What do a Chilean biofactory, a mangrove conservation project in Sri Lanka, and a football club from Gloucestershire have in common? No, this is not the set-up to an awful joke. The answer is that they have all won a United Nations ‘Momentum for Change’ climate action award.
The dazzling lights of New York, where the UN prizegiving ceremony was held, are a far cry from Nailsworth, a sleepy milling town in the Cotswolds. Nailsworth has been the spiritual home of Forest Green Rovers since 1889. Rovers spent over a century knocking about in the amateur county leagues, with an FA Vase victory against Rainworth Miners Welfare in 1982 among their crowning glories.
Forest Green Rovers were moving up in the world by the turn of the millennium. They managed two FA Cup runs to the third round, moved into a new 5000-seat stadium in 2006, and were promoted to the National Conference (although they luckily avoided relegation twice, owing to the financial misfortunes of their rivals). Despite their relative success, FGR began to suffer from their own monetary problems, and in 2009, the club was put up for sale.
The kit is made of coffee grounds and recycled plastic bottles collected from the sea; players’ shin pads are made from bamboo
Enter the “£100 million hippy”. Dale Vince became majority shareholder and chairman in 2010, and the club’s ambitions have reached new heights. Vince spent eight years living as a New Age traveller prior to launching his green energy company, Ecotricity, in 1995. The industrialist built a multi-million pound empire from selling wind-monitoring equipment after having started up with just one wind turbine, powered from the van in which he lived. He was awarded an OBE in 2004 for his services to the environment, and has implemented his green values into the everyday running of the football club.
Vince’s sustainability-first outlook precipitated a drastic change in identity. It began with the club crest. The former badge resembled a black and white version of FC Barcelona’s, but was altered to incorporate a lion and unicorn enclosed by a green circle. Next, the kit went. Many supporters felt aggrieved when the club’s black and white home kit was replaced by a lime green outfit and an Ecotricity sponsorship logo. The lime green continues to be an integral feature, and today, the kit is made of coffee grounds and recycled plastic bottles collected from the sea; players’ shin pads are made from bamboo.
Then the matchday menu changed. It was out with the meat pie, in with the prize-winning Quorn pie, as red meat was banned for the players and in the stands. Waste cooking oil was recycled as biofuel. By 2015, the menu was vegetarian only. By 2017, the menu was vegan-only, and the Green Devils earned a trademark from The Vegan Society. Arsenal full-back Héctor Bellerín, an outspoken environmentalist and vegan himself, became the club’s second largest shareholder in 2019, and praised the club’s ethos for “showing others the way”.
[The pitch] is treated with plant-based products and rainwater collected from a tank at the ground. Local farmers use the club’s excess grass cuttings to condition their soil
The current stadium, too, is carbon neutral. The New Lawn has the only organic, vegan pitch in the world. It is treated with plant-based products and rainwater collected from a tank at the ground. Local farmers use the club’s excess grass cuttings to condition their soil. The pitch is mowed by robotic lawn mower, known as the ‘mow bot’, that is powered by solar panels on the South Stand and controlled via GPS. There are several charge points for electric cars at the stadium, and a park and ride system to minimise traffic.
But Forest Green Rovers and Vince have not stopped there. In 2020, the local council granted planning permission for a new ‘Eco Park’ stadium to be built next to junction 13 of the M5 motorway. The ‘Eco Park’, designed by Zaha Hadid, would be the first in the world to be made entirely from fire-resistant, engineered wood. With an initial capacity of 5000, the arena would be able to scale up to seat 10000 spectators, depending on the club’s progression.
Although some locals are concerned about the economic downturn that The Green’s move away from Nailsworth could cause, Vince sees the “iconic” new stadium as a reflection of the club’s goal of Championship football – they are currently 5th in League Two, and are likely to claim a playoff berth this season. Forest Green Rovers are showing the world that sport can lead from the front in the climate crisis, while also maintaining high standards on the pitch. I will happily raise a Quorn pie to that.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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