The Role of Blockchain in creating Net Zero Football Events

· by World Football Summit

The football industry is trying to catch up with the 2030 ESG goals. Clubs like Real Madrid or Atlético de Madrid are closing partnership deals with a strong sustainability component at the core. Meanwhile, teams like Tottenham or Real Betis are organising “Net Zero” games and governing bodies such as UEFA are driving the implementation of ESG-related policies at all levels.

At the same time though, it seems evident that technology will play an instrumental role in helping achieve the 2030 agenda. In fact, during Football Innovation Forum, Michele Uva, Head of Sustainability at UEFA, already shared his opinion on the matter that “innovation and sustainability are linked to each other, and that football was a perfect bridge between them.”

One of these promising technologies is, without a doubt, blockchain. Not only does it help monitor carbon emissions with transparency, it also enables us to report on soil conditions or activate certain protocols instantly. Flipping the coin though, some critics argue that the impact of the blockchain on the environment is significant.

To cover all of these issues, as well as the role that football can play in embracing the climate change challenge, we sat down with Fran Benedito, CEO & Co-founder at Climate Trade, a marketplace that connects companies with verified environmental projects to help offset carbon emissions. What also makes them unique is that their business model relies on Blockchain technology, as a means to guarantee transparency and traceability.

Football can be a wonderful driving force in the transition to a sustainable economy

Understanding the carbon footprint: and the complexity of calculating scope emissions.

WFS: Can you help us understand, in very simple terms, what carbon footprint is and why it matters?

Fran Benedito (FB): The carbon footprint is the sum of all the greenhouse gases (GHG) a person, company, or even country releases into the atmosphere, expressed in CO2 equivalent.

These emissions are responsible for global warming, and as such, they need to be addressed in the fight against climate change. This is why many governments are putting a limit on the amount of emissions companies can produce, which is often combined with a tax on carbon. Many countries and companies have pledged to be net zero by 2050, which means that all their carbon emissions will be offset, and none will enter the atmosphere and destabilize the climate.

WFS: What is the biggest challenge when calculating your carbon footprint? Is it the technical aspect (i.e. calculating scope 3 emissions)? Adopting the right mindset?

FB: Everything you mentioned can be a challenge when calculating your carbon footprint.

Mindset is key of course: you need to understand the full lifecycle of your products and be open to acknowledging the damage it has on the environment.

Then, there is the complexity of the calculation: you need to understand the different scopes and how to calculate them. Scope 1 represents direct emissions from your core operations. In football, these are pretty low, since there is no use of machinery and no production processes. Scope 2 emissions are those from energy use, so the electricity needed to light the stadiums, the gas used in team buses, or to heat gymnasiums. Scope 3 emissions are those generated by providers and clients – for instance, the car rides of all the spectators in a football game. Those are the most difficult to quantify, but there are already efforts to calculate carbon footprint accurately in the sports world.

WFS: One could argue that calculating scope 1 and scope 2 is within “control.” But, at the end of the day, keeping track of suppliers, owners, fans, etc. is a highly complex endeavour. How can football clubs overcome the challenge of calculating scope 3 emissions?

FB: As mentioned above, calculating scope 3 emissions is no easy feat, but it is not impossible. For instance, GHG emissions from transport to and from stadiums for football games have already been estimated by researchers at the University of Essex: The annual GHG emission of spectators of English games from tiers 3 to 10 for the 2012/13 season was estimated at 56,237 tons of CO2e.

Of course, that’s not the only element in scope 3 emissions: football clubs also need to take into account all the materials purchased for players, business travel, and even the emissions associated with the production of merchandise sold to fans.

To give you an example, it has been estimated that the 2016 Rio Olympics released 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, while the 2018 Russia World Cup released 2.16 million tons. These numbers also include the emissions generated in the construction of facilities.

I would recommend starting by mapping all of the club’s activities, purchases, and sales. Once that’s done, collaboration becomes key: you will need to work with suppliers and fans to assess your scope 3 carbon footprint together. The positive thing is, that this collaboration can open the door for negotiations or direct measures to reduce these emissions in the future. 

The impact of climate change on sports

WFS: Are you optimistic about society meeting the UN objectives related to climate change?

