Royale Union Saint-Gilloise wants to commit to a better environment and the sustainable development of its activities. To achieve these ambitions, the Brussels club hired a full-time sustainability manager last year. Meet Raphaële Moeremans.
L'USG was the first Belgian football club to join the United Nations’ 'Sports for Climate Action' framework, along with top English clubs such as Arsenal and Tottenham. The organisation aims to help sports organisations reduce emissions caused by their operations, in order for them to become climate neutral by 2050.
In order to implement these climate ambitions in the daily activities of R. Union SG, the Brussels clubs recruited Raphaële Moeremans. She is the first full-time sustainability manager in the Jupiler Pro League and hopes she will soon be joined by many more colleagues.
How did you end up at Union?
I had been a supporter of Union for some years and one of my friends - whom I’d been supporting Union with - told me about the job opening. I didn’t hesitate and applied, because I want to help the club that I love grow further and to have a positive impact on society at the same time.
What is your background?
I studied oceanography and geophysics and was also a researcher at the Paris Globe Institute of Physics. Afterwards, I gained experience as a data scientist and also worked as a strategic consultant for various organisations before joining Union.
Why did Union hire a sustainability manager?
The club really wanted to invest in sustainability and had the ambition of moving from an approach to sustainability made up of ad-hoc initiatives (as it had been doing in the past) to a structured approach with a real, long-term strategy. Appointing someone full time on such matters is the first step to ensure a coherent and structured approach, and to ensure that sustainability remains a priority for the club.
How can football play a role in tackling climate change?
Football, through its values, can promote and contribute to a greater social impact. We at RUSG, as a member of a large community, cannot “afford” to ignore such issues. As a sports club we must show initiative and leadership. We want to be a leader both on and off the pitch. Our club is value-driven and has always been promoting respect, inclusion, and social responsibility. We want to share our values with our community. In light of the climate crisis, we want to also have a positive environmental impact on top of our positive societal impact.
That philosophy is part of our organisation’s overall strategy. It’s important to our leadership, our fans, our staff and team as a whole. The club is in the process of professionalising itself further, and we decided to put sustainability at the heart of our development.
Video: Bôndy and RUSG
To accomplish that, you even go to Madagascar?
We took the opportunity of our ongoing project with local club 67 City FC to design a reforestation project in which they can actively participate, along with Bôndy – a local social enterprise that carries out reforestation projects. At Union we have a holistic approach to sustainability, meaning we focus both on environmental impact and on social impact – as it is the case with our reforestation project in Madagascar. We also chose this country, because it has the highest potential for impactful reforestation globally and is a biodiversity hotspot. Madagascar is one of the countries most affected by climate change globally.
What are the other sustainability objectives for Union?
We committed to halving our CO2 emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2040. As part of this commitment to the environment and to reaching climate neutrality by 2040, R. Union SG has begun this reforestation in Madagascar for example.
We’ve also participated in a scientific project like CurieuzenAir, that fits with the club's vision and our commitment to play a role in the field of health in our city. Soft mobility is also one of our pillars. Thousands of fans come to the stadium every fortnight, for them it is also important that we know what the impact is on air quality.
How do you engage fans in the sustainability strategy?
A significant part of developing our sustainability strategy was stakeholder consultation. We consulted with the entire spectrum of our stakeholders, from fans, to business partners, to our Union Foundation, staff, players, etc. We have also been working closely with local authorities on numerous projects (commune, region, etc.). Because one thing is certain: the climate case cannot be tackled alone.