Forest Green Rovers F.C, based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, England (a small town in the west of England, near Bristol and the border with Wales), plays in the Conference National division of the English Football Association (FA) (in American terms, professional soccer). Conference National is another way of saying “low minors”–it is 4 levels below the Barclays Premier League. Yet, despite its low minors status, Forest Green Rovers is innovating at a Premier League level at the intersection of Green and Sports.
From a distance Forest Green Rovers F.C. (FGR), with roots dating back to 1889, are like most every other club at the Conference/low-minors level. They play in a quaint, 5,000-ish seat stadium (The New Lawn). They have a small group of hyper local followers. They hope to have an exciting FA Cup* run–the March Madness-esque competition that involves all levels of the F.A. (a good run would mean making it through to play a Premier League side at some point).
But, when you look closer, you’ll see a club that, on the pitch (aka field), and especially off, should be a model for all professional sports teams on either side of the pond.
It starts with ownership. Dale Vince, OBE, became the club’s major shareholder and Chairman in 2010. He also is the Founder/Owner of Ecotricity, based in nearby Stroud, which is taking on the challenge of reducing up to 80% of Great Britain’s carbon footprint. Since 1995, Ecotricity has become a green “triple threat”, dealing with electricity (through wind at first and, starting in 2010, solar project development), AND transportation (EV battery chargers at highway rest stops) AND food (in the concept stage on wind powered tractors and other clean farm energy projects). The company is privately held, pays no dividends and so profits are plowed back into the building of more clean energy. Thus, Ecotricity’s motto: Turn (electric) Bills Into (wind) Mills. The Body Shop and Sainsbury, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains are Ecotricity customers. Al Gore is a fan. It is the largest private sector employer in the area (400 staff, growing by 20 per month).
Ecotrcitiy has serious green chops.
Those green chops extend to FGR, which is pioneering (and branding) the Greening of Football. Along with putting a quality squad on the pitch, the essence of FGR is Green. Even taking into account the Vince/Ecotricity factor, the extent to which FGR has traveled the green road is stunning.
The most revolutionary move was to go Meat Free at the club training table and then at the concessions stands at The New Lawn, their home ground. You read that right: No meat at the stadium. Veggie burgers only. That must’ve been a DISASTER. Well, in an interview with The Independent this July, Vince conceded that, at first, there was “a fan revolt.”
But then things turned.
Now Vince says “I didn’t give in. [And] now no fan says the veggie burger is worse than a meat burger. They even come up to me and thank me, and say I’ve changed their lives.” In fact, says Vince, some fans go The New Lawn just for the veggie fare. Is this something that could be replicated at the higher echelons of the FA? Conventional wisdom would say an emphatic “no”. But I’m sure the CW would’ve said the same thing at FGR. It will be interesting to see what happens if/when a bigger club goes this route.
The New Lawn, home of Forest Green Rovers F.C., in Nailsworth, England. Concession stands are meatless, solar panels line the roof and the parking lot. (Photo Credit: openbuildings.com)
But that’s not all. Far from it.
- Players are supplied with EVs. These are the low minor leagues, remember. But I am not kidding!
- While energy efficient LEDs are increasingly the rage at sporting venues vs. the traditional, energy-sucking Metal Halide lights, Vince says LEDs are not energy efficient enough. So they’re looking into lower energy lighting. Does anyone doubt they’ll figure this one out?
- There are solar panels on the roof and also ground-mounted solar powered car ports at The New Lawn. The latter are visible to all fans entering and leaving the stadium, further cementing the greenness of the club among the fan base.
- Saving the best for last, the organic pitch is mowed by a solar-powered “Mow-Bot.”
Dale Vince, OBE, Chairman of Forest Green Rovers F.C. and Founder/Majority Owner of Ecotricity, with a solar powered “Mow-Bot” at The New Lawn. (Photo Credit: The Daily Mail)
OK, it’s settled: FGR FC is GreenSportsBlog’s newest favorite team. And GSB has to get to The New Lawn to see it (and the Mow-Bot!) first hand. In the meantime, GSB will ask the obvious question to other clubs here and in the UK: If Forest Green Rovers can go Über Green, why can’t YOU?!
* As of this writing, FGR’s FA Cup run is underway. The club made it through the 4th and final round of preliminary qualification, with a 4-1 drubbing of nearby Gloucester last week. Their reward? A date at The New Lawn in the 1st round (of 7 rounds) of the Main Draw with League 1 side Scunthorpe United this Sunday. League 1 is two levels above the Conference and two levels below the Premier League. This can’t be harder than selling veggie burgers…Let’s go, GREEN DEVILS!
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