VFL WOLFSBURG HAVE THREE MANAGING DIRECTORS WHO ARE IN CHARGE OF DIFFERENT BUSINESS UNITS. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF MARKETING, SALES, INTERNATIONALISATION AND DIGITALISATION, WHICH ALSO COVERS SUSTAINABILITY AND CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR). IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, THE CLUB HAS PUT CSR AND SUSTAINABILITY AT THE TOP OF ITS AGENDA, MAKING IT A TRAILBLAZER FOR SUSTAINABILITY IN EUROPE. WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR MEAN FOR A CLUB LIKE VFL WOLFSBURG IN GENERAL?
Sustainability is essential for successful football. To follow the road to success, you have to think in the long term and take a holistic approach to football. If you don’t, you rely on short-term success and end up focusing only on short-term gains. That should not be the objective, whether at business, social or environmental level. As a Bundesliga club, we have to lead by example. That is the only way to stay true to yourself and connect with others. That’s why we have made sustainability one of our core values and have, in collaboration with the United Nations, established very ambitious climate protection goals for our club.
TEN YEARS AGO, CSR BECAME ONE OF THE CLUB’S CENTRAL MANAGEMENT PILLARS. IN 2013, VFL WOLFSBURG BECAME THE FIRST-EVER FOOTBALL CLUB TO PUBLISH A GRI-CERTIFIED SUSTAINABILITY REPORT (LEVEL B). IN 2016, THE CLUB WAS RECOGNISED AS THE MOST SUSTAINABLE CLUB IN THE BUNDESLIGA SUSTAINABILITY INDEX, AND IN 2021 IT WAS AGAIN RANKED AS GERMANY’S MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE CLUB. WHY IS IT ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT FOR FOOTBALL CLUBS AND ORGANISATIONS TO REPORT ON THEIR SUSTAINABILITY ACTIVITIES, AS YOU DO IN YOUR GRI REPORT?
The sustainability report is a central communication tool for us. It is a comprehensive document that contains the actions and measures that we implement for society and the environment. It helps us be transparent.
It also allows anyone who is interested to get a clear picture of what we do and why we do it. All our cards are on the table and that is essential, especially when it comes to sustainability. We showcase our most important activities but also present areas where, in the past, there have been shortcomings that could be improved and proactively addressed.
When selecting topics, we use the most relevant studies and GRI standards.
EVERY FOUR YEARS, THE CLUB PUBLISHES DETAILED CSR REPORTS ENTITLED “GEMEINSAM BEWEGEN” (MOVING TOGETHER), AND FOR EACH ONE A SEPARATE PROGRESS REPORT IS PUBLISHED. WHAT DOES GEMEINSAM BEWEGEN MEAN FOR THE CLUB AT A SOCIETAL AND COMMUNICATION LEVEL?
The people in and around Wolfsburg closely follow what we do, which brings with it a great deal of responsibility. In other words, we are in the spotlight, which is what has prompted us to make sustainability a central tenet of our brand identity. Our aim is not only to inform people about what we are doing but also to make them think and, above all, to encourage them to become part of the solution. People are passionate about football and it can be a great motivator. We want to use this influence to raise awareness of social issues and inspire people in the region. We want to “move together”.
It’s not just about ambitious climate protection projects; it is about standing up for what you believe in and conveying values. Diversity plays a big role in this – the rainbow-coloured captain’s armband is a symbol for the numerous actions in that regard – as does fighting discrimination, racism and homophobia.
At the heart of our CSR and sustainability work are numerous programmes that we implement together with our partners in the region. We work closely with countless companies, associations, educational institutions and municipalities and pursue long-term goals. I’d also like to mention our Anstoss VfL (VfL kick-off) project at this point. In the last five years, as part of the project, we have built up an extensive network of social partnerships with schools, day-care centres and clubs by providing them with a range of resources.
AT THE END OF 2019, VFL WOLFSBURG SIGNED THE “SPORTS FOR CLIMATE ACTION” LETTER OF COMMITMENT THAT IS PART OF THE UNITED NATIONS SPORTS FOR CLIMATE ACTION FRAMEWORK. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR FOOTBALL AS A WHOLE TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE?
