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What is the Bundesliga doing for the climate?

September 20, 2019

Hundreds of thousands demonstrated for a better climate in Germany - and on the weekend, hundreds of thousands will make the pilgrimage to Bundesliga stadiums, which has a huge carbon impact. What to do, Bundesliga?

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger

It all began in Stockholm, thirteen months ago. Greta Thunberg went on strike for more climate protection. Her singular protest in front of the parlimanet has grown into theworldwide movement "Fridays for Future". She has received support from all over the world, and from all aspects of society too - sport included.

Mainz - the self-proclaimed first climate neutral club in the Bundesliga - offered 500 traveling fans a subsidized special train service for their away game to Gelsenkirchen on Friday night. Other Bundesliga clubs also supported the "Fridays for Future" movement. Along with Mainz, Freiburg and Werder Bremen also allowed their employees to take part in the demonstrations on Friday. The idea was to give them the chance to "raise their own flag" for climate protection. RB Leipzig Julian Nagelsmann said he would look the other way if one of his players went to the protest instead of training. "If it was for a good cause, then I could overlook the matter. I think we live on a really great planet. I think we have a great world, and we should hold on to it," Nagelsmann said.

Freiburg's head coach Christian Streich is known for not holding back on social issues, climate protection included. The 54-year-old believes there's still a "big discrepancy" in professional football when it comes to the implementation. "If kids were to ask me: 'Say, how are things with you?' Then I would have to look away." But that's exactly the reason this is important, says Streich, so that awareness can be increased. For him, the "Fridays for Future" movement is a powerful one.

Fußballstadion WWK Arena Augsburg
Augsburg's stadium is carbon neutralImage: Imago Images/Krieger/U. Wagner

Solar panels, wells and heat pumps

But what about the Bundesliga? Clubs and fans have taken the first steps. Many fans now travel to games on the train or the bus. Werder Bremen's stadium includes a thin-layer photovoltaics section on the roof made up of 200,000 solar cells that generates enough power for 300 houses. Borussia Dortmund have something similar. Augsburg are proud of their "first carbon neutral arena in the world", one that is climate neutral thanks to water and heat pumps that heat and cool. Borussia Mönchengladbach have their own well on site, one that supports the club's water supply so as to reduce water consummption and manage the pitches without delving into resources. Wolfsburg use LED lighting, use green electricity and are planning, in the interests of sponsor Volkswagen, to build plenty of charging stations around the stadium for electric cars.

Despite all of these efforts though, the emissions of a Bundesliga matchday remain enormous. Patrick Fortyr from the climate change consultancy CO2OL calculated for a Deutschlandfunk environment special programme that traveling fans on a Bundesliga match cause 7,753 tonnes of carbon dioxide. In order to balance out those emissions you'd have to plant 48 football pitches with trees on every single matchday. It's safe to say that the Bundesliga's imprint is considerable.

It's fair to ask then, how serious is the Bundesliga about climate protection? Is everything just a nice PR move for a green image, or is there more behind the aforementioned actions? Those involved say that a start has been made. Hoffenheim wanted to send a message with their efforts. At the start of this season, the club declared themselves climate neutral, canceling out their "unavoidable emissions" through a WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) forest project in Uganda. World Cup winner Benedikt Höwedes publically posted his sympathy for the children involved in "Fridays for Future." In a T-Online column, the former Schalke captain wrote: "If I could, I would write everyone single person a personal sick note for schools."

The 31-year-old hopes the message gets across. "It's a movement that, in response to the absence at schools, has sent a clear message: If you adults don't do your job, then we will."

Höwedes continued: "The youth of today, who have grown up with Facebook and Twitter, have recognized that a Like doesn't change the world, but mass demonstrations might."