This story is from the Financial Times:
Above the leafy Gloucestershire town of Nailsworth, is a football stadium: “The New Lawn”. It has solar panels on the stands, electric charging points in the car park, and a green Union Jack flag outside the ground. This is the home of Forest Green Rovers, the first football club certified by the United Nations as carbon neutral.
The team, in League Two, the fourth tier of English professional football, plays on an organic pitch in a stadium powered by renewable energy. And fans eat from an all-vegan menu. Dale Vince, the club’s chairman, is the founder of green energy company, Ecotricity, based in nearby Stroud, Gloucestershire. It is a business that has turned him into a multi-millionaire.
He acquired the 130-year-old football club in 2010, when it was on brink of bankruptcy, and began transforming it along environmental principles. Forest Green Rovers’ green credentials have created a unique selling point that has gained the attention of businesses. The club made half of its nearly £5m in revenues last year through sponsorship from like-minded companies, such as Quorn, the makers of vegan food, and Grundon, a waste management and recycling group.
Vince said: “Businesses are trying to get with the new agenda. They see the need to green themselves up, to green their products up, because they see that’s what people want.” This agenda has transformed Forest Green Rovers into one of the best resourced clubs in League Two. Its cash has allowed it to fund a team representing a town with a population of 5,000 — the smallest place to host an English professional league team — that can punch far above its weight. According to the consultancy Deloitte, League Two clubs on average make £3.8m in revenue, far less than Forest Green Rovers, meaning rival teams have less to spend on players. However, this month, the club lost to Tranmere Rovers in the end-of-season playoffs, missing out on being promoted to League One for another year.
Still, Mr Vince’s ambition is for Forest Green Rovers to steadily rise up the divisions and reach the Championship, the tier below the Premier League. As part of plans to achieve that goal, the club will learn in the coming weeks if it has received planning permission for a new 5,000-seater stadium made entirely from timber. “Wood is the most sustainable material that you can build with and concrete is possibly the least,” said Mr Vince. “It will be the lowest carbon footprint stadium anywhere in the world, probably since the Romans invented concrete.”
In the meantime, the club wants to set a green example for others to follow. Mr Vince has been advising the English Football League, and Uefa, European football’s governing body, to develop sustainability plans for clubs based on the innovations brought to Forest Green Rovers in recent years. These include renewable energy for football facilities. About 20 per cent of The New Lawn’s power is supplied by the solar panels installed on its stands, with the remainder coming from other renewable sources, such as wind power. The club’s groundsman uses an automatic, solar-powered electric lawnmower which each day cuts a pitch fed with Scottish seaweed rather than artificial fertilisers. Drains under the turf gather rainwater which is then reused around the grounds.
Mr Vince faced initial outcry from fans after he removed red meat from the club’s match-day stalls but said supporters have come to appreciate its vegan menu, which has also attracted a new breed of fans. One favourite is the Q-Pie, a Quorn and leek pastry with soya béchamel white sauce. The club chef’s latest creation is a vegan sausage roll, which Mr Vince insists is far superior to the version recently introduced by Greggs, the high street bakery.
From next season, the club will further add to its environmental credentials with a plan to “carbon offset” every fan’s travel to the ground by slightly increasing ticket prices and using the additional money to fund projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “Everything we’ve done is really easy to do,” said Mr Vince. “Put solar panels on your roof . . . take meat and dairy out of menus, even just occasionally, it’s not hard to do. Organic pitches, low-energy lightbulbs, banning single-use plastics . . . everything we’ve done here is scalable.”