Stepping out in their back garden in West Bromwich in the West Midlands of England, the Burkitt family have made a bird feeder, identified some bugs and taken a 2 kilometre walk. But there’s another ‘goal’ in mind as well.
Carl, Claire and their 12-year-old son Sam formed the “Boing Boing Burkitts” team and are among thousands of families across Britain participating in Planet Super League, a tournament that helps households reduce their carbon footprint.
Families sign up to Planet Super League and “score goals” for the club they support by completing planet-saving activities like eating less meat, making a worm farm, switching to green energy and driving less. The more activities they complete, the more they help their club move up the league.
“The football club is a massive part of my life,” says Carl Burkitt, a civil servant whose family support West Bromwich Albion of the English Premier League, one of 24 teams competing in the current season of Planet Super League. “Very small things can have a massive effect.”
One such activity, turning down the thermostat to save energy, is known in Planet Super League as a ‘Keepie Downie’ – a play on the words ‘Keepie Uppie’, or preventing a football from hitting the ground through kicks, headers and other deft touches.
Planet Super League was co-founded in February 2020 by Tom Gribbin, an alumnus of the Cambridge MBA programme (MBA 2013) at Cambridge Judge Business School, to encourage families to lead more sustainable lives. The League aims to help every household reduce their carbon footprint by 10% – or around two tonnes of carbon a year for an average four-person family.
“There are some activities that have a big impact,” says Tom. “For example, insulating your home can reduce your carbon footprint almost one tonne; switching to a plant-based diet could reduce it by two tonnes.” There are also smaller-scale educational activities such as “snap-a-bug” – designed to get children in touch with nature.
Tom was working in the not-for-profit sustainability sector before beginning his MBA studies, and then worked in healthcare innovation before launching his first business, Boost, which used data collected by wearable devices to get young children to become more active. Tom joined Nottingham Forest Community Trust in 2015 as a member of the Board, working to bring positive change in the community via sports and educational activities.
Then one day Tom got a call from James Atkins, a British citizen living in Hungary and running carbon-trading business, who like Tom is passionate about football and the environment – and he suggested they start a venture. “I thought, ‘Yes, football has the power to inspire people and bring them together and the sustainability movement has really struggled to make living greener part of everyday life,'” Tom says. “It’s is an inclusive sport and it’s very popular in many countries.” And so Planet Super League was born, after research by Tom and James showed the greatest potential among families.
Planet Super League ran a successful pilot scheme last summer with six football clubs in the Midlands and a small number of families. A full “season” was held before Christmas 2020 with 11 teams and 250 families, which was won by Leicester City and covered by the BBC. Things ramped up with this year’s second season, which launched on 29 March with 24 teams including 11 from the Premier League such as Tottenham, Burnley, Aston Villa and Liverpool.
“Prizes are up for grabs include goody bags for our weekly ‘Player of the Match’ and a family Stadium Tour voucher for our ‘Player of the Season,'” Tottenham Hotspur says about Planet Super League on its website. “So, we’re calling on young fans to join the team and help Spurs reach the top of the table!”
There are 11 weeks of ‘fixtures’ in which teams match up against rival teams, with each match lasting a week. ‘Players’ submit evidence of their environmental activities (usually photos or videos) to the Planet Super League website.
The title is decided through a fixture-based tournament in which teams are split into Group A and Group B, and then the Group-topping team with the highest average goals scored per family wins the title. There are also various other trophies to be won, including a Golden Goal Trophy for 100 goals, and each time someone ‘plays’ for their club they win a cap (as when a footballer plays for his or her national team).
Richard Holmes, School Partnership Manager at The Albion Foundation of West Bromwich Albion, said a friendly rivalry to be the ‘greenest team in Britain’ spurs participants on. “The competitive edge of playing against other clubs, coupled with the gamification of the platform, gets people acting, trying new things and finding out ways, through action, that they can help save the planet whilst helping their football club to victory.”
West Bromwich Albion are currently tied with Aston Villa and Wolverhampton for second place in Group A of Planet Super League with eight points after four fixtures (two wins and two draws), with Chelsea in first place with 10 points (three wins and a draw). Nottingham Forest of Group B have the only perfect record with 12 points after four wins.
From a commercial perspective, Planet Super League is building a sponsorship element into the platform and starting to work with major brands that are looking to demonstrate their sustainability credentials and engage football-loving households. Planet Super League aims to have as official platform partners 10 to 15 large brands ranging from green energy firms to energy-saving devices to sustainable apparel.
Tom and James are also pitching to investors and hoping to raise £850,000 to prove the UK model before expanding into other football-loving markets. And with the world’s eyes on November’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the team will be delivering a major fan engagement tournament.
“There are over 21 million football-loving households in the UK. We use the power of football to get them to take action on climate change. And It works.” says Tom Gribbin.