Sutton United F.C. Continues Trend of Greening UK Sports from Ground Up

The minor leagues of English soccer/football have become a petri dish of Green-Sports innovation. GreenSportsBlog has featured Forest Green Rovers, the “Greenest Team in Sports” and Dartford F.C. Today, our focus turns to Sutton United F.C., the South London club in the fifth tier of English soccer whose home stadium, Gander Green Lane, became the first to receive The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification.

 

Some of the greatest innovations in Green-Sports are happening in the soccer equivalent of baseball’s low minor leagues. While several Premier League giants, including Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle, have taken strong green-sports actions, it is the mid-to-lower levels of the English soccer/football pyramid where bold sustainable sports innovation is happening. 

Forest Green Rovers of the fourth tier of English Football has become the undisputed Greenest Team on the Planet and a GreenSportsBlog staple through its all-vegan menus, solar powered lawn mowing “mow-bots”, rooftop solar, and more. Last month, GSB featured Princes Park, home of sixth tier Dartford F.C., and, arguably, the greenest of all stadium green roofs in the world.

After hitting “send” on the Dartford F.C. piece, I thought “there can’t be any other small, quaint English soccer/football clubs doing state-of-the-art green-sports things, can there?”

Yes There Can.

Today, we bring you fifth tier Sutton United F.C.. Located just south of Wimbledon, the Amber and Chocolates (how about that for a nickname?) are in the midst of a noteworthy 2017. On the pitch, the club made an improbable run to the fifth round of the FA Cup, the 10 month tournament that involves the entirety of the professional/semi-professional English soccer pyramid, from the Premier League to pub leagues. When Arsenal, the Premier League Goliath, came to the 5,000 seat Gander Green Lane in February, it was the biggest game in Sutton United history. And it was played at the first football stadium to achieve The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification.

 

 

Sutton United

Gander Green Lane, home of Sutton United F.C. (Photo credit: AFTN)

 

The Planet Mark is a three year-old British certification system that recognizes businesses for their sustainability better practices, including waste reductions, detailed carbon footprint measurements and targets, as well as stakeholder engagement. Over 100 organizations have been certified, each committing to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 2.5 percent per year.

Sutton United, which began its sustainability journey in 2011, has certainly earned its Planet Mark designation. They have:

  • Reduced their carbon footprint by 13.6 percent in 2016, led by savings came from gas consumption (down 39 percent). Those reductions were mostly attributed to installing double glazed windows and by decommissioning a leaking boiler in Gander Green Lane’s club buildings
  • Recycled 88 percent of their waste
  • Invested in the Eden Project, a climate change education nonprofit and visitor destination that has officially been added to my bucket list. Nestled in a huge crater in Cornwall, UK, it features massive Biomes housing the largest rainforest in captivity
  • Stored 260 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂E) by protecting endangered rainforest through the nonprofit Cool Earth
  • Committed to engage their employees and suppliers to drive improvements.

Dave Farebrother, chairman of the board of directors at Sutton United and an environmentalist, has been the driver of the club’s sustainability initiatives. “We like to say that our club is much more than just the ‘first team’,” enthused Farebrother. “Our community program is very active in the local area. I’ve…been into local schools to talk about sustainability.”

“I think climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face but, as [Sutton United] showed in its magnificent FA Cup run, challenges are there to be overcome,” said Steve Malkin, founder of The Planet Mark. “We are delighted to support Sutton United and, in our small way, contribute to the club’s success.”

Although the clock struck midnight on the Amber and Chocolate’s Cinderella story when Arsenal earned a hard fought 2-0 victory back in February on the way to winning the 2017 FA Cup, Sutton United did earn an estimated quarter of a million pounds from TV broadcasting rights, a significant sum for a club of that smallish size. According to The Planet Mark, “If some of that money is ploughed back into low carbon measures, the club’s position as a sustainability leader will be secured for years to come.”

 

 

Sutton Arsenal

Sutton United (yellow) and Arsenal battle in their February 2017 fifth round FA Cup match at The Planet Mark-certified Gander Green Lane (Photo credit: Caughtoffside.com)

 


 
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Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football (Soccer) Ladder

In the almost four year existence of GreenSportsBlog, we have written more stories about fifth tier English soccer/football club Forest Green Rovers than any other team or topic—12 times to be exact. Why? FGR is, clearly to GSB, the Greenest Team in Sports. From rooftop solar to mowing the lawn with a solar powered “mow-bot” (I kid you not!) to the now famous vegan-only food concessions, FGR is at the cutting edge of Green-Sports. And, as of Sunday they are no longer in the fifth tier of English soccer. After beating Tranmere, 3-1, in a playoff match at London’s fabled Wembley Stadium, FGR earned promotion to the fourth tier (aka League Two), for the first time ever. This is huge, from both football and greening perspectives.

 

I am quite sure you’ve never heard of Kaiyne Woolery. But he may well be one of the most important people in Green-Sports today—and he likely has no idea about that fact.

Woolery scored two goals to lead Forest Green Rovers (FGR), aka the Greenest Team in Sports, to a 3-1 win over Tranmere Rovers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. The playoff victory earned FGR promotion from the National League (the fifth tier of English football) to League Two (fourth tier).

Kaiyne Woolery

Kaiyne Woolery celebrates one of his two goals for Forest Green Rovers in Sunday’s promotion 3-1 playoff win at London’s Wembley Stadium over Tranmere. FGR moves up to League Two, the 4th tier of English football, next season (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

You simply cannot overstate the impact of this win, abetted by Woolery’s two goals, both in terms of football and FGR’s sustainability/climate change fighting mission.

