UK Premier League football team Brentford have recently announced they will wear the current 2021-22 home kit again next season. This is a notable breakaway from the status quo, which sees a grand unveiling by teams of brand new kits with each new season.
The move has been explained as part of the club's awareness of the need for the game to become more focused on sustainability.
Modern sports kit is predominantly made from plastics. The making of a single polyester shirt produces around 5.5kg of carbon dioxide. Considering the annual churn of kit, the end of each season sees millions of shirts end up sent off to landfill sites around the world. Not ideal when polyester takes hundreds of years to decompose. When you consider the immense volume of shirts sold by sports clubs globally each season, this is not an immaterial environmental impact.
The move also has a social element as the club looks to ease the burden on fans' wallets following a difficult year with the global pandemic. This comes at a time when clubs are also trying to demonstrate that football is for the fans and they are not just profit making organisations.
However, football clubs (and other sporting franchises) are still businesses with investors and other stakeholders and subject to regulation, all of which are pulling towards increased sustainability requirements.
As such, looking forward it is reasonable to expect a greater focus on sports' teams ESG performance. A particularly innovative example is EFL League Two football team Forest Green Rovers who have been recognised by FIFA as the “world’s greenest football club” and in 2018 became the world’s first UN certified carbon neutral football club. Forest Green Rovers have taken things a step further, changing the materials used to manufacture their kit to make it more sustainable (alongside a host of other measures).
The club revealed a world first in 2019 with a strip made from 50% bamboo. Constantly innovating, their next step has been to trial a kit made in part from recycled coffee bean waste (which also apparently has performance benefits, helping the team grind out the results that currently see them sitting top of the league).
This move, and Brentford’s announcement, are reflective of the direction of travel being explored by legislators and regulators in the EU and elsewhere, who are increasing their focus on waste management and the circular economy.
With the EU expected to reveal the outstanding details for its "Taxonomy" classification of environmentally sustainable activities next year, including criteria for activities that support the transition to a circular economy, it is encouraging to see businesses starting to step up here.
This is also against the backdrop of a notable step change within the football industry in terms of the focus on sustainability and climate change, including for example the Premier League's world first "net zero carbon football game" (at an elite level) in September, the launch of the Sky Sports Playing for the Planet podcast series and the EFL’s “GreenCode” sustainability scheme announced in October.
In the words of Dave Vince, Forest Green Rovers' CEO, "it’s time the world of football wakes up and smells the coffee about the future of the planet".