FB: I’m cautiously optimistic. Every year, another IPCC report comes out telling us we are lagging behind the objectives of the Paris Agreement, which is really disheartening. But at the same time, the pace of innovation to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change is accelerating, and I believe the climate action curve will be exponential in the coming years. 

WFS: How does climate change impact the world of sports? Do any examples come to mind?

FB: There are many ways that climate change impacts the world of sports. The extreme heat waves we are experiencing affect athletes’ ability to perform, for instance, but that’s not all. The UN has shared a lot of data on the impact of extreme weather events on the sports sector, such as flooding of stadiums due to heavier precipitations and rising sea levels, lack of snow for winter sports, and poor air quality due to wildfires affecting athletes and spectators.

This is already happening, so this industry needs to learn to adapt to these conditions urgently.

WFS: Some leaders may feel that “we are still in 2022, that it is still early” and that they need to focus on other short term priorities. What is the case against that argument?

FB: I think my previous answer makes it obvious that it is far from still early. We’re already seeing heat breaks given to athletes, and events being canceled because of extreme weather. There’s no way around it: if the sports sector keeps focusing on short-term priorities instead of adapting to and mitigating climate change, there will come a point, not too far from now, when the industry as we know it will stop existing.

WFS: What role can football play in helping achieve the ESG goals?

FB: Football is the most popular sport in the world, as Prof. Yunus mentioned in his interview, it has the capacity to unite people and drive cultural change. Why not put this superpower to use for good? Why not use this platform to educate people about climate change and the solutions we can implement?

Of course, the sector also needs to lead the way: clubs and events need to reduce their own footprint and talk to fans about how they did it, which is something that entities like Real Betis or Tottenham Hotspur are doing quite well. Athletes can also serve as role models, lobbying for climate action and leading by example.

Football can be a wonderful driving force in the transition to a sustainable economy.

WFS: How can football clubs take the first steps towards compensating emissions and becoming Net Zero?

FB: They first need to calculate their carbon footprint, and be transparent about it. Take a hard look at what your emissions are and how you can reduce them. Once you have done that, work to offset the emissions you can’t reduce, through partners like ClimateTrade.

Most of all, be bold!

Football is not a cash-strapped sector; there is enough liquidity to innovate. You can follow the examples of pioneers like Forest Green Rovers in England, the first club to commit to net zero: they are currently building a net-zero stadium with 500 trees and several electric vehicles charging stations.

We believe this is the football of the future.

WFS: Who is a good example in the world of sports that stands out from a “climate change” perspective that football clubs can learn from?

FB: Forest Green Rovers is definitely one of the pioneers. Following their lead, several other clubs have signed up for the UN Sports for Climate Action framework, which I invite you to check out.

Various athletes across different sports are also using their platforms to raise awareness about climate change. Canadian ice climber Will Gad is documenting the melting of the Greenland ice cap, Finnish basketball player Lauri Markkanen has made a public pledge to stop eating red meat, and South African tennis player Kevin Anderson is pushing for the reduction of plastic use in sports.

In football, players like Hector Bellerín stand out as ambassadors for the fight against climate change.

I see the most potential is in empowering football fans to take action while they enjoy their favourite activities.

ClimateTrade & its value proposition for the football industry

WFS: What is and why does the world need ClimateTrade? How and when did you come to the realization that it needed ClimateTrade?

FB: ClimateTrade is a blockchain-based climate pioneer. We aim to make climate action more efficient and transparent. It all started when I had my daughter: suddenly it became clear that I had to act to protect her future on Earth.

And the first thing that struck me was the need for transparent carbon offsetting. The Paris Agreement has set a clear path for decarbonization, but the voluntary carbon market is famously opaque and inefficient. It is so diverse and spread out that project developers and companies that want to offset their footprint have to use brokers as intermediaries, and these brokers don’t always reveal their pricing structure.

This means that offsetters aren’t sure exactly how much of their money goes to the project they want to support, and how much goes to the broker. At the same time, because there is no traceable infrastructure for these transactions, it is difficult to verify that a carbon credit that has been bought is actually canceled in its corresponding registry. There’s always a risk that the same carbon credit could be sold to more than one buyer – that’s what is called double accounting.