International climate protection is one the greatest global challenges facing humanity. To limit the effects of climate change, we need to act quickly. Our ambition, however, is to go one step further than the Sports for Climate Action letter of commitment; we became the first European top-flight football club to support the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign and have pledged to take ambitious climate protection measures to make a quantifiable contribution and limit global warming to below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Our plan is to live by our values of climate protection at the club and set a benchmark for the league as a whole. After all, we can only achieve CO2-neutral football together. Even if it is not always possible for a football club to act sustainably in all areas due to its operations, we want to show that successful climate protection and a successful VfL Wolfsburg are not mutually exclusive.
Sports facilities consume resources, emit greenhouse gases and generate costs. The same is true when it comes to travel, whether for teams, staff or fans. Efficiency is key if we are to improve in all areas as a club, and to do so, we need clear and, above all, ambitious targets. We want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and be climate‑neutral by 2025. To achieve this, we must follow a two-pronged strategy: reduction and offsetting. In terms of reduction, we have set ourselves a fixed goal: reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 6.45% per year from the 2017/18 season onwards, meaning that by 2030 we will have reduced our emissions by about 55%. We can achieve this if all our processes gradually become CO2-saving solutions.
MANY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL THINK OF VFL WOLFSBURG AS A FORWARD-LOOKING, INNOVATIVE AND GENERALLY MODERN CLUB. YOU WERE THE FIRST CLUB IN THE BUNDESLIGA TO USE ONLY LED FLOODLIGHTS AND YOU HAVE BEEN USING 100% GREEN ENERGY SINCE 2011. WHAT OTHER SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES AND PROCESSES HAS THE CLUB IMPLEMENTED AND CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SUSTAINABILITY PROJECTS THAT WILL MAKE THE CLUB EVEN MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY?
In the last ten years, we have significantly reduced our CO2 footprint. All of our business areas were analysed in detail in relation to our carbon footprint. The main bulk of our carbon footprint comes from heating, electricity consumption and team travel. We are focusing on these areas to reduce our emission levels. However, fan mobility represents the largest share by far and we cannot dictate to our fans how they should travel to and from matches. Nevertheless, we do share the responsibility for their emissions. We want to have more influence on fan mobility and are working on concepts that will hopefully encourage fans to use environmentally friendly modes of transport. For instance, the emissions generated by fans attending matches can be offset by buying eco-friendly tickets.
We’ve taken a few important steps towards achieving climate neutrality in the last few years, including switching to 100% green electricity (2011), ensuring new buildings meet the latest energy-efficiency standards and protecting natural resources by consistently using LED lights, return and deposit systems, and recycled paper and sustainable office supplies, with the support of our environmental partner, memo AG.
Now, in partnership with the United Nations, we are going one step further and want to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions over the next few years through concrete measures. In recent months, the e-charging infrastructure at the office has been expanded and our players and employees will be encouraged to use our all-electric Volkswagen ID company cars if they need to travel. This means that VfL will also be contributing to climate-friendly mobility. Another driver in the green movement is using your own solar power. In the coming year, we will be expanding our photovoltaic system to generate even more green and inexpensive sun-powered electricity in the future. We’re also planning to switch to more environmentally-friendly natural gas.
ASIDE FROM THESE INITIATIVES THAT ARE AIMED AT REDUCING THE CLUB’S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT, YOU ARE ALSO RUNNING SEVERAL SOCIAL PROGRAMMES INVOLVING BOTH CLUB STAFF AND THE ENTIRE MEN’S AND WOMEN’S TEAMS. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE PROJECTS AND WHAT THE CLUB’S GOALS ARE IN TERMS OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY?
As the most popular game in the world, football has a responsibility to address important social issues. We’re leveraging the power of the Bundesliga to implement and publicise social projects in the region, in Germany and at international level. We advocate for inclusion and integration, we are committed to diversity, and we raise awareness about all forms of discrimination such as racism and homophobia. This is about how we behave; when it comes to racism and xenophobia, it’s not about blaming anyone but about addressing the “them versus us” mindset and getting to know “the other”. It’s about engaging with the topic of diversity. Football has the opportunity to promote diversity and to be an ally to everyone who needs one. That is one of our club’s central messages. We live diversity and explicitly reject racism and discrimination.
