. Purchased energy audits showing total kwh per event or per season could be used to generate CO2 equivalent (CO2e) totals. The electricity needed to power the floodlights for matches and that needed to maintain a comfortable indoor space for offices, fans, and staff all fall under general use electricity consumption.

  • Scope 3 (other indirect emissions)

    Scope 3 is an optional reporting category that allows for treating all other indirect emissions. Scope 3 emissions are a consequence of the organization’s activities but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the organization. Some examples of scope 3 activities are extraction and production of purchased materials, transportation of purchased fuels, and use of sold products and services. These emissions include indirect and associated emissions from operations. This is typically the largest scope of most organizations and includes many different aspects of operation. Aspects chosen from considering boundaries and conducting a materiality assessment are listed below. Scope 3 contains major categories of transportation and waste.

The calculation tools used for processing the data collected is a mix of international recognised databases, specific tools approved or disclose by GHG Protocol, and key specific software for some of the emission sources in the next table, the correlation between emission sources, and the used tools (Table 2) [46].

Table 2 Data category significance for the different business areas


The calculation tools used for processing the data collected are a mix of recognised international databases, specific tools approved or disclosed by GHG Protocol, and key specific software for some of the following table’s emission sources, the correlation between emission sources, and the used tools. The club’s objective is to improve the carbon footprint in operational terms effectively; the active control approach is most suitable in this case and was adopted for this carbon footprint assessment [45, 46]. After calculating the GHG emissions of the football club, the following data charts show the calculations performed according to the methodology described in the previous chapters. The results expressed in t CO2e obtained by emission source and sub-source split into scope 1, 2, and 3 indicate each sub-source’s control level international supporter was not considered for this analysis because of (i) the unavailability of the data from their origin. (ii) The indirect nature of emissions generating from international travel is difficult to quantify precisely, making it difficult for sustainability managers to verify accurate input data and emissions components (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4
figure 4

Emissions by technical area

First of all, the GHG assessment results provide some relevant confirmation of the guidelines that emerged during the onsite visit:

  • Indirect emissions produced by a supporter’s transportation mode play a significant role in the organization’s overall carbon footprint (Fig. 6).

  • Due to aviation transportation, the specific transport of international visitors’ team supporters represents in absolute terms the most pollutant activity in terms of GHG’s emission; however, in this particular emission source, the organization has no control.

  • Energy consumptions through electricity have a substantial impact on the overall carbon footprint of the organization.

This research analyzed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and resource consumption of CLUB A and suggested moving forward to a net zero operation. Benchmarking emissions requires input from organizations and may vary depending on the available data. Best practices, emerging research, and trusted methods will be used to provide an improved framework for sustainability in sports. This research falls within the sports ecology sub-discipline and addresses the bidirectional relationship between sports and the environment [1, 59]. Additionally, this research falls into the broader scope of sustainability as it addresses emissions, advocates for better efficiency, and spotlights sustainable measures currently adopted in an industry that tends to ignore this topic.

The methodology rationale is based on the degree of control, influence, and management capacity that Club A has over each identified source of GHG emissions, which is equivalent to the actual ability of the organization to reduce or minimize each of the emission sources’ impacts. The data gathering strategy and the calculation method is represented by a double entry matrix that considers the scope of the emission (1, 2, and 3 according to the GHG Protocol) and the degree of control and influence that the organization has over the source [45,46,47]. This methodology responds to the necessity of developing an effective protocol to collect and manage the emission sources data for all club sites and activities within different facilities. As collecting primary data for all emission sources was not time efficient and resource effective, it was necessary to establish a prioritization scheme to guide the process in a consistent, accurate, and transparent way. The rationale of this simplified methodology is based on the degree of control, influence, and management capacity that Club A has over each identified source of GHG emissions. The proposed approach focuses the efforts of data collection on the areas in which the organization has the greatest ability to reduce or minimize emissions. In this sense, the methodology has some similarities with an environmental impact assessment or risk analysis, as a second goal is to anticipate significant carbon risks so that they can be avoided, reduced, or shared where possible. The methodology is compliant with the accounting and reporting principles: relevance, completeness, consistency, transparency, and accuracy. However, given the difficulty of obtaining a complete set of data, a trade-off is necessary between all these principles.

