How Football Rivalries Could Boost Recycling at Stadiums

Recyling bins at Brann stadium
Home and away supporters at Brann Stadium are nudged toward recycling with a competitive element in the mix.
By Maria Borghans Karlsen

14 June 2024 15:04

How Football Rivalries Could Boost Recycling at Stadiums

A DIG study explores the complexities of waste management at large events, aiming to uncover new strategies to promote sustainable practices among football fans.

Football games and other large stadium events generate a lot of waste, which typically isn't sorted properly and becomes difficult to recycle. Attendees often face barriers in motivation, ability, and opportunity to sort waste correctly. This is the starting point for a research project titled “Group Identity and Recycling Behavior at Stadium Events.”

“Our goal is to reduce these barriers, making it easier for attendees to dispose of their waste sustainably,” explains PhD research scholar Hege Landsvik. She is conducting the project together with Jareef Bin Martuza, Siv Skard, Sveinung Jørgensen and Lars Jacob Tynes Pedersen.

Nudging the spectators

The project focuses on the away stand at SK Brann’s stadium, as part of a larger experiment that includes the home stands. This approach aims to understand and influence fan behavior in different sections of the stadium. Landsvik explains that nudging is an important tool, used in the research project.

“We're aiming to improve the recycling rates of waste at the stadium by testing different nudges in various sections of the stadium,” she explains.

At the away stand, ingroup versus outgroup messages have been tested to encourage the spectators to sort their waste. At the away stand, the team tried to increase motivation to sort by appealing to the visiting supporters' ingroup identity, which in this case is tied to their football team. Posters with messages encouraging fans to sort their waste was used, highlighting that doing so would either benefit their own team (the away team) or the rival team (the home team).

Later in the season, recycling was made more engaging by turning it into a competition between the different teams visiting Brann stadium. According to Landsvik, some of the findings from this experiment have been surprising.

“We thought that the message that highlighted benefit to the home team (outgroup) would be considerably less effective than the message that focused on their own team, but did not find that in the initial parts of the experiment. This was somewhat surprising but positive, as it suggests that any rivalry between the teams does not necessarily hinder pro-environmental behavior at their opponent’s stadium.”

“That being said, sorting rates were pretty low during this part of the experiment. When we made waste sorting a competition between the teams, however, waste sorting increased significantly:”

A lot of unknowns

Landsvik has faced several challenges during the research process. These challenges are especially linked to the nature of field experiments.

“Doing field experiments is very different from doing online-based research and more controlled lab-in-the-field experiments. There are many moving parts and practical challenges to deal with. A lot of both known unknowns and unknown unknowns.”

However, these unknows are not necessarily negative.

“This makes it both more challenging and more fun, because it represents the actual complexity of these situations and people’s decisions. SK Brann has been an excellent partner, providing us with the freedom and understanding needed for our research requirements.”

Future impact

Landsvik believes that the findings from the research project, also can be applied to other situations and areas.

“To make a real impact on environmental sustainability, we need collective effort. Football supporters are great examples of social groups that come together for a common goal. I think we can learn a lot from that and try to apply it in other areas.”

“What are the next steps for your research, and how do you envision its future impact?”

“We are currently running another field experiment at Brann Stadium in the 2024 season, further testing the effect of social identity on sorting behavior. Our goal is to keep exploring and developing solutions that will encourage pro-environmental behavior at large stadium events.”

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