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October 11, 2023

Scoring a new goal: climate action in professional soccer

Cognizant is working with Eintracht Frankfurt to measure its carbon footprint as the sporting world embraces sustainability.

In the sports and entertainment industries, sustainability is becoming increasingly important, and soccer events are no exception. Today’s soccer events create sporting moments and emotional experiences—but they also require organizers, and everyone involved to become more sustainable. In this context, understanding greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of the puzzle.

We spoke with our colleague, Jan Konietzko, Manager Sustainability Services at Cognizant, about the partnership between Cognizant and EintrachtTech, an independent subsidiary of Eintracht Frankfurt, a football club of the German Bundesliga. As partners in three business areas—EintrachtTech’s Arena of IoT program, digital platforms and #EintrachtDigital—the two organizations are committed to improving the club’s carbon footprint. The first step is to measure it. And that’s no simple task; soccer clubs like Eintracht Frankfurt are confronted with a variety of emission sources.

How do you assess the development towards the compulsory preparation of a carbon footprint in the German Bundesliga?

Calculating a carbon footprint is necessary to move away from selective measures and rough assumptions—to continuous measurability and comparability in German soccer and in events in general.

However, it is important that soccer clubs have standardized ways of assessing their carbon footprint. There are currently no detailed standards that the clubs can follow. For instance, it is unclear what assumptions must be made to calculate the emissions from fan mobility, or what exactly must be included when accounting for the impact of purchased goods and services. This prevents comparability and penalizes the more ambitious players.

In fact, if clubs decide to do detailed and extensive carbon accounting, they’re penalized because they are likely to discover more emissions than other clubs. In terms of communication, it is then skewed that an ambitious club reports much higher emissions in comparison. It is also necessary to have the data audited, which is not mandatory now. The footprints can therefore be prone to error, and there is no guarantee that they are based on sound data and consistent assumptions.

However, making carbon footprints mandatory is the correct first step. And, as far as I know, the Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) is working on addressing the above issues.

What sets Cognizant's partnership with EintrachtTech apart?

We are partners with EintrachtTech in areas such as Arena of IoT, digital platforms and #EintrachtDigital. The carbon footprint is a project that we’ve implemented to initiate improvements. This can only be achieved if there are standardized, clearly defined measurements of emissions. So, the first step is to measure these.

What interesting insights does a carbon footprint reveal? What are the factors that are particularly relevant to companies in the events industry?

A soccer club has a whole range of emission sources.

Most of them are caused by activities that the club cannot directly influence. One example is fan mobility—fans’ travel to and from the stadium. This depends on the infrastructure around the stadium and fans' choice of transport. Fan mobility is clearly the biggest factor.

Another major factor is goods and services purchased. This includes everything a club needs to be operational—from office supplies to vehicles. For soccer clubs, merchandise plays a significant role as well. Products such as jerseys have a high share in the carbon footprint of purchased goods and services. We calculate the carbon emissions of a jersey starting with its supply chain, i.e., the cultivation of cotton or the production of polyester. These factors, which can be influenced directly, amount to a large share of the carbon footprint.

The factors that can be directly influenced by a club like Eintracht Frankfurt amount to a small part of the total footprint. These mainly include gas and electricity consumption, especially in the stadium, and the operation of the vehicle fleet. This is where we can help—by installing renewable energy, changing the electricity tariff, managing energy in the stadium, or gradually scaling up electric cars in the fleet. Currently, some of the data is still quite rough, especially for topics outside the operational control of a soccer club. The goal here should be to account for emissions in detail, perhaps even per event, at the push of a button.

You’ve already mentioned that some data is currently based on estimates. What are the biggest pain points of calculating a carbon footprint?

The situation now looks mostly like this: on the one hand, you have a large share of emissions that you cannot influence directly, where estimates often have to be made due to lack of data. On the other hand, you have a smaller share that you can influence directly. In this smaller portion, there is generally better data, but it is often not detailed enough to make improvements.

For example, in the stadium, there may only be a few electricity and gas meters installed, which are often not digitized. But there is consumption in many unusual places. Only when we know exactly when and where emissions are caused by the consumption of equipment and activities can processes be improved in a targeted manner. There is often a lack of granularity. That is the biggest challenge.

The carbon footprint assessment is the start of an agile process. It shows gaps where data cannot be collected yet. IoT solutions are suitable for data collection and subsequent optimization. Sensors can be used at relevant points. For example, a turf heating system is one of the largest power sources used by any soccer club. So, its operating time and intensity should be optimized in a targeted manner.

How will the use of technology evolve carbon accounting?

Today, data collection for the carbon footprint is still challenging. In the future, data should be generated and collected with less effort. And this is where technology can help. The goal should be to make it as easy as possible to update data and thus reduce accounting costs.

The topic should be anchored in accounting; IT infrastructures must be created to generate required information faster and with better data quality. Standardization and inspections will come into effect, but the pressure for change isn’t there yet.

Nevertheless, the DFL is demanding that all Bundesliga clubs submit their carbon footprints. So, the direction of travel has been set and the first results are in. We can work with the insights we have gained, and I am curious to see how the topic will evolve. The topic of sustainability has also fully taken hold of the sports and entertainment industries.

The interview was conducted by Angelika Leis, Christina Ress and Silvia Comida from Cognizant Europe.

Dr. Jan Konietzko

Manager, Sustainability Services, Cognizant

Picture of Digitally Cognizant author Jan Konietzko

Jan Konietzko is a sustainability expert on a mission to help organizations thrive within planetary boundaries. His focus is on life cycle assessment (LCA), circular economy strategies and decarbonization pathways.

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