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Sports teams are not the first entities that spring into your mind when you think about companies focused on a sustainable and minimalistic existence. For example, major sports teams in Texas, like most American teams, such as the Houston Oilers, Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys, and Dallas Mavericks, all play their games in lavish state-of-the-art stadia and pay their players sums of money mere mortals can only dream of. However, one sports team is going against the grain and is proud of its title of “greenest team in the world.”
You are forgiven if you have never heard of the British soccer team Forest Green Rovers F.C. The club hails from a small town called Nailsworth in Gloucestershire in the South West of England. Its population is less than 5,800 people, yet Nailsworth is known by the United Nations thanks to its local football team, Forest Green Rovers.
Forest Green Rovers were founded in 1889 but never played in the English Football League until the start of the 2017-18 season. But the club is not known for its prowess on the field; it is what it does off the pitch that makes this tiny soccer club stand out from the crowd.
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Dale Vince, a former New Age Traveller, calls himself a British “green energy” industrialist. Vince saw his first wind farm in 1991 – he was 30-years-old at the time – and it changed his life. Vince already traveled around the United Kingdom with a windmill on the roof of his van, generating all the electricity he required to live his life. He decided to get into the field of renewable energy.
In 1995, Vince started the company now called Ecotricity with a single wind turbine, although Vince prefers to call them windmills. By 2019, Ecotiricty had more than 200,000 customers and enjoyed revenues of £193.34 million. Ecotricity is built on the principle of heavily reinvesting profits into building more green energy production.
Vince became a major shareholder in Forest Green Rovers in August 2010. It was a move that excited the club’s fans, not least because Vince has an estimated personal fortune of more than £100 million. The club appointed Vince as their chairman three months later, and he wasted little time in making the club more eco-friendly.
Vince banned all Forest Green Rovers from eating red meat for health reasons. He did this in February 2011, before banning the sale of meat products at the club’s ground. Supporters wanting to eat at the ground could choose from vegetarian options or fish from sustainable stocks. That all changed in October 2015 when Forest Green became the world’s first all-vegan football club; even the alcoholic beverages are suitable for vegans.
Forest Green Rovers’ stadium, known as The New Lawn, has almost 200 solar panels installed in its stands, which produce more than 25% of the electricity the club needs to function. It even powers a robotic lawnmower that uses GPS technology to navigate around the pitch, negating the need for human interaction. The pitch the “mow bot” keeps trim is the world’s first organic football pitch. Vince demands only organic fertilizer is used to help the pitch grow, while the trimmings from each cut are donated to local farmers to condition their soil.
The United Nations recognizes Forest Green Rovers as the first carbon-neutral football club globally, and soccer’s governing body FIFA refers to the club as the greenest team in the world.
Vince is not stopping there. He has plans to build a new 10,000 capacity stadium made almost entirely from wood. He intends this new stadium to have the lowest carbon footprint of any stadium on the planet. Why is Vince doing this? He told a British national newspaper, “In the early 90s, I was this slightly crazy, hippy bloke. I still am.”