Welcome to the greenest club on the planet! (No red meat, an organic pitch and Mowbot the lawnmower is solar powered…)
22:45 GMT, 7 December 2012
The clue is in the football club’s name: Forest Green Rovers. Or else it is in the address: The New Lawn, Another Way, Nailsworth. Welcome to the home of Forest Green, third in the Blue Square Bet Premier and the greenest football club on the planet.
From the solar panels on the roof of the main stand, to the meat-free menu and the electric car driven by owner Dale Vince, the credentials are there for all to see.
With a solar-powered lawnmower that sends text messages to the groundsman when it is broken and an organic pitch to boot, Vince is using football to spread his message. And why not
Flying the green flag: Dale Vince, the club's owner, is building football's most eco-friendly club
The 51-year-old was laughed at when he decided to sell green energy. After building 53 windmills, the first of which overlooked the club’s stadium, he now employs 300 people in Ecotricity, a business that turns over 50million.
And, after winning over a sceptical audience, Vince is clearly on to something. But why Forest Green, a club based four miles south of Stroud, Gloucestershire
‘It’s a combination of three things,’ said the club’s owner, ‘First, Forest Green had a need. They were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Second, it was local, they employed around 100 people and we were able as a company to find the sums of money they said they needed which, as it turned out, were gross under-estimates.
‘And third, it was the chance to promote our message.
No burgers: But there's solar panelling at the ground
‘We look at energy, transport and food as the big three. We began with the windmills. Now we have constructed an electric car with charging posts on motorways. We call it the electric highway to encourage people to use electric cars.
‘The third is food. Red meat was the first thing we banned. Well, we didn’t actually ban it, but everyone has labelled it like that, so I’ve just fallen into using that term.
‘We just stopped supplying it to our players. I suggested that red meat wasn’t actually good for our players, our athletes.
‘The manager, Dave Hockaday, agreed to do it. During the course of the conversation, we said, “Well, if we are not feeding it to our players, then we shouldn’t really feed it to our staff or our supporters”. So we took it off the menu altogether.’
Vince added: ‘We took some flak for it but red meat is bad for us. It’s also unsustainable. And it takes 10 grammes of vegetable protein to produce a gramme of beef. You have diminishing returns. The rough analysis is that you can feed 10 vegetarians or one meat-eater.
‘It seemed wrong to me to be involved in the meat trade. I held it to be a bad product. And anyway, the burgers we sold at the time were s***e — or so I was told as I’m a vegan…
‘A few unreasonable people said I was a dictator, saying I was imposing my principles on them. But, if you flip it around and I was forced to sell them red meat, something I abhor as a practice, then they are imposing their principles on me.
‘I said to our fans, those who were upset, “Bring in a ham sandwich if you want, it’s only two hours every other week when you won’t have access to it on our menu”.
‘Most restaurants set their own menu. Italian restaurants serve Italian food. But they set the menu. That’s all we have done, set our own menu. Now we have offerings such as the Badger pastie — it’s a vegan pastie, braised tofu is the main ingredient. It’s got a meat-like texture, quite salty and it’s our halo product. It’s hand-made here on the morning of the game.
Green, green grass of home: Vince and the Mowbot, the lawnmower that sends a text to the groundsman
‘The players have been good. We have a nutritionist and he has been able to explain to them. We have moved things considerably. We feed them before and after games. Quorn is the principal source of protein we give them.
‘I’ve had fans come up to me and say it has changed their lives. One said she had lost a stone in weight.’
Vince spent a decade living as a New Age traveller. ‘I fought the law from time to time,’ he says. But then he hit upon wind energy and, due to the deregulation of the industry in the mid-Nineties, spotted a way to make it pay. And now he wants to spread the word.
‘We are already the greenest club on the planet,’ he said. ‘We have an organic pitch — no fertilisers and pesticides. It creates an enormous challenge for our groundsman because you have to control weeds and pests and still promote growth.
‘We have a solar-powered lawnmower. We call it the Mowbot. It’s GPS-controlled and if it breaks down it sends our groundsman a text.
He's Red Nev, but Gary's green too
Gary Neville: Manchester United legend, dressing-room lieutenant, respected pundit…and eco-warrior.
according to Vince, the two-time Champions League winner is so serious
about the subject he has even set up a charity called ‘Sustainability
in Sport’ with the owner of Ecotricity. ‘I read in the paper that he was
planning to build a house with an emphasis on the environment,’ said
'I asked someone to send him an email asking whether there was anything we could help with — and we hooked up.
‘He’s tried to build windmills. So
here was a footballer trying to get into wind energy, just as a company
built on wind energy was trying to get into football.
have a joint venture going on building windmills. We powered his
testimonial match against Juventus. We have our Ecotricity banners
everywhere. It was live on television. He wanted a seriously green
outcome for his testimonial and so he gave us some solar panels for the
roof of our stand.
‘He’s a good guy and very passionate about this. In fact, I was surprised how knowledgeable he was about the whole issue.’
‘It has saved him 150 hours per year. The grass is so finely cut that we don’t collect it, we leave it on the pitch, so we don’t remove any of the nutrients. We have electric-powered leaf-blowers and strimmers, so we are not burning petrol. We are building an electric tractor.
‘We have put in a system of drains and ring main, so that we can collect rainwater. We put it back into a tank and use it again. We have a wildflower meadow, we have habitats all around the ground, newts and slow-worms, orchids.
‘We want some LED floodlights. Our next big aim is to get the manager (Hockaday) into an electric car. And to get charging points at our ground, so that you could come here in an electric car.
‘We recently achieved EMAS, it’s like the gold-standard of environment management. Manchester United, by comparison, have just been granted ISO 14000. I mention that because that’s League One standard, though we applaud what they have done. We, however, are in the Champions League…
‘We are going to be recognised as the greenest football club on the planet. We would like to be promoted a few leagues because the higher we go, the more impact our message has.’
Vince won’t say who he supports, but went to watch England play Portugal in the European Champioship, saw Rui Costa in action and named his son after the playmaker.
‘The football culture surprised me. The attitude, the way the managers and players were treated by the board… well, it was Victorian.
‘One of the things I rail against is boardroom dress code. I want to go to an away game. I’m a big boy, I can dress myself, yet I have to discover beforehand what I can and can’t wear.
‘We have considered imposing a reverse dress code. If they insist we have to wear a suit and tie at their place, we will ban it at ours. We will insist on trainers! Swindon came to play in pre-season. Their directors loved it, they turned up in shorts and flip-flops.
‘We like to challenge the culture and convention of football,’ he adds with a smile.
After tackling the big electricity companies, leading the way on a football field should be child’s play.