Calculation of the GHGs emissions for each emission source was done by using the following formula: Footprint [kgCO2eq] = Activity Data [unit] × Emission Factor [kgCO2eq/unit].

Understanding an organization's GHG emissions is essential for developing an effective climate action plan. Organizations have been concentrating on their own activities' emissions under scope 1 and 2 of the GHG Protocol up until recently [48, 49] (Fig. 5). As a result, sports organizations, along with other organizations, are becoming more aware of the need to fully manage the risks and opportunities associated with GHGs by considering Scope 3 emissions. Therefore, the Green House Gas Protocol has developed calculation guidance standards to lower obstacles by offering comprehensive technical assistance on all the proper calculation techniques.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Scope 1, 2, and 3 emission

This research analyzed the approach to the sustainability of one of the biggest football clubs in Europe. Sustainability and climate change are rising concerns for most industries, especially sports, as they will face many immediate and long-term impacts. To address these issues, a carbon footprint analysis was done for each facility of Club A to assess the prominence of sustainability topics from their corporate social responsibility. To conduct the GHG inventory, the GHG Protocol was followed and assessed scope 1, 2, and 3 of the football Club A (Fig. 6). Assumptions were used to estimate missing data as very few GHG inventories existed for similar-sized professional sports teams. Net GHG emissions of 10,027 kg were estimated for the 2017–2018 year. Results show over 72 % of total GHG emissions come from scope 3, with 22.5 % and less than 1 % from scope 2 and scope 1, respectively. Seventy-three per cent of emissions came directly from away supporter emissions, the largest from air travel to away matches, consisting of nearly half of the total transportation emissions. This estimation can be used for similar-sized sports teams to anticipate their GHG emissions and potential environmental impact. The sports industry has a significant opportunity to implement a more sustainable framework, addressing environmental impact and improving operations.

Fig. 6
figure 6

Emissions per year over different scope


Our work provides a technical summary of the research carried by us to calculate the stadium’s direct carbon emissions and other carbon emissions associated with its football club facilities and activities (Fig. 7). This work has followed best practice guidelines and seeks to clarify the emissions calculation boundaries, considering actions that the football club directly controls or influences. The best available primary data and parameters have been used. To provide a detailed summary of the club’s carbon footprint, we made several assumptions. Some weighting and scaling-up are necessary to complete the analysis to ensure completeness and consistency as clearly requested for a GHG Protocol compliant analysis.

Fig. 7
figure 7

Emissions by different phases

Managerial Implications

Our work suggests that it would be reasonable for football managers to acknowledge the GHG emission assessment results, which provide some relevant confirmation of the guidelines that emerged from the football club’s various facilities. The indirect emissions produced by activities that are not under the direct control and are carried out in phases outside the facilities play a crucial role in determining the organization’s environmental impact. Also, indirect emissions produced by a supporter’s transportation mode play a vital role in the whole organization’s overall carbon footprints. Reducing the impact of how football clubs move players and supporters needs to be at the top of the discussion as more clubs pledge to take climate action. The clubs must develop a comprehensive sustainable travel policy that includes additional rail, electric cars, public transportation, car sharing, electric scooters, economy over first-class air travel, bike parking, and provision for virtual meetings [76]. To find ways to improve, football clubs must continuously measure their scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 carbon emissions, especially scope 3, which includes travel. Joining a group like the Fly Green Alliance (FGA) under the initiative of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which collects pledges to purchase sustainable fuel, establish collaborations, create green travel programmes, and oversee offtake agreements, is one way to accomplish climate action goals and improve their overall carbon footprint [77]. Therefore, managers should apply best practices to improve the carbon performances of their football clubs. This recommendation also suggests the importance of strengthening the organizational link between various football clubs’ facilities [78].

