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Pressing German football's sustainability accelerator

Simon Rasch, environmental sustainability manager at the German Football Association (DFB), discusses the sustainability challenges facing the German game – and the opportunities they offer for wider change.

The DFB are putting initiatives in place to encourage fans to use public transport at UEFA EURO 2024
The DFB are putting initiatives in place to encourage fans to use public transport at UEFA EURO 2024 AFP via Getty Images

Exploring thesis ideas for his master's degree in sustainable development, Simon Rasch was struck by a moment of clarity. A keen footballer, Rasch wondered if there was a link between football clubs' sustainability work and the behaviour of their fans.

Rasch became convinced of the connection after studying the attitudes of more than 200 Borussia Dortmund supporters. More than that, the project cleared Rasch's path towards a career he describes as being an "accelerator and implementer of sustainability in German football" – and to his current role as environmental sustainability manager at the German Football Association (DFB).

"I love football and I love the environment, so it was a natural step to combine the two," says Rasch, who believes football "can have a positive impact on the sustainable development of society" – a vision he supports at the DFB through various focus areas.

"Football can certainly be an accelerator for sustainability."

Simon Rasch, DFB environmental sustainability manager

EURO 2024: Game changer, story maker

Simon Rasch's role as environmental sustainability manager at the DFB is funded by UEFA's HatTrick programme, which on average distributes 66% of each men's EURO's net revenue to European football associations for investment in their national game.

Read more stories that show the EURO's power to change lives and communities for the better, on and off the pitch.

Starting locally

First and foremost, Rasch works closely with regional associations in developing their own environmental sustainability activities – particularly around the growing impact of climate change on German football's grassroots infrastructure.

More than seven million members play for 25,000 clubs across 21 regional associations, all under the responsibility of the DFB. Over 5,000 of these clubs have applied for money to strengthen their infrastructure through the flagship UEFA EURO 2024 climate fund. Launched in 2023, this flagship initiative has set aside around €7 million to support German amateur clubs' climate protection projects.

'Kick-off for green'

Beyond the climate fund, the DFB seeks to support its regional associations and amateur clubs in several ways. For the regional associations, three handbooks have been developed, including a 100-point checklist of sustainable actions clubs can take – alongside information on cost, effort and impact, and an accompanying spreadsheet that helps those working for clubs to filter the actions that suit them best. Rasch also gives training sessions on environmental management to interested regional associations.

"For amateur clubs, we have this great state-funded project called "ANSTOSS FÜR GRÜN" (Kick-off for Green), which includes videos, facts on climate change and a free carbon footprint calculator," Rasch says. "It's really applied to football – energy, water, mobility. It's free and so easy for them to use."

Simon Rasch (left) wants to make sustainability a key focus at the DFB and across Germany.
Simon Rasch (left) wants to make sustainability a key focus at the DFB and across Germany.Thomas Boecker/DFB

Employee mindset

Another area of focus of Rasch's work is to implement more sustainability measures at the DFB headquarters in Frankfurt.

While this involves operational elements such as carbon footprint calculation and facility management, much of Rasch's efforts have been focused on "integrating sustainability into the employee mindset" by running education workshops and initiatives for his colleagues.

Support from his colleagues is integral to Rasch's work – not least when it comes to games organised by the DFB, including men's and women's national team matches, Under-21 matches and league cup finals. Making sure these events are more environmentally responsible a key area of responsibility for the sustainability manager's third pillar of responsibility.

Rasch and the DFB event organisation team have developed a free carpooling platform and have also successfully incentivised the share of vegan and regional catering options.

"Some of the progress has been amazing," he says. "Year on year, we have increased sales of vegan sausages at the women's cup final in Cologne by 577%."

A further task of Rasch's is to support the clubs of the three men's leagues and one women's league with workshops, documents, incentives and training, and to make sure they adhere to 34 environmental, social and governance criteria incorporated into the DFB's licensing scheme.

Catalytic role of EURO 2024

A challenging part of Rasch's mission is embedding sustainability into the culture of the national team and youth academy.

"The focus here is mostly on the sport," he says. "If the national team is doing well, everything is fine. But if the team is not doing so well then things like sustainability can be criticised by fans."

Sustainability has influenced the structure of fan parks at EURO 2024, like the one in Stuttgart
Sustainability has influenced the structure of fan parks at EURO 2024, like the one in Stuttgart Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

Environment is one of three key pillars of the UEFA EURO 2024 ESG strategy, alongside social and governance, with climate action, sustainable infrastructure and circular economy each identified as tournament priorities. There are also key performance indicators for sustainable mobility, carbon management, energy, water and waste.

Rasch is confident that EURO 2024 will be a catalyst, not only in accelerating his own work at the DFB but also in positioning football as a key player in the transition to a more sustainable world.

"Football can certainly be an accelerator for sustainability," says Rasch. "There are lots of things for us to consider. It's difficult – but I'm certain we can have an impact."