Imagine going to a sporting event where the only food on the menu is vegan and players are wearing jerseys made from recycled coffee beans.
Welcome to the home ground of the UK’s Forest Green Rovers, the world’s first carbon neutral football club.
Green energy entrepreneur Dale Vince has led the transformation of the club since becoming president.
In 2010, he was approached by the club, who needed the money and was about to fold.
Despite being his local football club in Gloucestershire, he had never seen them play a game.
Nonetheless, he was interested. âI thought why not help the 120-year-old club,â Vince told Sporty on ABC RN.
He brought his environmental principles to the field – and, yes, they play on organic turf – in hopes of creating a new kind of football club.
âAt the same time, we would be speaking to an audience that was pretty much spared from this type of message – it wouldn’t be an easy audience to be football but we had the opportunity,â he said.
Vince is one of many in the world of sports who can see the opportunities to talk to fans about the challenges the environment faces.
Among them is also the former captain of the Australian Wallabies, David Pocock.
Earlier this year, Pocock started an activist movement of athletes called The return to calm, and it already has over 450 current and former Australian athletes on board calling for action on climate change.
Among them are athletes such as Olympic swimmers Bronte and Kate Campbell, racing driver Mark Webber and professional surfer Mick Fanning.
“One of the things that we have lost sight of is how politicized it has been in Australia and that it is something that is going to affect all aspects of our daily lives, including the sports we love. . “
The Cool Down campaign calls on the government to work to halve Australia’s emissions by 2030 and set a net zero emissions target for 2050.
“[It’s] really the bare minimum that scientists tell us we should be doing as a country, âPocock adds.
Vegan food is always good food
At Forest Green Rovers, Vince began making environment-driven change early in his tenure.
âThe immediate realization that I had the first day of being in charge of the club was that there was a lot going on that wasn’t right for meâ¦ like serving red meat,â he says.
While players were open to a vegan diet, there was some resistance from fans when it came to the food sold at the stadium.
But that was 10 years ago, says Vince.
“I think today [veganism] is very widely accepted. If you look at elite athletes in probably any sport you can nameâ¦ American football, heavyweight boxing, tennis, rugby, soccer, Formula 1 racing, you will find elite athletes who swear by diet. vegan, âhe says.
And the key to convincing hesitant fans of the new menu was to show them that “animal-free food is still good food,” he says.
An athletic advantage
Since those early days, Forest Green Rovers has grown from near collapse to a successful club hailed by FIFA as the greenest team in the world.
To get there, the club focused on the areas that would have the most impact.
âIt’s about how you eat. It’s about how you travel and what you eat. And you’ll find that 80% more or less of your impact and your carbon footprint is in those three things, âsays Vince.
The club has installed solar panels on its roof, banned single-use plastics like cups and water bottles, and installed charging points for electric cars. They also have their own electric vehicles in the fleet.
âWe also created wildlife boundaries around the club where we have slow worms and wild orchids,â says Vince. “So we made room for nature.”
Being more environmentally conscious has given their players an athletic edge.
âI play football and I realize that getting too hot is a problem, you use energy to cool off. So as an athlete you don’t want to get too hot. Wear a plastic shirt. [runs] against that. “
Three years ago, the team’s jerseys were made from bamboo, a fast-growing and durable material. The fabric also has antimicrobial and antifungal properties and felt super soft on the skin.
But the club kept looking for something even more sustainable.
âThis year’s shirts are made from coffee grounds, which is a recycled material, so it’s better than a virgin material like bamboo,â says Vince.
The fabric is made by mixing coffee grounds and recycled plastic and turning it into yarn.
âIt also breathes a little better than bamboo. Thus, we have the advantage in terms of athletic performance and durability issues with the ground coffee kit.
The team are currently at the top of League Two of the English Football League, but are hoping to advance to the Championship League.
Vince wants the club to be successful on the pitch because the more prestigious the club, the greater its “green influence” will be.
“A lot of people were like, ‘What does the environment have to do with football,'” he said.
Things have changed, he said, highlighting the recent game between Premier League sides Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea aimed at raising awareness about climate change.
“Ten years later, Premier League clubs rightly pride themselves on playing the first zero carbon football game at an elite level,” he says,
The next challenge for Forest Green Rovers is a stadium that lives up to their ambitions.
Since 2010, club match attendance has quadrupled and the stadium has struggled to maintain electricity and water on busy match days.
The club has therefore launched an international architectural competition for the new stadium.
“We [want] the greenest football stadium anyone can imagine, âsays Vince.
“The carbon footprint of a sports stadium throughout its lifetime is not made up of the energy used to make it function … 75% of it exists in the materials used to build it”, did he declare.
âIt’s locked from day one – it’s usually concrete and steel.
He hopes they can find a way to build an all-wood stadium.
“[Then] we would have the lowest carbon footprint stadium in the world, âhe says,â since the Romans invented concrete â.
Australia must catch up
Back in Australia, David Pocock believes the country has a lot to catch up with compared to those fighting climate change.
Environmental changes will affect all sports and those who participate in them, Pocock says.
He gives the example of fast bowler Pat Cummins who started his cricket career in Penrith, where summer temperatures are expected to reach 50 degrees Celsius by 2030.
âIt’s going to change the way we play cricket, and for young children who want to play in the sun in the summer, it’s going to get more and more difficult.
This is what drives the Cool Down campaign. “As athletes we say we want future generations of Australians to be able to enjoy all of these sports that we have enjoyed. And it is under our control.”
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