It is time the Premier League learn a lesson from Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers' solar-powered lawnmowerThe world has slowly become more and more obsessed with going green. Perhaps you have made subtle changes to help the environment, such as using energy saving light bulbs or dividing your waste into the various different coloured and shaped bins your council provides, or maybe you’re an Eco Freak, and you’re reading this article via a cycle-powered laptop. Either way, I think we can all agree we could all be doing more (apart from those of you who think Global Warming and environmental concerns are liberalist propaganda), and the same can be said for our football clubs.

Forest Green Rovers however, are a football club who are really going the extra mile for the environment. Owner Dale Vince has started a green revolution since his takeover of the conference side in 2010. Some of their feats are truly remarkable: the creation of the world’s first fully organic football pitch, solar panels on the roof of the stadium, a solar powered lawnmower (which texts the groundsman when it’s in need of maintenance), electric leaf-blowers, a rainwater collection system and the removal of red meat from the snack-shop’s menu – although I feel slightly conflicted over this last point as a match day burger-lover.

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The small club’s vision is vastly different to the Premier League giants. The air miles and coach trips to and from various destinations around the continent as well as the UK must leave a huge carbon foot print, not to mention the vast consumption of more than 30,000 fans on match days resulting in enormous waste produce. The majority of big clubs have environmental policy statements, but they tend to contain phrases such as “we aim to” and “ensuring legal compliance”, with little details of specific targets or planning of how to reduce their impact on the planet. Although there is an impetus to educate the local community into going green, the majority of practical activity by clubs is little different to what one would do at home, for example; minimising lighting and heating, turning off electrical appliances and encouraging staff to walk or cycle to work. The latter objective clearly hasn’t worked considering the number of footballers who turn up to training in ridiculous gas-guzzling cars.

Manchester United are the leading Premier League club in terms of environmental management, and have been rewarded accolades for their green improvements. It may surprise some readers that Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville is also a green influence at the club, and has been working at Old Trafford as their Environmental ambassador. In February, the club were awarded with the ISO14000 standard, and the year previous topped the government’s Carbon Reduction Energy Efficiency table – a list of organisations including universities and businesses that have effectively managed their energy use.

Newcastle United have also made efforts to improve their environmental impact via means of offsetting their carbon emissions. This tactic is a combination of mixing carbon reduction with investing in eco-projects concerned with renewable energy sources in the local area, which the club are awarded environmental credits for. The Magpies now claim to be the world’s first Carbon positive club because of they are now offsetting more  credits than they are omitting carbon. It was part of an initiative set up by the Carbon Trust, which asked the Premier League and SPL at the start of the season to “kick out carbon emissions, and secure a victory for the environment and their finances”, but with limited success so far.

But compared to the accomplishments of Dale Vince’s Rovers, the Premier League giants’ improvements are minimal. Forest Green have recently registered with EMAS (Eco-Management Audit System), a system designed by the EU which has particular environmental requirements and standards to be met before being allowed to join. Vince summarises the difference in accolade between his own club and those of Manchester United: “We recently achieved EMAS, it’s like the gold-standard of environment management. Manchester United, by comparison, have just been granted ISO 14000. I mention that because that’s League One standard, though we applaud what they have done. We, however, are in the Champions League.”

The juxtaposition is exactly what is wrong with the situation. Vince’s green revolution may have been easier to pull off at Forest Green Rovers than it would be at a Premier League club – bearing in mind their considerable commitments to travelling and providing food and service for thousands of fans on a regular basis – but difficult choices have to made in order to make any significant improvement on a club’s carbon foot print.

Of course, business often gets in the way. Environmental policies can often be unprofitable, although Manchester United claim to have saved a total of £500,000 since starting their green initiatives, and it is hardly the main concern for board rooms, fans and club management teams who have to constantly deal with the pressures of the footballing world. Using the example of Newcastle again, a Guardian reporter remarked after their 3-0 victory over Wigan last Monday: “Newcastle claim to be the world’s first carbon-positive football club. This feat is all very admirable but hardly cut much ice with fans disgruntled and alarmed by the team’s November slump. Reassurance finally came in the form of Ba’s crowd-pacifying ninth goal of the season”.

But It is time for the Premier League to learn from the conference minnows. Currently, only four teams in the Premiership and football league meet the Carbon Trust’s Standard; Manchester United, Newcastle, Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City. I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of the technology involved, but I see little reason why Forest Green’s advances in environmental management cannot be applied to a higher level.

Imagine the huge space on stadium roofs that could be filled up with solar panels, or the vast amount of rain water that could be collected over the area of the stadium as well as at training grounds. Football clubs constantly say they are striving to be a part of the community; well it is time to lead the community and provide a shining example of change for the better.