Assessing the goals, challenges and progress of making the Premier League sustainable.

Amidst the electric atmosphere of the English Premier League, a quieter but pressing concern lingers: its climate impact. From player transport logistics to matchday emissions, the league’s carbon footprint warrants scrutiny as we consider how the Premier League can reduce its impact on the planet.

Player transport

Prior to their match with Newcastle United earlier this season, Manchester United players were forced to take a three hour coach journey after their private flight was cancelled due to the cold weather. As this story broke, it opened a discussion on the climate impact of the Premier League as for many supporters, there was no way of justifying a private domestic flight of that distance. 

The Premier League claims to be serious about its commitment to reduce its climate impact, as it is a signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, which has the stated aims of implementing the following five climate action principles:

  • Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  • Reduce overall climate impact
  • Educate for climate action
  • Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  • Advocate for climate action through communication 

Living up to these targets is a different story, as analysis from the climate charity Possible revealed that Manchester City flew to 10 out of a possible 19 Premier League away games last season, racking up 56 tonnes of carbon emissions — enough to cover 402 journeys on an electric coach.

France has been more decisive, as the government there has banned domestic short-haul flights where the same journey could be made by train in under two-and-a-half hours. The train from Manchester to Newcastle takes 2 hrs 15 minutes, and from Manchester to London takes 2 hrs 8 minutes. If Britain implemented a similar rule, there would be very few instances where plane travel would be allowed for a Premier League away day. 

Matchday emissions

Given its global popularity, the English Premier League attracts fans from all over the world. In 2019, it was estimated that 1.5 million inbound tourists went to a live football game in the UK. Their arrival brings huge economic advantages, alongside significant carbon emissions. In recent years, incentives to reduce the emissions of each fan on a matchday have made substantial advancements.

For example, the Tottenham Hotspur stadium — the most recent ground to open in the Premier League — uses 100% renewable energy, sends zero waste to landfill and uses reusable (rather than recyclable single-use) cups in its food and drink outlets. They also offer a broad range of vegan and vegetarian food on match days — an area that is certainly ripe for improvement at many other clubs. 

(jorono/ Pixabay)

Despite the substantial advancements being made by Tottenham and other clubs, the most significant emissions on a matchday come from fan travel to games. Similarly to player transport, this is an area where all Premier League clubs could do more. In the German Bundesliga, match tickets include free use of local public transport for fans travelling to and from matches. A similar initiative in the UK would be well-placed, reducing road traffic emissions from cars.

The ever-changing designs of football shirts have to be viewed through the lens of fast fashion. Every team releases 2-3 new kits each season, alongside training wear and other accessories. Fans are encouraged to go out in their thousands and buy a polyester replica of the latest iteration of the new shirt. Sure, the colour may be exactly the same as it has been for the past 100 years, but this one has a collar! In the 2022-23 season, Brentford reused their previous season’s home shirt in a bid to be more sustainable and save fans money. This is something that should be more commonplace in the game if the Premier League seriously wants to ‘reduce [its] overall climate impact’ 


Globally, there are 3.5 billion football fans. Given that the English Premier League is the most watched league in the most watched sport in the world, the league and the sport more broadly must take responsibility for its ability to influence behaviours

However, the most recent World Cup was awarded to the nation with the highest emissions per capita in the world, and advertisements across the sport tend to be dominated by gambling companies, airlines and fossil-fuel supporting banks. Football’s attitude towards the climate crisis clearly has to change.

There is precedent for banning harmful advertising in our game. Tobacco advertising has been banned in the sport. Equally, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UEFA has ended its partnership with Gazprom, a Russian state-owned fossil fuel company. The movement to ban gambling advertisements is also rightfully growing. Given that scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change is as high as the consensus that smoking causes lung cancer, it is also time to ban high-carbon sponsorship in the Premier League

No matter how many greenwashing initiatives are held by clubs, broadcasters, or the league itself, whilst high-carbon industries continue to fund Premier League clubs in return for brand exposure, public action on the climate crisis is not going to move anywhere near fast enough.

The future

In a win for football and the climate, the proposed European Super League was met with fierce opposition from fans when it was first announced in 2021. The league would have led to more match-ups amongst Europe’s elite teams, and also sought to undermine the hierarchy, rivalry and support for the underdog that our domestic game is based upon. Big games between the top teams are thrilling, but their scarcity gives them their value. If these video-game-style match-ups were the weekly norm, they would soon lose their appeal. On many grounds, but not least on climate grounds, increased regularity of cross-continent club football and international football should continue to be resisted.

In football terms, we’re heavy underdogs, as we face off against climate change. 3-0 down in the 80th minute but… it’s still all to play for.