Being sustainable should be a priority for top football clubs, says coach

Chris Barker: Forest Green Rovers U18s speaks in July 2019

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Forest Green Rovers’ (FGR) Rob Edwards told how the environment is “arguably one of the biggest challenges we face” as he called for premier league teams to play their part. He said: “There is an enormous opportunity for football to become a leader in sustainability because people look up to sporting icons and take their lead from them.  “People in football are passionate. If you show them where the problems in the environment are and what can be done, it will become a normal part of life.”

The former England U16s manager, 38, added: “Football takes a stand on a whole range of societal issues, quite rightly. The environment is arguably one of the biggest challenges we face and it’s right that FGR takes a stand. 

“Premier League clubs have a bigger audience and a bigger platform as well, so we’re showing those sorts of teams that living sustainably can be done.”

Fifa recognised FGR as the world’s greenest football club in 2017.

The club is powered by 100 percent green energy from Ecotricity, some of which is generated by the solar panels on the roof and the solar tracker at The New Lawn grounds in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire.

All rainwater that falls on the stands or on the pitch is recycled while the grounds have electric car charging facilities to encourage fans to travel to games sustainably.

The League two club, chaired by Ecotricity founder Dale Vince, 59, is also officially recognised as the world’s first vegan football club, having switched their menu by 2015 to reduce the environmental and animal welfare impacts of livestock farming, as well as to improve player performance and give fans healthier food on matchdays.

FGR striker Jamille Matt, 31, described how he feels healthier when eating vegan foods, adding how his meatless diet has helped him with quicker recovery after injury and keeping fit.

The Jamaican footballer feels other clubs still “have a way to go” in terms of sustainability.

When asked whether football was “green enough”, he said: “I don’t think it is but I think that is down to bringing awareness to this side of the game and using players maybe to influence this we will see this change in the near future.

“Footballers can have a big impact as they are seen as role models and a greener lifestyle will help us to look after ourselves and our environment more. So we as players can help fans to see the benefits of living in this way.”

Brighton-based organisation Football for Future is also hoping to get clubs and fans involved in making the “beautiful game” more sustainable.

Talking ahead of the Euro semi-final clash tonight (WED), the organisation’s founder Elliot Arthur-Worsop said tournament hosts are in a “unique and privileged position of power” to take action.

He said: “Tournaments are already one of the greatest contributors to the football industry’s carbon footprint due to international travel, especially flying that is undertaken by players, staff and fans. 

“Making tournaments more environmentally sustainable is an essential step that the beautiful game should be taking within this decade.

Around 70 percent of the carbon emissions of a single fixture come from travel, experts have suggested.

Elliot said traveling for football is “inevitable” as no one wants to see empty stadiums but reliance on air travel can be significantly reduced by localising tournament venues.

He added: “This would enable tournament attendees to take public transport to games instead of flying across continents for 90 minutes. 

“Tournament organisers should also recognise and award hosts based on the environmental sustainability of their football and public transport infrastructure. 

“This would encourage sustainable development in and beyond football, as well as making tournaments more convenient for fans.”

Clubs could promote public transport and car-sharing for home games, as well as walking or cycling if possible.

Katie Cross, who aims to use the power of football to promote sustainability through Pledgeball, told how tournament hosts could minimise food waste, provide

environmentally-friendly food choices that have minimal carbon footprints, use green energy suppliers and use reusable food and drink containers.

She said: “Within football, there are many indicators that demonstrate that fans would support their club in taking action to mitigate climate change.”

Mark Doidge, a principal research fellow in the school of sport and service management at Brighton University said football has an “unrivalled platform” to communicate the potential impact of climate change to fans.

He added: “Football needs to take [environmental] action in order to ensure that the sport can continue to be played on a regular basis.”

At least 23 English football league’s 92 clubs will face partial or total annual flooding of their stadiums by 2050, an analysis by academic David Goldblatt found.

Doidge continued: “As climate change is a global issue that will dramatically affect local communities across the globe, football needs to actively engage with environmental sustainability.

“It needs to do this to help communities become more resilient and mobilise them to take action.”

Dr Ruth Crabtree, principal lecturer in sport management at Northumbria University said: “It is really important that sport managers of the future have a full understanding and appreciation of the ecological impacts of sport, and have the knowledge and expertise to ensure that the sports events that are delivered have zero environmental impact on the world we live in and share.”

Comment by Dale Vince

Football needs to green itself up but not more or less than any other sport or industry.

Forest Green Rovers are the greenest football club on the planet, according to Fifa and the UN; no small accolade.

When we began this journey we were told that environment issues had no place in football and fans would not be interested. We’ve shown that to be wrong.

Now it’s gone way beyond football as the UN’s Sport for Climate Action programme aims to engage all sport fans the world over.

As we made changes at FGR we explained what we were doing and why to our fans. They don’t just tolerate them, they’re right behind us going green.

I regularly meet supporters who have gone veggie or vegan, drive electric cars and have solar panels at home – it’s pretty amazing.

The club uses green energy. Some we make ourselves, the rest we bring in from the grid. We have facilities for fans to charge their electric cars. Our staff drive electric.

And we have an entirely animal-free food and drink menu. The pitch is organic and we catch rain water to reuse. We have no single-use plastic and produce almost zero rubbish.

Our residual carbon footprint is tiny and we offset that using a UN-certified scheme. We’ll shortly do this using rewilding projects that we are developing in Britain.

Going green as a football club is easy. There’s a template at Forest Green.

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