 

MOVING ON UP

From a football perspective, consider that Forest Green Rovers has been in existence since 1889 and has never made it up to the fourth tier (FYI, there are 24 tiers in English football, with over 7,000 clubs).

In most countries—but not the US and Canada—professional soccer operates a system of promotion and relegation. Clubs that finish at or near the top of a league are promoted to the league above for the following season. Teams that end up at or near the bottom get relegated to the league below. If you want more information on promotion and relegation, check out this schematic, which maps out the top nine tiers of English football, and/or click here.

 

English Football Pyramid

The English Football Pyramid. Forest Green Rovers won promotion from the 5th Level (Conference National) to the 4th Level (League Two), the highest tier it has ever achieved. (Credit: An American’s Guide to English Soccer)

 

For most of its 128 year existence, FGR rattled around a maze of English local, county and regional leagues, moving up and down over the decades, never getting above the sixth tier. In 1997-98, they made it up to the National League, the fifth tier of English soccer. While that was an accomplishment, let’s put it in its proper perspective: In baseball terms, the fifth tier is the equivalent of the low minor leagues. FGR’s quaint and sustainable home ground, The New Lawn, has a capacity of about 5,100, similar to most of its (now former) National League compatriots.

The club largely teetered between relegation and mediocrity until Dale Vince, OBE^, owner of Ecotricity, a solar and wind provider, bought the club in 2010. They started slowly but hit on an upward trajectory that led to FGR making the promotion playoffs in 2015 and 2016. They fell short both years but the third time proved to be a charm on Sunday. Before a crowd of almost 19,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, the club earned promotion to League Two with Woolery’s 11th and 44th minute goals sandwiching one from Christian Doidge in the 41st.

The honeymoon will be brief for the coaches, players and supporters, many of whom flooded The New Lawn for a celebration Monday night. FGR’s first League Two season starts in just three months (it’s a loooooong season!). Some higher caliber talent will need to be added to the core of this season’s group to make sure Forest Green Rovers stays in the fourth tier and doesn’t face relegation.

 

LEAGUE TWO: BIGGER MEGAPHONE FOR FGR’S GREENNESS

From a sustainability perspective, the implications of Woolery’s two goals and of the resulting move up the ladder are also massive.

One might not think going from the fifth to fourth tier is that big a deal. Trust me; it is.

  • Sky Sports, a British version of ESPN, broadcasts League Two matches, providing those clubs with greater media exposure, and thus a bigger audience, than their National League counterparts (without a national broadcast deal) can hope for. And that means a bigger audience for stories about FGR’s greenness, the vegan only food, the mow-bot, etc.
  • With its ascension to League Two, FGR is now, per the schematic above, part of The Football League, the organization that oversees the second, third and fourth tiers. This is important because FGR can take part in two domestic, knock-out Cup competitions, the League Cup (includes the Premier League teams) and the League Trophy (open to League One and Two clubs only) that are not open to National League clubs or below. And that means they will share in yet more additional revenue. The more famous and prestigious FA Cup is open to all levels.

 

FGR Tweet

 

  • The TV deal and the additional Cup exposure will result in a financial windfall for the club, estimated by one source to be between $1-$2 million. That is rounding error compared to the estimated $220 million influx for each of the three teams that get promoted from the second tier Championship to the Premier League. But $1-$2 million can be a big deal in the Forest Green Rovers world. It will allow Mr. Vince to attract a higher level of talent. And perhaps he will be able to move forward on some new sustainability initiatives.

 

The highest profile sustainability-focused project on Mr. Vince’s docket is FGR’s new stadium. To be clear, the world’s first all-wood stadium was in the planning phase before this season started.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Did you say all-wood stadium?”

Yes. Mr. Vince and company is planning an all (fire-retardant treated) wood stadium. In a meadow.

 

FGR Exterior

Computer-aided design of the exterior of the planned all-wood Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Mr. Vince, in a story by George Ramsey that ran Tuesday on CNN.com, said, “The importance of wood is not only that it’s naturally occurring, [but that] it has very low embodied carbon — about as low as it gets for a building material. And when you bear in mind that around three-quarters of the lifetime carbon impact of any stadium comes from its building materials, you can see why that’s so important — and it’s why our new stadium will have the lowest embodiment of carbon of any stadium.”

 

FGR Interior

Computer-aided design of the interior of the planned Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the stadium will be topped by a translucent, sloping roof to reduce shadows on the pitch (field) and aid in grass growth. Venue walkways have been fashioned to allow better ventilation and maintenance of the field.

 

The first 53 seconds of this 6:44 video from TomoNews provides details about Forest Green Rovers’ proposed all-wood stadium.

 

If all goes to plan, the stadium will be the hub of a 100-acre Eco Park. At an estimated cost of $123 million, the park will include facilities for both the community and the club: gyms, all-weather soccer pitches/fields, sports science clinics, as well as a conference center.

The project still needs approval from local authorities, so Mr. Vince asked the fans present at Monday’s promotion celebration to write to the Stroud District Council in support of the stadium—another benefit of promotion to League Two.

But don’t think that Mr. Vince is content to stop at League Two. He was quoted at the celebration by Aled Thomas in Gloucestershire Live as saying, “I think we’ll have a good first season in League Two and will be there or thereabouts for promotion – I’m aiming for League One and then the Championship.”

And the FGR owner is also aiming, with his club’s higher profile, to show his fellow owners that green is good for business and good for football.

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire, a level of chivalry in the United Kingdom.

 


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