March 5. 2024. 1:13

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The energy footprint of Germany’s football league – the Bundesliga

Even though Germany’s top football league has won plaudits for its sustainability efforts, the energy crisis has shone a harsh light on the Bundesliga’s large energy footprint.

Germany likes to see itself as a climate protection superpower. In late 2021, Germans’ favourite pastime, football, followed suit by introducing sustainability criteria for clubs participating in the country’s top league, the Bundesliga.

The 36 members of the German football association, the “Deutsche Fußball Liga” (DFL), announced their ambition to enshrine sustainability criteria as a prerequisite for clubs playing in the league.

It was the first football league in the world to do so.

But when the European energy crisis hit and Russia turned off the gas tap, the Bundesliga found itself in uncharted territory. While some of the country’s clubs had already started reporting back sustainability figures, tackling the energy use of the Bundesliga clubs was a tougher nut to crack.

Following a September meeting by the heads of the DFL, all Bundesliga clubs were “urgently” advised to cut energy consumption by 15 to 20%.

However, the initiative immediately ran into problems.

“The very different conditions at the individual locations of the Bundesliga must be taken into account,” the heads of the league warned, noting differences in stadium ownership and their energy sources.

“Against this backdrop, in order to initiate an additional opportunity for cross-location exchange of facts, best practices and challenges, the DFL will organise regular joint meetings with the clubs on this topic,” according to a message sent to the clubs.

Half a year on from this message, did Germany’s clubs actually begin to save energy?

The challenge, after all, is quite sizeable: the stadiums of the Bundesliga consumed approximately 211,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2022 – energy that could, alternatively, provide power for some 66,000 households.

Football is energy-intensive: warming the turf, powering the floodlights and building facilities, providing heating for the open stadium, as well as catering to supporters.

Leading the energy demand pack is Bayern Munich, Germany’s perennial placeholder at the top of the Bundesliga table. Running the club’s Allianz Arena requires more than 20 million kWh, according to data provided by the clubs.

Second place is occupied by Schalke 04 from Gelsenkirchen. Their Veltins-Arena stadium operation requires more than 17 million kWh.

Third place goes to VfB Stuttgart. The running of the club’s stadium consumes 15.5 million kWh per year. However, the club heeded the call of the DFL leadership to conserve energy, turning down their turf heaters and lighting.

Conserving energy?

Given the energy footprint of German top-level football, saving energy should be at the heart of clubs’ efforts to achieve both their climate ambitions – many clubs aim for climate neutrality by 2030 – and do their part as society is called to save energy.

Of the 18 clubs in the Bundesliga, six told EURACTIV they had enacted the DFL energy-saving mandate in some shape or form. Club Werder Bremen “plans to fulfil the DFL recommendation,” a spokesperson said.

Some, like FC Freiburg, whose stadium was finished in 2021, struggle to achieve the required further energy savings. “Our venue was designed with a great deal of focus on energy efficiency and sustainability,” a spokesperson explained.

Others, like Union Berlin, cut down on their energy use without being prompted due to financial pressure. “An energy-saving recommendation by the DFL is not necessary for this purpose,” stressed a spokesperson.

Bayern Munich did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for comment.

Solar panels: a fig leaf?

One measure German football clubs tend to tout are their solar panels. Sourcing some of their electricity from solar panels is central to the sustainability communication of clubs like FC Freiburg, with the league’s largest solar panel capacity.

Aside from Freiburg, though, clubs’ solar panel output pales in comparison to their constant hunger for energy.