North East football giant aims to score green first

Sunderland AFC (SAFC) has announced ambitious plans which will see it become the UK’s first net zero football club.

It has published a new sustainability strategy to reduce its impact on the environment and support the UK’s low carbon ambitions.

The plan is in line with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals, focusing on SAFC’s role as a Football Club in the local and regional communities and the impact it can have to support environmental change and energy usage.

The club is the most successful professional football club in the North East of England, and is currently playing in the English Football League Championship having won the League One play off Final at Wembley in May last year. It regularly attracts over 40,000 fans to its Stadium which has a capacity of 48,000.

“It is the Club’s ambition to be energy-self-sufficient from renewable sources by 2028 while also providing energy to the National Grid network for the benefit of the wider community,” it revealed. “This is at the heart of the new sustainability plan with proposals to generate affordable clean power and contribute to the UK’s energy security.”

Steve Davison, chief operating officer at Sunderland AFC, said: “We want to set long-term and bold objectives that enable our Club to have a positive impact on our collective ambitions to cut carbon emissions and reduce climate change. We have set out a series of measures, initiatives and programmes that will contribute to a more sustainable future for the Club and the environment.”

He added: “We are looking forward to actioning our sustainability plans, working with our partners, supporters, neighbours, local councils and other stakeholders. Football Clubs have an important role to play in their communities, which reaches beyond sport, and we hope to take them all with us on this journey with us as we help to tackle climate change.”

The plans include  a 40mW solar farm at the club’s training facility Academy of Light, the club’s training facility, for which the club are preparing a planning application and applying for a grid connection in the near future.  If successful, this will feed clean renewable electricity into the UK network.

Sunderland said it is also actively exploring the potential to develop a ‘canopy solar farm’ above the car park surrounding the club’s  Stadium of Light, which will create a private electricity network for the benefit of the Club and other businesses located on the stadium site.

Further energy could also be produced from below the Stadium of Light, with the club working in collaboration with Sunderland City Council to investigate the opportunity to create a district heating system using the mine water from the disused mine on which the stadium is built.

As part of its sustainability commitment, SAFC is also addressing waste and water use by embarking on and progressing a number of initiatives.  In the coming years it aims to harvest rainwater and eliminate, as far as possible, single use plastics.

The Club will also implement a club-wide transport policy, including team match day travel, which will reduce emissions.

“This will complement the Club’s support of local councils from the surrounding areas in finding creative and innovative ways of using public transport to enable supporters to attend matches with the minimum environmental impact,” it added.

The sustainability plan will also support the Club’s backing of the UN’s Sport for Climate Change. The initiative sets out specific goals to halve emissions by 2030 and aim to achieve net-zero by 2040.

“It is the ambition of SAFC to become the first Football Club in the UK to achieve these targets,” the club added. “The first stages of this commitment are underway with a programme of replacing all non-LED lights in all buildings, replacing the car park lighting and replacing the floodlights at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare ground, which is used by SAFC Women and the Club’s Under-21s.”