Nailsworth is a small town with a population of just over seven thousand in South West England. As well as churches, medieval buildings, farms, and old pubs, it’s home to the Forest Green Rovers Football Club, a team that since 2022 has been playing in Football League One, the third most important English league after the Premier League and the Championship.
The club was established in 1889 but never managed to achieve any great success, except for a few regional league titles. The history of the club changed radically in 2015, however, thanks to the work of Dale Vince, a British green energy industrialist born in August 1961. In 2010, he became the majority shareholder of the Forest Green Rovers and, soon after, its chairman.
Vince immediately changed the club inside and out. In February 2011, citing health reasons, he banned all the players from eating red meat, insisting they stick to vegetarian options, poultry, and fish. The club soon received a vegan trademark from the Vegan Society, an international organization that promotes food education. But this was only the first step towards the green breakthrough that changed the history of the club forever.
In 2015, Forest Green became the first vegan team in the world. This revolution certainly hasn’t affected the team’s on-field results. On the contrary, from floundering in the minor leagues and once just a step away from bankruptcy, the Greens made their way into Football League One. This was a milestone for Nailsworth, the smallest town with the fewest inhabitants in the entire league.
Interest in, and passion for, this unusual club spread throughout the town, then England, and then the whole world. Home games, played at New Lawn, are attended by over three thousand fans, while there are over 100 fan clubs around the world. In other words, the team now has a global following – something unprecedented for a club from such a small town. With the team attracting so much attention to itself, in 2018 the United Nations recognized it as the first zero-emission club in the world. This wasn’t only because of the players’ special diet, but also, and in particular, because of the club’s commitment to its carbon neutral-certified home ground, which exclusively uses energy from renewable sources.
New Lawn is a small stadium with seating for around five thousand. It’s eco-sustainable, with 10% of its electricity from a photovoltaic system installed on the southern grandstand, while part of the water used to irrigate the pitch comes from a rainwater recovery system. Natural fertilizers are used on the turf, which is cut by a robot that runs on solar energy. The team also encourages its fans to be as green as possible. The stadium parking lot, for example, has numerous charging stations for electric cars.
In short, everything about this club is green. Besides its diet and stadium, even its jerseys, equipment, and all its training and refreshment areas are eco-sustainable. Materials that could pollute the environment when disposed of were avoided for the uniforms. The team therefore initially opted for bamboo, and then a mixture made of coffee grounds and recycled plastic bottles. The story of the Forest Green Rovers will hopefully inspire others. It’s the result of an ambitious and virtuous idea that, while initially met with skepticism, later proved to be a success.
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