Timo Schillinger wants to curb carbon emissions by making football safer.
The humble sports ball has long served as a physical, symbolic and commercial communications tool, illustrating not only a team’s prowess but also the development of hi-tech infrastructure as well as gender and racial equality. In this sense, a football ball is one of the only objects left on Earth that remains relatively non-functional after carbon capture and sequestration.
This is something Schillinger has been actively thinking about ever since he left his sales job to pursue a PhD in engineering at Oxford University in 2014. A product of the German university’s team of “soccer polymaths,” Schillinger began developing world football, a ball for business which captures the gases emitted during the operation of an electricity-generating power plant and sequesters them underground, through either chemical or biological processes. It’s taken the result to all nine of Germany’s state-level football federations, and since then the company has won deals with the World Football Club Association and the Global Green Football Alliance in order to commercialize the product worldwide. It currently relies on less than 1 percent of the global carbon budget, according to Schillinger.
But the project still faces challenges. The total carbon footprint of football is roughly 14 times the international carbon budget of football clubs, due to the energy consumed by the ball at every stage of its manufacturing. Teams also contend with the fact that it is often cheaper to buy a ball than develop a ball that’s cost-effective and physically more manageable to play with. In addition, there’s the limit to how far one can go with carbon capture. After all, as Schillinger points out, football is hugely popular globally, so reducing carbon emissions in soccer is a big challenge. But while Schillinger sits atop an ambitious space where corporate sport shows great potential for creating “green” partnerships and large-scale plant-based chemical processes, he also insists that football itself is a remarkable target for reaching real, profitable sustainability.
“If you do one of these technologies right, you can make an impact in football,” he told The Washington Post in an interview from the sidelines of the current World Cup in Russia. “It would be good for football and for its image.”