In 2018, we launched an extensive marketing initiative on the topic of diversity. At the heart of the campaign was #Vielfalt (#Diversity), which was promoted through advertising and a video. Last year, as part of our annual diversity week, our players wore a jersey that integrated the rainbow colours, sending a clear message against exclusion. We also hosted a FIFA tournament for people with a refugee background in that same week, which was a massive success. Since 2018, when our captains first walked onto the pitch wearing the rainbow armband, our diversity weeks have been greatly talked about in the region. In fact, in 2019, no fewer than 65 partner clubs, totalling more than 650 teams, joined our campaign and they have been proudly wearing the rainbow armband ever since. For the 2020 diversity week, we went one step further by printing the Volkswagen logo on our jerseys in rainbow colours, showing that Volkswagen, our parent company, are also firm believers in diversity. In addition to diversity and anti-discrimination, we naturally also place a special emphasis on education and health, and in doing so we also promote the personal commitment of our employees. For example, the entire club is involved in the annual “Moving Together” day, which is particularly close to all of our hearts: 11 teams consisting of employees, pros and managing directors, go out to support 11 social projects in 11 places.
ANOTHER WAY IN WHICH THE CLUB ENGAGES WITH SOCIETY IS THROUGH STAKEHOLDER DIALOGUE, IN WHICH THE CLUB SPECIFICALLY ENGAGES WITH ITS FANS, BUT ALSO WITH THE LOCAL COMMUNITY, IN A TRANSPARENT WAY TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS EXPECTED OF THE CLUB IN SOCIAL TERMS. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT WHAT IS DISCUSSED IN THIS TYPE OF DIALOGUE AND THE IMPACT IT HAS? HOW DOES THE CLUB TRANSLATE THE OUTCOME OF THESE DISCUSSIONS INTO CONCRETE ACTION?
Transparency and open dialogue are important to understand what social, environmental and economic expectations are placed on us. We regularly participate in discussions in the region and at association level, and we also organise forums ourselves that focus on CSR. In 2018, for example, we joined forces with Volkswagen to host the “Football Moves Society” discussion event, which was followed by two workshops: “Measuring the Impact of Commitment” and “Sustainable Sponsorship”.
VFL WOLFSBURG’S VIEW SEEMS TO BE THAT MODERN FOOTBALL SHOULD BE BASED ON THREE PILLARS: OPTIMAL CONDITIONS FOR THE PLAYERS, A CAPTIVATING STADIUM EXPERIENCE FOR THE FANS AND, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, REDUCING ITS IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT TO AN ABSOLUTE MINIMUM. HOW FAR HAS THE CLUB PROGRESSED IN TERMS OF TRANSLATING THESE GOALS INTO REALITY, AND WHICH CHALLENGES STILL NEED TO BE ADDRESSED IN THE MEDIUM AND LONG TERM IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE ITS SUSTAINABILITY GOAL?
Sustainability is and continues to be a marathon. Even though we started ten years ago, we are still learning new things every day. We’ve been helped along the way by our many different and expert partners. They’ve supported us in, for example, calculating our carbon footprint and developing new, science-based ways of reducing it.
In the past year, we have once again focused especially on climate protection, which now has a special status at VfL since we signed the United Nations letter of commitment. We have already mentioned the roadmap for this.
If we want to save our planet within ten years, it is my hope that football will be ready at the end of that period to host climate-neutral matches and cup competitions and to work with sponsors and service providers who have also committed to achieving climate neutrality. I can even imagine spectators helping their favourite teams and clubs to successfully continue their climate-neutral journey. The “You can change the world” motto has been around for generations, but it has never been truer than for our generation. For me, and for many other people, football can indeed change the world.
WHAT CONCRETE LESSONS AND CONCLUSIONS HAS THE CLUB DRAWN FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, AND WHAT OBJECTIVES DOES THE CLUB HAVE WITH REGARD TO ITS ACTIVITIES AND COMMITMENTS, ESPECIALLY WITH REGARD TO CSR AND SUSTAINABILITY?
We didn’t want anyone to feel alone during the COVID-19 pandemic, so we at VfL Wolfsburg showed our solidarity with #wirhelfen (#wehelp). This was a way of helping people and organisations in and around Wolfsburg who needed or were offering help by actively lending a hand. We mobilised a tried-and-tested network of committed people from the Volkswagen factory, the local authorities and the club, and we directly reached out to fans and members. We had a telephone campaign too, one aspect of which was to call season-ticket holders and fans to ask how they were doing and to offer them our support in their daily lives. Football has the power to show us how we can grow when faced with challenges. Today more than ever, we are responsible for safeguarding the future of the game in all of its forms and, more generally, the livelihoods of future generations.