Costello et al. [79] show that if best managerial practices were applied in a big institution, they can reduce their carbon footprints and make them more sustainable. In order to achieve a climate-neutral football club, football managers should offset inevitable CO2 emissions. This may be done by implementing more energy-saving methods and increasing the usage of renewable energy once CO2 emissions have been prevented or reduced. Our second finding shows that energy consumptions from electricity have a substantial impact on the overall carbon footprint of the whole organization and choosing the right energy provider that can help to move them to renewable energy can help in the overall carbon performance reduction of the entire organization [80]. The growing trend of football is gaining popularity and producing a disproportional amount of GHG emissions [9]. If football clubs develop an effective climate mitigation plan, which is crucial for the football club’s reputation, these actions taken by the football clubs will not go unrecognized. If football clubs promote raising supporters’ awareness of football’s carbon footprint, it will enhance more eco-friendly organization behaviour [81]. Lastly, football clubs should supervise more comprehensive carbon footprint assessments, involving a better understanding of the various emission scope. For this, football clubs should develop better marketing strategies for their reputation and use the collected data to design carbon reducing measures.

Theoretical Implications

This research provided new knowledge to sports management literature regarding football clubs’ carbon footprints with environmental sustainability. There is a lack of literature that explores the evaluation of football clubs’ carbon performance to the authors’ knowledge. The quantification of the corporate carbon footprint enables the football stadium to gain insight into its GHG emission profile, identify the hot spots and the most significant contributors within the group, and improve its emissions management capacity. Generally, most of the researchers studied travel patterns or GHG emissions produced by the supporters. However, we deepened our research, including the emissions of the supporters and various club facilities’ emissions.

Pereira et al. [9] discussed the limited research on the growing significance of GHG emissions from football organizations. The previous studies are very few and have primarily aimed at some specific football events [9]. The studies of the carbon footprint of the entire football clubs have never been conducted. There are studies available on GHG emissions from travel patterns of significant sports events. Limited research has been carried out on GHG emissions for the whole organization of the football club. This indicates that the carbon footprint can only be considered an effective mitigation strategy in sports if the GHG emission’s various magnitude is known.

Pereira et al. [9] found that the supporters contribute significantly to the organization’s overall GHG emissions in his paper. Our study confirms his findings because the most significant contributor to the GHG emissions of the football club was the supporters, which are equivalent to 38% of the total GHG emissions.

Policy Implications

During our conversations with the club’s management team involved in the operations, we found a lack of government incentives to switch to renewable energy sources. Policymakers can further facilitate these clubs’ pro-environment commitments by offering tax incentives and subsidies for implementing solar panel or renewable sources of energy [79]. Our study found that the whole football club’s energy consumption is 25%, the second biggest contributor to its overall GHG emissions. Adopting other energy sources, especially from non-renewable sources, could significantly reduce GHG emissions and energy use.

If the concept of sustainability could be combined with reducing GHG emissions (and the environmental impacts) with economic efficiency and competitiveness, in that case, it could have significant effects on the club’s overall carbon footprints [4].

Furthermore, if there were more policies or attractive economic initiatives that valued GHG emissions, implementing a carbon tax might reduce the relative GHG emissions, which will allow managers to choose those materials emitting less GHG emissions [82]. Our study recommends that managers should broaden their aspects of all the other possibilities of reducing their environmental impacts in all cases. These football clubs’ leadership towards environmental sustainability might attract more sponsors that acknowledge and share the same values [83].

Limitations and Future Research

This study has various limitations that can be addressed in the future.

First, football clubs should adopt disclosing information about their carbon footprints on the website. Many assumptions were made to calculate the carbon footprints because most of the data were either not available or unknown to the managers. For future comparative assessment and improvements planning, a detailed effort on data gathering can minimise assumptions extrapolations and scale-up using as much primary data as possible.

Secondly, this study primarily focused on GHG emissions from the football clubs’ whole organization, including the supporters’ travel. Still, many supporters came to the venue from overseas, excluding the indirect carbon footprint attributed to overall GHG emissions. Future research should address and include all components of the supporters, local and international ones.

