Football fans around the globe are thrilled about the Football World Cup 2018 . But their sheer enthusiasm for the action on the pitch can overshadow the secret sustainability stars on the sidelines. So, let’s turn the floodlights on five innovative projects that pitch for greener goals.

A watt per kick: Rio de Janeiro plays up the future

Morro da Mineira, one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest districts, used to be infamous for its violence and drug scene. Nowadays, the favela is better known for having one of the world’s most innovative football pitches. Here, players have all the power. Each step, each kick they take generates energy – thanks to 200 kinetic plates hidden underneath the astroturf. Every time a player steps on a plate, it electrifies the stadium, helping to power six flood lights.

boys playing soccer on a playground in Rio de Janeiro
No ordinary playground: The player’s energy is converted into electricity.
Foto: Pavegen

Any energy that isn’t immediately used by the system is stored for later illumination. And while the company behind it all, UK start-up Pavegen, prefers to keep its trade secret, its strategy and concept has already proven ultra-successful: to date, the company has equipped a similar pitch in Nigeria with green tech and upgraded 150 other locations around the world, including schools, airports and train stations.

More than just a green jersey: Britain’s most sustainable team

Vegan food, green electricity and organic fertiliser might not be the first things we normally associate with football, but the pride of Nailsworth, the town’s amateur club Forest Green Rovers, has embraced green athleticism all the way. Floodlights run on green electricity and the club keeps its turf verdant with rain water and algae fertiliser. And where other hosts serve up hot dogs and burgers, home and away fans in Nailsworth get to enjoy vegan specials.

he sports complex of Forest Green Rovers from above
The sports complex of Forest Green Rovers is “green” in the full sense of the word.
Foto: Forest Green Rovers
vegan stadium snacks
Vegan catering is the healthy alternative to standard stadium food.
Foto: Forest Green Rovers

Naturally, the players are also on board, opting for electric cars and even an e-powered lawnmower. Their next ambitious endeavour? An eco-friendly, almost climate-neutral wooden stadium that’s destined to make the Rovers a winning team. Perhaps not in football, but certainly in the matter of sustainability.

Where the grass is always greener: artificial turf in stadiums

The world’s best pitches not only look great, but also excel at playability. A new generation of turf, thought up by Dutch company Tarkett, takes the astroturf concept to the next level – and then some. Manufactured from recycled plastic (that doesn’t need casting) and relatively grippy (not slippy) in the rain, this undemanding playing surface needs no regular trim or fertiliser.

football stadium in front of the evening sky
A soccer field made from car tires? Sustainable grounds are the new thing.
Foto: Flickr / Michael Holdsworth (CC BY 2.0)

Major clubs like FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool FC and 80 others are already fans of the low-maintenance innovation. Inspired by the recycling approach, the football club Manchester United even joined forces with a tyre manufacturer to install a pitch made from 2,000 discarded car tyres.

Blown away: from stadium to energy provider

Putting the fun into functional, the Amsterdam Arena decided to make the most of game time and beyond. On its roof, 4,200 solar panels soak up the rays and a wind turbine captures the breeze to power the stadium and the building’s own power system.

The latter is hooked up to used car batteries and designed to double as an emergency backup for both the arena and the surrounding neighbourhood. Even the lifts help to keep things moving with their kinetic energy. Ingenious to the core, this system’s interplay is truly unique, at least in the sports arena.

The empty Amsterdam Arena with colourful seats
Future-oriented: the Amsterdam arena has its own solar power system.
Foto: Flickr / Enrique Blasco (CC BY 2.0)

Bottles to shirts: a different take on sportswear

By now, the recycling trend has reached all the major sportswear brands: While Adidas promotes a shoe made from recycled ocean microplastic, Nike has been turning used PET bottles into football kits for a while, melting them down into fibres for the hard-wearing shirts. 

Three outfits from the Nike collection made of recycled PET
Sports fashion made of PET bottles.
Photo: Nike Inc. (image has been modified)

The whole process takes around 13 bottles per player – and to date 16+ million bottles have been recycled for the purpose, roughly enough to cover 28 football pitches. To see the kits in action, just switch on the TV during the Football World Cup 2018: teams including Brazil, England and Portugal will be sporting the recycled jerseys, earning them plenty of kudos – and maybe even some lucky karma.