Innovation That Matters

Five football-themed innovations for Euro 2024

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How innovators are making the beautiful game more sustainable

The Euro 2024 football championships in Germany are well underway, and, overall it has been a high-scoring affair so far. But how does football score for sustainability, and how are innovators looking to boost the sport’s green credentials?

Football, or soccer to our North American readers, is the world’s most popular sport, with FIFA, the sport’s governing body, estimating that there are five billion football fans across the globe. But with this popularity comes a climate impact. For example, German environmental research institute, The Öko-Institut, estimates that Euro 2024 will generate around 490,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions. This actually compares favourably to Euro 2016, the last iteration of the tournament not impacted by COVID-19, which is estimated to have generated 600,000 tonnes of emissions.

The tournament’s organisers, UEFA, are pursuing several initiatives to reduce its climate impact. For example, transport emissions account for the vast majority of the event’s carbon footprint, so matches in the group stages have been scheduled to minimise the distance fans need to travel. Plus, tournament ticket holders will have access to local public transport for 36 hours on matchdays.

More broadly in the world of football, many startups and initiatives are working to ensure that the ‘beautiful game’ doesn’t come at the expense of our beautiful planet. Discover five of the most exciting below.  

Photo source: Rebond

1. GREEN GOALS: RECYCLED AND BIO-BASED SPORTS BALLS

Over 40 million footballs are made every year, relying on tonnes of crude-oil-based synthetics, animal leather, and rubber for their production. But now, French organisation The Rebond Project is rethinking traditional manufacturing to create balls made from clean and sustainably sourced materials.

The initial problem the Rebond team had to solve was finding an adequate recyclable substitute for the internal or inflatable part of a football (the balloon). Rebond settled on recycled plastic bottles and a natural latex inner tube to make, what the company claims is, the first bio-sourced and recycled balloon to meet competition standards. To make the ball completely ‘clean’, Rebond then chose to create the external part of the football entirely out of natural vegetable-based biomaterials.  

According to the company, 85 per cent of current ball production occurs in the Punjab region in India. Wanting to boost local production of “Made in France” balls, Rebond set up a French production line in Loire-Atlantique in 2019, although it stresses that the goal isn’t to replace Punjabi workshops, but instead to use the France production line to complement them. According to Rebond Founder and CEO Simon Mutschler, the company is now aiming to get the FIFA-accredited logo on its balls so they can be sold to official football clubs. 

2. THE ‘WORLD’S MOST ECO-FRIENDLY’ FOOTBALL BOOTS

What boots will your favourite player be wearing during the tournament? This question is vital for sports brands, for whom player partnerships are a core pillar of the marketing strategy.  

Football boots are big business with the global market estimated to be worth $19.07 billion in 2022. But, according to sustainable football boot brand Sokito, the market has an ugly side, with 12.5 million football boots discarded to landfill each year. To address this, the company was the first to offer a football boot recycling scheme.

But beyond recycling, a fundamental problem with boot manufacturing is that today’s boots use a lot of synthetic materials like nylon and polyurethane. Sokito, by contrast, makes its boots from at least 56 per cent earth-friendly materials, with an ultimate goal to reach 100 per cent. The materials the brand uses include recycled plastic from bottles, as well as castor oil and cellulose. For some of its boots, the company uses kangaroo leather – which is a tightly regulated by-product of wild kangaroo population control – but it also offers vegan options.

In addition to minimising its environmental impact, Sokito also has a strong focus on worker wellbeing, with all its production carried out in Europe under strictly controlled conditions with fair pay and reasonable working hours.

3. RE-HOMING PRE-LOVED FOOTBALL BOOTS

Former England goalkeeper David James, who was England’s first choice keeper at Euro 2004, is co-founder of Football Rebooted, another initiative helping to keep football boots out of landfill.

The campaign, which is supported by energy supplier Utilita, addresses the fact that many households are filled with unused football boots, while elsewhere children and adults struggled to afford a pair.

The UK-wide scheme makes it free and easy for anyone to donate or claim a pair of boots via a network of collection boxes across the country. If needed, freepost boot bags can be requested, making it possible for people who don’t live near a box to still donate.

Charities, schools, and local clubs, meanwhile, can bulk request boots, with Football Rebooted then organising their delivery.

The initiative has set itself the goal of rehoming one million pairs of boots, which it claims would save 136,000 tonnes of carbon.

Photo source: Flycup

4. ECO-FRIENDLY PACKAGING FOR GREENER STADIUMS

In France, startup Flycup has created easy-to-hold food and drink containers that can be held in just one hand. The customisable packaging is printed with vegetable ink, and designed to directly replace single-use plastics and coated paper options that cannot be recycled.

The company’s solution begins as flat-packed food packaging made from 100 per cent recyclable kraft cardboard. Once assembled, the containers hold a variety of items of different sizes. The design includes an integrated handle that makes it easy to hold everything in one hand. The smallest containers hold a single drink and food item, while the larger option holds two foods and a drink. There are also dedicated drink holders.

All Flycup products are made in France, and the vegetable ink used on the containers reduces water pollution during the recycling process. External lifecycle analysis has found that replacing conventional packaging with the startup‘s recyclable products reduces carbon emissions from catering areas by 28 per cent.

Flycup has already teamed up with various partners, including Stade de France and Uber Eats, as well as French football teams Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain.

5. A PRE-GAME SHOW POWERED BY FANS

The Euro 2024 final will not be the first European final organised by UEFA this year. On 1st June the Champions League final saw Real Madrid beat Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. The night before, UEFA held its UEFA Champions Festival Friday Night Show in Trafalgar Square, an event that ‘blended the excitement of football and music.’ The twist? The show was partly powered by the kinetic energy of the crowd via special panels provided by startup Pavegen.

Pavegen’s tiles utilise piezoelectric materials to generate a current when a load is applied. During the show, the tiles were used to power the DJ booth and microphone of headline act Rudimental. The event was an opportunity for the company to showcase its technology, which has a range of use cases in providing off-grid energy.

Pavegen was first spotted by Springwise back in 2020. We often publish our stories before mainstream media pick up on them. Visit our library to explore innovations from across industry and around the world.

Written By: Matthew Hempstead