Thirdly, practical research is required to develop and understand the necessary tools and capacity for football managers to achieve the potential of energy savings and reducing GHG emissions [84]. The research findings show that some urgent steps are required to replicate the data collection to reduce the ambiguity about energy consumption [85].


Our study concludes that the indirect emissions produced by a supporter’s transportation mode play a crucial role in improving football organizations’ carbon performances and events. Due to aviation, the specific transport of international team supporters represents in absolute terms the most pollutant activity in terms of GHG’s emission; however, in this particular emission source, the stadium company has no control, and annual comparisons are inconsistent. Also, energy consumptions and electricity consumption have a substantial impact on the carbon footprint; thus, choosing the right energy provider (that move to renewable energy) can help in the carbon performance results.

This study also concludes that football clubs should pay more attention to green procurement planning when selecting the stadium’s energy providers. Football clubs should develop active carbon mitigation plans because it is crucial for the club’s reputation, as its growing popularity has a significant GHG emission. This implies that this club’s pro-environment behaviours will not go unrecognized, raising environmental awareness about football’s carbon footprint and, possibly, pushing more football clubs to do the same.

Future Recommendations to Reduce Emissions

During our conversations with the club’s management team involved in the operations, we pointed out some recommendations that have been considered by the club in future to implement. These recommendations are as follows:

  1. I.

    One intermediate goal is to cut GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Although the club should select the most recent year for which data is available, the 2019 baseline is advised. A commitment needs to be made by the club’s leaders. Adopting the targets will also require a commitment from the head of the club to achieve (net)-zero by 2040. Furthermore, the club management’s decision on the mode of transportation significantly impacts the GHG emissions from club travel, highlighting potential mitigation strategies. The study showed that, in addition to reducing air travel, the clubs’ carbon footprint may be impacted by the stadiums and lodging they choose [9, 12, 14, 16].

  2. II.

    Scope 1, 2, and 3 (categories significant to overall emissions and where data availability allows them to be quantified appropriately) should be included in targets. Establishing a clear path for the global sports community to combat climate change through commitments and partnerships by tested criteria, such as measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the well below 2-degree scenario outlined in the Paris Agreement [80,81,82]. This implies that club management should use “green procurement” strategies when choosing stadium locations and lodging providers.

  3. III.

    The club must model their scope 3 emissions and set their scope 3 targets if their scope 3 emissions account for 40% or more of their overall emissions [52, 55, 57]. Football is a sport that has a strong public image and is becoming more popular while producing disproportionally substantial GHG emissions, making it critical to develop effective carbon mitigation strategies. This suggests that the clubs’ sustainability initiatives will not be ignored, increasing consumer awareness of football’s carbon footprint and encouraging more responsible daily consumer behaviour [9, 21, 26].

  4. IV.

    The clubs’ leadership in environmental sustainability may draw sponsors who value and support their corporate sustainability principles. By providing tax breaks and other financial aid to adopt “green” solutions at the clubs’ stadiums and while travelling, policymakers may help the clubs fulfil their sustainability objectives [42, 44, 56].

  5. V.

    Certain emissions, such as air travel to matches across the country, are unavoidable and may require offsetting said emissions. Other smaller emissions such as off road emissions from mowing the soccer field can easily be eliminated using new technology and best practices. There are costs associated with both offsetting and transitioning to a lower carbon operation [75, 76].

  6. VI.

    The TSG Hoffenheim “climate ticket” program, which asks supporters to donate when they buy match tickets, is another action that Club A might take. Fans can purchase this ticket and donate 1 euro to plant a tree sapling in Uganda [86]. This optional donation has proven successful for the German soccer team and can be used by lower-level professional teams. If each fan gives $1 when buying a home game ticket, the club could earn $75,000 per season to promote more environmentally friendly practices [85]. With support from the supporters, new initiatives become feasible, such as purchasing solar energy, installing more effective lighting, upgrading low-flow plumbing fittings, or even offsetting emissions.