Because of these issues, carbon offsetting sometimes has a bad reputation, not because the activity itself doesn’t have an impact, but because it’s extremely difficult to measure and monitor that impact.

That’s what ClimateTrade solves through blockchain technology. Our climate marketplace removes the need for intermediaries, enables project developers to set their own prices for carbon credits, and eliminates the risk of double accounting.

WFS: Given the pressure over the last several years to meet the 2030 & the 2050 objectives, there seems to be a huge volume of new businesses focused on solving the climate change challenge. What makes ClimateTrade unique?

FB: To begin with, we were one of the first companies to leverage blockchain technology to fight climate change in 2018. This means we have significant experience and a proven track record in supporting the decarbonisation efforts of companies, associations, and events.

Besides, we are constantly innovating to meet the demands of our clients. For instance, the ClimateTrade API brings all the functionalities of our climate marketplace (more than 60 sustainable projects to offset carbon footprint, blockchain infrastructure), to the websites and points of sale of our clients, allowing them to give their own customers the option to offset their carbon emissions.

In the football industry, for instance, we could integrate our API into ticketing points of sale to allow spectators to offset the carbon footprint of their trip to the stadium. It would be a great way for clubs to start tackling their scope 3 emissions.

This type of innovation, associated with the traceability of blockchain, is what makes us unique.

WFS: What is the use case behind using the blockchain to monitor & certify the carbon footprint?

FB: Blockchain is the only technology that provides the kind of transparency we need for the carbon credit market to be a credible vehicle for climate action.

It also presents other opportunities beyond this inherent traceability: for instance, we could connect a digital ledger to IoT sensors to measure impact on the ground, like soil quality, air pollution, water retention, etc. Imagine if companies and people that offset their carbon footprint by supporting sustainability projects could receive regular updates on how their investments are translating into environmental improvements on the ground. We would all feel more empowered, and carbon mitigation projects would never struggle to find funding.

But, despite this wonderful potential, it’s also important for the blockchain sector to take responsibility for its own carbon footprint, and do something to reduce it. Otherwise, clients may start to move away from these solutions as net zero ambitions accelerate, and we would miss out on this immense opportunity to make climate action much more powerful.

That’s why we at ClimateTrade work with Algorand, which has pledged to be the world’s greenest blockchain.

WFS: Banco Santander, Iberia, Telefónica, Acciona, Cabify…You work with some of the biggest brands in Europe. How can you apply this broad experience to the world of football?

FB: Our track record has allowed us to become leaders in this field, and create solutions that address true market gaps. We already support the carbon neutrality of sports events, calculating their carbon footprint and helping organizers select the right projects to offset it.

But where I see the most potential is in empowering football fans to take action while they enjoy their favourite activities.

Allowing them to offset their carbon footprint while buying tickets, or even at physical offsetting points during games, talking to them about specific projects and their environmental and social impact, and communicating transparently about the carbon footprint of sports.

These are all different ways that ClimateTrade can support the decarbonization of the football world.

WFS: What can football clubs learn from the mentality these important brands have adopted with regards to climate change?

FB: The biggest lesson to learn from these leaders is: don’t wait for others to do it first. We can all be pioneers if we are bold enough to take action and innovate while others remain passive.

The partnership between Climate Trade & World Football Summit

WFS: What are your expectations for World Football Summit?

FB: Put climate change on the agenda!

I’m very happy to see World Football Summit lead by example by offsetting the event’s emissions with ClimateTrade. This is a great first step in raising awareness about the need for action in the football world.

But I would want to see every football club make a net zero pledge and disclose what actions they are taking to fulfill it.

WFS: What would you ask of football industry leaders with regards to climate change?

FB: Take action today. There is so much you can do to move the needle towards a sustainable world, and if you don’t know where to start, I hope I gave a few ideas in this interview.

As Fran mentioned, we do not want to fall behind and we want to raise awareness and help educate the industry on resources, tools and businesses that can help them embark on their climate change journey. This is why we are proud to announce that we have partnered with Climate Trade to build our first-ever Net Zero event in Sevilla. 

This interview featured in the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.

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