The future of football infrastructure explored in new guide

The future of football infrastructure explored in new guide

UEFA’s new Sustainable Infrastructure Guidelines can enable sports stadiums and events, not only in football, to be designed and executed more sustainability

Referencing the high profile of sport on social media as a model for wider society to aspire towards, particularly among younger generations, UEFA’s new 182-page Sustainable Infrastructure Guidelines declares that “the main aim in modern day venues is for stadium and sports facilities to embrace sustainability and become champions of its application in their buildings, in their landscaped grounds and even in the society around them.”

To achieve this, stadiums can’t just be designed with environmental sustainability in mind; over 70% of potential sustainability gains are generated in the operation stage of a venue’s lifespan. That is why a large group of stakeholders beyond designers and external to UEFA, including architects, clubs and academics, helped develop the guidelines.

Launched on 16 November in Mainz, they focus on embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices into infrastructure sustainability, one of eleven policies in UEFA’s Football Sustainability Strategy 2030.

“The football infrastructure of the future will increasingly link engineering, innovation and sustainability criteria,” said Mark Fenwick, partner at Fenwick Iribarren Architects and author of the document. “The guidelines showcase how this mix will provide long-term benefits to operators and strengthen the legacy of common spaces for local communities.”

The document has been divided into three sections, the first being an introduction to infrastructure sustainability and how ESG has been implemented. 

Reducing noise and light pollution are mentioned as two low cost actions to improve infrastructure sustainability, supporting a finding of Loughborough University’s recent Sports for Nature report that “sport organisations need to be sensitised to the full breadth of actions that can be taken to disrupt assumptions about the high cost of engaging with this agenda.”

The second section delves intospecific topics of football infrastructure. Accountability is encroached first, an important topic to clarify with so many stakeholder groups involved: “The entity that will own and run the facility must also establish at the very outset the level of sustainability to be achieved in the design, construction and running of the facility throughout its lifespan.”

Due to the necessity of applying the guidelines to a large variety of football organisations across Europe, their generic nature cannot be scrutinised too intensely. However, organisations searching the guidelines for definitive answers might find difficulty in their tendency to compare different options, such as constructing a new stadium or refurbishing an existing site, without concluding which is best.

The third section provides insights intoinfrastructure management. Implementing smart technology into stadium infrastructure, such as inmotics (building automation) and the Internet of Things, can enable giant strides towards UEFA’s ‘ultimate objective’ of sustainable infrastructure: self-sustainability. UEFA reiterate that current technology “may quickly feel outdated,” but also that the guidelines will be regularly updated to implement the latest in “technological advancement, legislation, expectations from civil society and ever-evolving UEFA requirements.”

After technology, the guidelines introduce circular economy principles. UEFA published extensive guidelines dedicated to circular economy in September, which you can read about here.  

UEFA argues that safety and sustainability are not mutually exclusive: “Safety and sustainable design are fully compatible as both have the same aim – to conserve resources – and are focused on the environment in the case of sustainability, and on people in the case of safety.”

As a companion to this document, UEFA is developing an ESG Event Management System with the following objectives: 

– Define football sustainability standards based on best practices in football events

– Align expected levels of maturity achieved with the UEFA Football Sustainability Strategy 2030

– Progressively deploy systems in all UEFA events and monitor improvements

– Encourage the system’s adoption by all football event organisers such as national associations, leagues and clubs.

UEFA then proposes a format to apply the system: “In practice, each football event will be assigned in advance a level of maturity to achieve, ranging from Level 1 (Base) to Level 2 (Established), Level 3 (Advanced) and Level 4 (Excellence). In addition, an aspirational level aims to provide incentives for best-in-class performance. Each level is analysed for compliance with defined criteria, with the verification process taking place at the end of each event.” 

With the system set to be formally deployed at EURO 2024, how these levels will be assigned, what incentives will be offered and how the verification process will be conducted are all interesting developments to follow in the lead-up to the tournament.

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