Shaping Sustainable Football Clubs: Insights from the ECA Sustainability Department

Dr. Gaia Pretner ECA Head of Sustainability represents the ‘Heart of Football’ and outlines her vision for more sustainable football clubs, the challenges of sustainable event management, and the importance of collaborative efforts in achieving environmental goals. This interview sheds light on the path forward for clubs aiming to balance sporting excellence with environmental responsibility. Join us for a deep dive into the future of sustainability in football through the eyes of an expert shaping the game's eco-friendly transformation. 

ECA's Sustainability Focus 

 The primary focus of the ECA Sustainability Department is on developing the association's inaugural sustainability strategy and supporting member clubs in their sustainability efforts. Gaia Pretner emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach, especially given the evolving regulatory landscape and societal expectations. Gaia acknowledges the varying resources and impact levels across clubs, highlighting the importance of tailored support and collaborative efforts. 

Challenges in Sustainability Procurement 

Reflecting on her experience with the FIFA World Cup procurement process, Gaia outlines multifaceted challenges. Supply chain complexity, divided procurement responsibilities, and timing constraints pose significant hurdles. However, she underscores the importance of sustainability integration at every stage, emphasizing the need for organizational alignment and top-down support. 

Securing Buy-in for Sustainability 

Dr. Pretner stresses the importance of securing buy-in across all organizational levels for successful sustainability initiatives. She highlights the necessity of organizational shifts and cross-departmental collaboration. Recognizing the challenge of ingrained routines, Gaia emphasizes the role of leadership in mandating sustainable practices. 

Advocating for Regulations and Certifications 

While acknowledging the benefits of sustainability regulations and certifications, Gaia emphasizes the need for genuine organizational commitment beyond compliance. She advocates for a strategic approach to certifications, viewing them as tools for continuous improvement rather than mere accolades. 

Navigating Partnerships and Sponsorships 

Dr. Pretner discusses the complexities of integrating sustainability into partnerships and sponsorships. She highlights the importance of aligning objectives and implementing innovative solutions to reduce waste while maintaining visibility and fan engagement. 

Addressing Mobility Challenges 

Mobility presents another critical sustainability challenge, especially concerning fan travel to stadiums. Gaia suggests initiatives such as free local transit rides and incentivizing public transport use. She emphasizes the role of stadium location and connectivity in the effectiveness of these strategies. 

Strategic Approach to Certifications 

Dr. Pretner emphasizes the distinction between building certifications and management system certifications, advocating for a holistic approach that addresses both physical infrastructure and operational sustainability. She views certifications as tools for driving continuous improvement and organizational alignment. 

Fostering Collaboration over Competition 

Reflecting on sustainability competitions and rankings, Gaia advocates for a collaborative approach that celebrates achievements without fostering undue competition. She emphasizes the importance of maintaining a spirit of openness and cooperation within the sustainability community. 

Initiating Sustainability Strategies 

In transitioning to a hypothetical role as a sustainability manager for a mid-sized co-op, Gaia emphasizes stakeholder engagement, context analysis, and priority setting as essential first steps in crafting sustainability initiatives. 

Balancing Procurement Priorities 

Discussing procurement priorities, Gaia underscores the importance of assessing both the quantity and risk associated with purchases. She advocates for a nuanced approach that prioritizes critical items while considering the broader organizational context. 

Future Directions and Collaboration 

Dr. pretner concludes by emphasizing the importance of ongoing dialogue and collaboration in advancing sustainability goals. She underscores the value of understanding stakeholder needs and aspirations to drive meaningful progress in sustainability efforts. 


The full version of this interview is available exclusively for ESSMA-members on our knowledge platform: