August 5, 2014


Yokohama FC: Leader in Eco-Activities through Football-Related Carbon Offset

Keywords: Climate Change Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.143 (July 2014)

Have you heard of the term "carbon offset"?

Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries set upper limits for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent), in order to prevent global warming. Various measures are being attempted, including energy saving, to reduce emissions, but some emissions cannot be reduced through the efforts of businesses and individuals alone.

Carbon offsets are a mechanism to compensate for difficult-to-reduce GHG emissions by purchasing credits earned by other entities for their GHG emission reductions, or implementing projects to reduce or absorb GHG emissions.

Yokohama FC, a football (soccer) team affiliated with the Japan Professional Football League (known as "J. League"), has been engaged in carbon offsetting for its football matches. This program was launched with a "carbon offset match" in July 2008.

The club has purchased credits for carbon offsets equivalent to its CO2 emissions, estimated by multiplying 1 kilogram (kg) by the number of visitors to the stadium on the day of a game. Since 2009, it has been implementing carbon offsets for all its home games in J. League Division 2, in collaboration with the Carbon Free Consulting Corp.

The football club offset 114,074 kg of CO2 emissions in 2011, 163,194 kg in 2012 and 146,613 kg in 2013 by purchasing domestic credits. You can get a sense of how large these volumes are by realizing 1 kg of CO2 emissions is equivalent to the emissions generated by watching a 20-inch liquid crystal-television for about 54 hours.

In 2011, the club conducted a joint project with the municipality of Oguni Town, Kumamoto Prefecture through the intermediation of Yokohama City. Using credits from forests management in Oguni Town, Yokohama FC offset CO2 emissions associated with its home games with four teams based in Kyushu by calculating the amount on a 1 kg per visitor basis, while Oguni Town offset 20 tons of CO2 emissions estimated from the club players' travel to Kyushu, as well as carbon emissions associated with Yokohama FC's matches held in Kumamoto Prefecture.

The number of visitors and the amount of CO2 offsets are announced and displayed on the stadium's electric scoreboards at about the 30-minute point in the second half. There is considerable interest in this effort to show things visually -- a new global warming prevention initiative that targets football fans, local residents and children.

This initiative achieves two goals at once: fans can participate in eco-activities simply by visiting a stadium, and Yokohama FC can expect more spectators to come to support and cheer for the club. How did these efforts get started?

Kenzo Fujiwara, an executive officer of Yokohama Fulie Sports Club Co., which manages Yokohama FC, says, "I have always wanted to do something different from other teams."

Encouraged by the City of Yokohama, where Yokohama FC is based, it was the first J. League club to acquire ISO14001 certification, which it achieved in March 2008. Since then, it has been engaged in community-based environmental activities, following the "Yokohama FC Environmental Action Policy*." For example, it has reduced carbon dioxide emissions and waste from its offices, and distributed leaflets on the environment to children at football schools.

* Yokohama FC's Environmental Action Policy
1. We will establish an environment-friendly organization through continuous efforts to control environmental load and improve the environment.
2. We will fulfill social responsibility, performing the role of stimulating interest in environmental conservation not only among our stakeholders but also in society overall.
3. We will reduce costs by optimizing resources such as electricity and avoiding their wasteful consumption.
4. We will maintain and improve an environmental management system to preserve a good environment.

On the other hand, a football team is an organization where staff turnover is rapid; about half of the players are replaced every year, and the staff and organizational structure change frequently. Fujiwara mentions three points that are key to the continuation of environmental activities: being able to gain sponsor companies, being able to increase the number of spectators in the stadium, and boosting the popularity of Yokohama FC.

He continues, "As we are not professional environmentalists, what is important is how much our goals fit in with our daily corporate activities. We have been making efforts from an awareness of the environment as our primary business."

To gain corporate sponsors (the first point) the club has an eco partner system. Among Yokohama FC's supporters, companies and government bodies that provide support in the environmental field in particular are certified as "eco partners." The club holds environmental events with them and uses their products.

For instance, when the club found that the body shampoo its players was using put a heavy burden on environment, it switched to soap sold by one of its eco partner companies. The club replaced paper cups with reusable cups and gathered unwanted books to send to Iwate Prefecture, and these are just a few of the many projects the club has started, given an impetus by its eco partner companies and government bodies.

Its partner companies benefit from publicity for their activities via the players at games or events, while Yokohama FC considers it a priceless opportunity to acquire new information and gain knowledge from even small efforts it can make by itself.

Regarding the second and third points, Yokohama FC has come up with its carbon offset program as a means of increasing the number of spectators at its stadium and recognition of its name. Under the program, supporters can participate in an eco-friendly activity just by going to the stadium. This easy-to-join program and Yokohama FC's approach as an enterprise have been widely reported by the media, leading to improvement of its corporate image and the promotion of environmental initiatives.

Professional sports teams, such as football and baseball teams, have strong media power by themselves. The words and actions of favorite players and respected coaches have a significant effect on children and the general public. With this media power, Yokohama FC can provide information on carbon offsetting and convey corporate messages to people, including those who are usually not interested in environmental activities but happen to be in the stadium to watch a football game.

Furthermore, Yokohama FC has launched an initiative in 2014 to offset the CO2 emissions resulting from traveling to games away, the first of its kind in Japan. The team now offsets CO2 emissions from all of its games, regardless of whether they are at home or away. For the purpose of carbon offsetting for games away, support is being planned for forest conservation and projects promoting the use of biomass in the areas where the stadiums for games away are located. Such environmental activities are anticipated to spread throughout the nation.

"It sounds extreme, but having no games is the best way to be eco-friendly," says Fujiwara. He explains, "Playing a game requires the use of air and car transportation, consumes a large amount of electricity and generates waste, but having no games is no fun. We will make every effort, switching to bus services, introducing solar power and using other means to reduce CO2 emissions, and then offset emissions that cannot be avoided. This is a reasonable scheme and an economic activity that businesses can do."

Since the start of the initiative, there have been changes throughout the company managing Yokohama FC, and staff members have come to think that being eco-conscious is nothing special. Above all, Fujiwara has confidence in the effectiveness of the initiative, saying, "There is no doubt that thousands of people have become aware of carbon offsetting through our initiative."

He also adds, "If we can send a message to people whom ordinary media cannot reach, we will be happy to do our part with advice from our eco partners and specialists. To this end, we are going to make our team stronger to increase our media power and communication capacity."

Japanese football clubs still lag behind overseas clubs in some ways, for example, environmental measures for stadiums and other facilities. J. League teams, however, have strong ties with their home towns and are active in contributing to their communities. Football teams in various parts of Japan are therefore expected to play a leading role in promoting environmental activities specific to each area, in cooperation with local residents. We are looking forward to seeing these initiatives grow further in the future.

Written by Kayoko Yokoyama and Junko Edahiro