Forest Green Rovers are pioneering the way for eco-friendly football. How long until everyone else catches up?
Forest Green Rovers. Hardly the titans of football in trophy terms. But they are pioneering when it comes to eco-friendly usage of their home stadium. Not only are they home to the first meat-free football menu, but they also boast a 100% organic pitch, solar and wind-powered ‘Mow-bot’ lawn mower and solar panel lined stadium roof. They even encourage players to car-share to training to lower CO2 emissions. So why don’t the more affluent teams further up the leagues do the same?
Climate change, a subject that would have taken centre stage just a few years ago has seemed to slip into the shadows once again since the controversies of Trump and Brexit have stolen the limelight and this transpires into the sporting world. Although the business of football has sky-rocketed in the past year with record-breaking signings and new goal-line technology, the impact the game has on the environment seems to have taken a back-seat. Sadly, this isn’t just a recent concern. At both the World Cups in South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014, the amount of carbon emissions produced had increased by almost eight times the amount produced in the 2006 World Cup in Germany despite the advancements in renewable energy technology. With the 2018 World Cup set to produce at least 2.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, it is clear that the organisations representing football are still not doing enough to combat this issue.
Although the UK appears to be a nation committed to the care of the planet, alarmingly, it has one of the highest average household carbon footprints in Europe. This permeates the football world where a study has indicated that England was near the bottom of a list of Euro 2016 countries in relation to nation’s fans with the lowest carbon footprints when watching their team. The Carbon Trust indicated that, in fact, Iceland had the fans with the lowest implying that England is seriously lagging behind their European counterparts. A study has also suggested that football clubs higher up the English Football League produce the most carbon emissions, largely due to fans travelling from further afar to attend games. So if the bigger clubs are contributing more CO2 emissions than their lower league counter parts, how come they aren’t doing more about it?
Money surely can’t be a problem. The likes of Manchester United and Manchester City can afford to pay an average of over £100,000 to each of their players a week, yet they can’t seem to muster the money to help save our planet. In comparison with weekly wages, forking out a small sum for some solar panels can surely be seen as a worthy investment, especially when these small changes can help save money in the long run. Admittedly, Manchester United is actually one of the better clubs in the Premier League when it comes to eco-friendly developments. The club recycles rainwater for the pitches and has used old shoes to create premium sport surfaces. But they are still lagging behind a small club like Forest Green Rovers, who might have the backing of Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, but are still light-years behind in terms of funds.
Having admitted there are clubs out there who show some passion for creating sustainable futures, there seems to be one issue that has alluded the majority, the transport of fans to games. Transport emissions have increased by 8% in the UK since 1995 and football matches may be significant in this figures rapid incline. 67.5% of fans now travel to football matches by car with 24% of an average persons weekly emissions being attributed to social trips (including travel to a match). This is where English clubs have missed a trick. In other European countries, clubs offer home fans a dual ticket which not only gets them into the game, but also allows them to travel to the game on public transport free of charge, encouraging spectators to ditch the car and consequently reduce carbon emissions. This simple change that could seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions is something that English clubs need to look into if the football league wants to head towards a greener future.
In my opinion, football has been tainted by the ridiculous amounts of money being thrown at (now complacent) players. It is hard to believe that a billion pound business can justify enormous transfer fees when the issues that really matter are constantly sidelined. I’m not only talking about the environment, but also tackling other social problems such as racism. Issues like these are still rife in the nation’s favourite game and, although there are organisations doing things to help better the game, it seems they take second place and are often lost in the shadows. Clubs need to take better steps to ensure they are not just the best in terms or performance but also in making football sustainable and inclusive for future generations and this needs to be seen from the top tiers in order to trickle down into grassroots provision.
If Forest Green Rovers, a club situated in a town of less than 6000 people can show major commitment to our planet and the future of football, then premier league clubs have a lot to learn. Football is a global phenomenon, so why don’t we use this platform and money to ensure a sustainable footballing future?