Though policymakers and startups across the world continue to push and innovate for solutions to the climate crisis – and despite the efficacy of hit documentaries – one thing remains stubbornly clear; there will be no solution without massive behavioural changes throughout the human population. Changes regarding food consumption, energy use and attitudes to nature on a massive global scale perhaps never seen before. That is the challenge of our times.
Fortunately for us however, there is one language which is said to be universal, and which can speak to people from every corner of the planet. We’re talking, of course, about the beautiful game: football (or soccer for our North American readers!).
We speak to James Atkins from Planet Super League – the UK initiative using the power of football to encourage climate action – about why the vegan business world needs to take notice.
Could you give us your elevator pitch for Planet Super League?
Yes, football is a beautiful game – it can be, at least – and it’s got an amazing universality. It brings people together from all over the planet – you look at the stands pre-Covid and there are people of all races, religions, cultures, politics, men and women, all shouting together. Planet Super League uses that power of football to inspire fans to take action on climate change.
We run tournaments for fans, where they “play” for their clubs. So in a tournament, each club plays weekly fixtures against every other club. In the fixtures, the fans score goals by completing a range of activities which cut emissions or – more for the younger ones – get them out into nature and closer to it. So if you switch to a green energy supplier you score ten goals; cook a plant-based dinner, two goals.
The first season Leicester City won the Planet Super League Trophy. We’re now in the middle of the second season with fans from 24 clubs involved including 11 from the Premier League. Northampton Town is looking strongest. Actually, we have two trophies – one for the club which wins the league – i.e. gets the most points in the head-to-head fixtures, and one for the club with the most impact.
What is the mission and vision of the company?
There are lots of environmental campaigns and programmes but we feel that they tend to have a rather narrow reach. With exceptions. There is a fair bit of preaching to the converted and there are segments of society which environmental campaigns don’t really reach. We want to make climate action accessible for everyone, and find ways to make green behaviours normal across society. So I guess our mission is to use football to help people take action on climate change. We don’t imagine this one thing will change the world, but we hope that we will reach “lots” of people – 100s of thousands or millions around the world and at least get them on the journey, get them to make some space in their lives for reducing emissions, changing what they eat, shopping differently, travelling differently.
Why should the plant-based business sphere, particularly food producers, be interested in Planet Super League?
Our plant-based activities are among the most impactful in terms of CO2 reduction. They also bring families together and it’s a chance for users to refresh or learn new cooking skills. In our first season at the end of last year, the most popular activity was the meat-free meal. We’re adding more plant-based activities all the time. The “No Moo Milk” challenge encourages people to try out plant-based milk; “My Cheddar Substitute” – a play on Manchester United super-substitute, Federico Macheda (April 2009 v Aston Villa). And our vegan ambassador, New Zealand international, Katie Rood, gives us a plant-based recipe every week.
In this way we are actively promoting plant-based eating to our users. Currently, we have just over 5,000 users registered, and the number is growing quickly. By year-end we expect ten times this number. So we represent an interesting way to access a specific market segment, where plant-based products can be part and parcel of the activities fans do.
What unique benefits can you offer to brands?
I think there are three interesting things we offer. First we reach a particular segment of the population –families, young couples and older folk who love football. It means that you know who you are talking to. Second, because users are engaged in doing things on our platform, the quality of engagement is much richer than normal advertising. Finally, the positive association with football means you have another angle on which to talk about your product.
Can you tell us about any recent collaborations?
In our pilot last year, we partnered with the hazelnut spread brand, Jim Jams. They had a plant-based product and we built that into a challenge to make a plant-based dessert. We got some fantastic pictures of things families baked using the Jim Jam spread. Now we are looking for other plant-based brands to do similar collaborations.
How do you think your users differ from those of the typical vegan business target market?
I don’t think there is a huge difference. Perhaps the typical vegan business target market is somewhat more affluent, already more involved in environmental issues. Planet Super League users are a bit less affluent, less engaged already on green matters. But in the UK the demographic mix of football fans is broadly the same as the demographic mix of the country as a whole.
Are there any exciting developments on the horizon for Planet Super League?
We have teamed up with Count Us In, a global movement to engage individuals on climate action, to do a really cool tournament leading up to COP26, the global climate summit this November. We are aiming to get 64 clubs involved and thousands of households around the whole of the United Kingdom.