Forest Green Rovers is a football club like no other.
Named by global governing body FIFA as the greenest football club on the planet, it has worked with the United Nations and achieved climate neutral status – the first club in the world to do so.
Current chairman Dale Vince became a major shareholder in Forest Green in 2010, in what he described as a “rescue mission” for his local team.
It was a project that Vince initially thought needed only an injection of cash, but it soon turned into something far more important.
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“We made it simply the greenest football club on the planet,” Vince tells CNN. “We put the environment into the DNA of the football club.
“We thought if we’re going to do that, we’ll do it our way. We’ll bring all our work and experience in the field of sustainability into the club and through that we’ll try to reach a completely new audience.”
Vince says the club breaks its sustainability down into three categories: energy, transport and food.
After having solar panels installed on the roof of one of the stands, Forest Green now produces 20% of its own electricity, with the rest coming from windmills around the country.
Charging points outside the stadium allow fans to travel in and charge their electric cars, while the kit man drives an electric van and the club provides and electric car pool service for fans.
Forest Green is also the first football club to go vegan, offering fans with a range of “hearty” burgers, pies and chips.
Such was its popularity, two rival clubs in League Two – England’s fourth tier – provided vegan food when Forest Green visited last season.
But its sustainability doesn’t stop there.
“We’ve got an organic pitch as well which we feed only with Scottish seaweed,” Vince explains. “We have no pesticides on it. We have wildlife borders around the club.”
Vince says it would be “extremely easy” for some of the world’s biggest clubs to follow in Forest Green’s light carbon footsteps.
“They have more money than we have, and so it would be very easy for them to do – they just need to want to do it,” he says.
“We banned single-use plastic, for example, we went and we sourced takeaway coffee cups which aren’t lined with plastic.
“There are so many things which can be done and need to be done, but you’ve got to want to do it and at the moment most clubs are just starting to think about it.”
Vince believes football has an important role to play in climate change, something that has been at the forefront of his mind since taking the club over in 2010.
“The football audience are relatively untouched by this eco messaging and yet they are exactly the kind of people we need to convince,” he says.
“They have this passion … if we could harness that and point it at the environment as well that could be a really big thing. And in this we’re on the same page as the United Nations.
“This program of theirs is about recognizing the role sport has in influencing the behavior of people globally and the UN is looking to get sports clubs on board in the fight against climate change.”
Forest Green’s off-field success is being mirrored on the pitch.
Last season, they played in England’s professional leagues for the first time in the club’s 129-year history after achieving promotion the previous year.
Based in Nailsworth, a town of less than 8,000 people in England’s southwest, Forest Green is already punching well above its weight, sharing a division with several established Football League clubs.
Vince estimates that news of the club as reached three billion people since being promoted, resulting in some unlikely fan clubs appearing around the world.
“We’re seeing crowds quadruple, PR coverage you could not have dreamt of,” he says. “We’re building a global fanbase as well which has really surprised us.
“We’ve got fan groups springing up in Chicago, New Zealand, Norway. These are people who may or may not be football fans, but they’re definitely people who definitely care about the environment, they’ve seen what we’re doing and they’ve become fans of Forest Green because of our stances.
“A new kind of football fan, a new kind of football club probably.”