Western Mail Profiles – Heledd Jenkins

 ‘How the titans of the Premier League have a role to play in the community in terms of sustainability’

Heledd Jenkins is a research associate at Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society at Cardiff University. She is currently investigating the social and environmental sustainability of sports organisations.

WHEN you attend a football game on a Saturday do you think about the social and environmental impacts of the sport? How did you travel to the game? How much water is used to irrigate the pitch? How much energy do those big floodlights use? How involved is your club in its local community? Which charities does it support?

Many sporting organisations are now beginning to address the fact that sport can positively impact on society and is demanding on the environment, particularly with the emphasis on sustainability and regeneration at the London 2012 Olympics. Past research by colleagues at Cardiff University into the sustainability of large sports events such as the FA Cup final revealed a shortage of data on the social and environmental impacts of sport and a lack of in-depth understanding of how sports organisations understand and put into practice their responsibilities in these areas.

Using the English Premier League as a case study, my research aims to fill some of these knowledge gaps and gain a better understanding of the social and environmental impacts of a high profile sport like football.

Football is a unique and powerful cultural phenomenon. Its power to engage, youth appeal and potential to influence are substantial, but can it positively change its own behaviour and the behaviour of others when it comes to minimising environmental impact and addressing social concerns?

My research shows that football clubs acknowledge their responsibility to improve social and environmental performance and give something back to the community. Premier League clubs deliver a wide range of community engagement projects, which address issues such as social inclusion, health, sports participation and education, and support a number of charities each year.

The majority of Premier League clubs have adopted the community trust model of delivering community programmes.

Community work is undertaken by a community trust, which is linked to the football club by brand name, but is a separate charitable organisation.

Most of their programmes are externally funded and they work closely with local partners, such as schools, to try to influence the lives and lifestyles of people in a positive way. However, awareness levels about their work are low and community trusts think they are the game’s best kept secret.

The clubs in the study have taken a variety of steps to lessen their environmental impact – addressing impacts such as waste, energy, water use, transport and supply chains. One club had an innovative approach to turning waste into profit by turning grass cuttings from the pitch into compost.

This research demonstrates that football clubs recognise that the business of sport has negative environmental impacts that must be addressed. Yet addressing environmental impact in football is an evolving practice – some clubs are further ahead in the process than others. Despite its power to influence, very little progress has been made in influencing positive environmental behaviour in supporters. So next time you’re at a football game, think which bin you put that plastic cup in.

To contact Heledd please email jenkinshm1@cardiff.ac.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on 3rd September, 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.