"We're greener! No, we are! Where's the ball?"

By Gary Hartley

Shortly after our review of a less-than informative book about football and climate change, we received an email from a man who’s at the cutting edge of research on football’s ability to get us cutting carbon.

Richard Baldwin, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, was kind enough to share his paper about just how effective football clubs can be in getting their fans interested in sustainability. 

Naturally there’s quite a bit of fairly complex analysis in Baldwin’s paper. It’s more than I can go into much detail about here – but it arrives at some interesting findings.

He looks at the success and failure of various campaigns to drum up interest in climate change – and concludes that simply telling people that wasting energy is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, and that they should behave more sustainably to ‘do the right thing’, has tended to fail miserably.

You probably guessed that.

On the other hand, campaigns that worked with community-based organisations like schools and places of worship (religious and sporting) tended to do just the opposite – flourishing in an existing sense of community. They were able to mobilise people to ‘green up’ alongside some real, tangible (and social) benefits.

In a move that will surely deter all Norwich fans from reading on, the research focuses on Ipswich Town’s attempts to go ‘carbon neutral’ in the 2006-’07 season by offsetting fans’ behavioural changes against the club’s own emissions.

(Rabid Canaries will probably be even more peeved to learn that the ‘Save your Energy for the Blues’ campaign resulted in success. Apologies for unveiling this punch line a little early in proceedings – but stay with me.) 

In particular, Baldwin found that it’s about mates telling mates that it’s a good idea – backed by the fact that, by engaging with the idea, they can help their beloved footballing institution. Oh, and of save themselves a few bob to boot. We’re not saying there’s never going to be a Twitter football revolution, but Baldwin’s research  shows the power of a real social network that could put the virtual kind to shame.

Indeed, the campaign attracted quite a few fans (out of 3,000-plus) who weren’t exactly positive about climate change and energy-saving issues at the outset. Even more, they were particularly distrustful of government climate change campaigns. What they did have in common was a great desire to get involved due to their identification with the club. 

Of course, if you throw in the opportunity to sign a better calibre of player for your club, you’re onto a real winner. This became a reality for these fans, as the club’s sponsors coughed up a cool £300k for Ipswich’s transfer kitty. Jury’s out as to whether this has proved to have long-term benefit, mind…

And if any Norwich fans are still with us, we are well aware you’re doing your bit too.