Sustainable lessons

Sustainability is an important issue globally.  But how can sports grounds be more sustainable, and does it impact on safety?

The SGSA’s lead for sustainability, Ann Ramage, visited Forest Green Rovers FC – recognised by the UN as the world’s first carbon neutral football club and described by FIFA as the greenest team in the world – to find out.  Here, she reflects on her visit.

In 2010, Dale Vince took over at Forest Green Rovers and has been determined to challenge football’s orthodoxies.  He brought in an environmental charter, which states: “in any apparent conflict between the environment and money – we put the environment first”.  Since then, the club has made wholesale changes, including:

  • Eco-innovations at the ground, such as the installation of solar panels, the use of a solar-powered robot grass mower, and the world’s first organic football pitch.
  • Cutting out all red meat from the menu for the team and its fans, then eventually going completely vegan.
  • Making the team football kit from recycled plastic and coffee grounds.
  • Next season the club also plans to install public toilets using technology astronauts used in space.

The changes have also had a positive impact on the local community. Their vegan and allergen-free dishes solved a real problem for local schools and colleges which have a diverse intake with varying dietary requirements.  This has now expanded to over 2,000 schools, colleges and universities.

Despite the changes that have been implemented at the club’s New Lawn Stadium, there are plans to build a new venue.  In 2019 planning permission was obtained for a low-carbon, all-timber stadium designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, including office and industrial space reserved for companies working in the zero-carbon economy.  The architects know that the very thought of a timbre stadium raises the spectre of the Bradford City disaster and claim to have designed the new stadium with the Green Guide at the front of their minds.

Importantly, Forest Green Rovers’ environmental message is spreading.  In October 2021 the EFL launched its Green Clubs scheme, based on the innovations pioneered at Forest Green Rovers.  The scheme involves EFL members signing up for a ‘Green Code’ which requires improvements to environmental governance, with assessments of pollution, energy and water use, and transport options.

This visit was inspiring from the point of view of sustainability.  It was great to find a football club challenging out-dated assumptions about what can be achieved in terms of design and behaviour change.