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Meet the footballers fighting climate change

by Ellen Goodman


When Donald Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord – an international agreement that aims to unite the world against climate change – he said that the deal was unfair on the US, and would cost millions of American jobs, emphasising coal, among other industries. This announcement, and the speculation surrounding it for the past couple of months, seem to have provoked a stream of positive news about the rapid growth of renewable energies.

In April, the UK achieved its first ever day without coal power since the Industrial Revolution began. In May, Germany too broke a renewable energy record, when, on a sunny and breezy day, sustainable energy provided 85% of the country’s total energy – a record high. On the other side of the world, India, which once since has the “heart of coal plant growth” has now shelved nearly all its plans for 370 new coal plants, to instead focus on cheaper renewable energy. The Financial Times recently authored an in-depth look on “The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable”, which explored how the rise of electric cars and improved technology have helped lead to a 9% increase of global renewable energy generation capacity last year – a fourfold increase from the start of this century – and wondered whether the 21st century will be the last one for fossil fuels?

Out of all new stories surrounding renewable energy I’ve read recently, one stood out: Forest Green Rovers (FGR) were promoted, for the first time, to the English Football League.

So what does football have to do with renewable energies and fighting climate change?

Based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire (population: 5,800), FGR, or the “Green Devils” as the team is also known, are aiming to be the most sustainable football club in the world. In 2012, FGR became the first and only football club to achieve the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) – the gold standard for environmental performance. Some of the club’s green initiatives include a fully vegan club menu and an organic pitch that uses Scottish seaweed as fertiliser. In May this year, FGR announced plans to build the world’s first wooden football stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. The importance of this is that wood is naturally occurring, and has one of the lowest levels of embodied carbon for any building material.

The driving force behind shaping Forest Green Rovers as a sustainability pioneer is their part-owner Dale Vince, the founder of renewable energy provider, Ecotricity. He got involved with the football club for several reasons: it is local to Ecotricity, which is based in Stroud, it needed saving, and he saw an opportunity to raise awareness of sustainability through a far-reaching and exciting new channel (as someone who works in marketing, I absolutely love this last one).

Vince founded Ecotricity in 1996 when “green energy didn’t exist” and they describe themselves as the world’s first Green Electricity company. When it started, Ecotricity had just one wind turbine. It now serves 200,000 customers, and had an annual turnover of £126.5 million in 2016 (up 16% on the year before). They also have plans to a green technology hub, Eco Park, in Stroud (which FGR’s wooden stadium will be part of), which will create 4,000 jobs in the green economy.

Renewable energy levels in the UK still remain disappointingly low – in February, we were ranked 24th out of the 28 EU member states. However, where Ecotricity were a pioneer over twenty years ago, now we are seeing more and more businesses step up to tackle climate change – since Trump’s announcement, for example, there have been declarations from businesses of all sizes to stand by their Paris agreement commitments, including the surprise vote from shareholders of Exxon Mobil – the world’s largest oil company – in favour of the Agreement. We are also starting to see more renewable energy providers in the UK, such as new-kid on the block Bulb, one of the only energy companies in the UK to lower their energy prices this year. Another renewable energy provider, Good Energy, just raised more than £10 million from its second corporate bond to pursue a new strategy. ClearlySo has also recently supported other businesses involved in cleaning up the energy market, such as SteamaCo, the market leader in technology for managing off-grid renewable energy networks in emerging markets, and Upside Energy, a virtual energy store that aims to reduce greenhouse gases by enabling people to make better choices about when to use energy.

So who knows – maybe it won’t be long before we see another football team challenge FGR’s sustainability crown?

Image source: Zaha Hadid Architects