Sitting on a hill in the Cotswold countryside is the New Lawn stadium, the home of Forest Green Rovers (FGR) football club, a club which has gained attention for its passion for playing the beautiful game, whilst caring for the environment in the process. By Renuka Odedra.

When most of us make our way through the turnstiles to watch a football match, one of the last things running through our minds is whether the football team we support is sustainable or not. But it takes an incredible amount of energy, water, raw materials, and resources to be able to maintain football clubs. That includes the pitch, stadium, food, and water for players and fans – the list could go on.

However, Forest Green Rovers, the football club based in Gloucestershire, is putting most clubs to shame by becoming the first in the UK to own an organic pitch. This means that there are no pesticides or man-made chemicals being used on the pitches.

They also produce their own power from the sun, in the form of solar PhotoVoltaic panels, which run along the stadium roof, producing a boastful 45 kW capacity. The power produced by the solar panels accounts for 14% of the electricity used at the stadium and the player’s hostel. Four years after they were accredited in the Eco Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) they have cut almost half of their carbon emissions footprint per spectator by 50%.

The fear of humans being replaced by robots fills some people with dread and anger alike, but technological advantages can be a source of huge aid when it comes to making advances in environmental change and sustainability if embraced. Forest Green Rovers have done exactly that by accepting a little electric robot into their staff team called the ‘mow-bot’ at the New Lawn.

By using it, they have put themselves alongside the company of the likes of Bayern Munich, who also use the same technology to maintain their football and training pitches, making it quite a revolutionary piece of tech. The automatically driven motor uses GPS control to mow the pitch, saving up to 50% of the work a grounds person would usually do. Whilst also mowing it helps in maintaining the organic pitch as it produces organic matter that fertilises the pitch as it mows.

If all the above was not enough for doing their bit for environmental change, the club became the first football club with a meat-free football menu. They are passionate about sourcing and using local, seasonal, fresh and organic food wherever possible. In fact, since June 2014, the club has embraced veganism, one of the many firsts they’ve put the FGR stamp on. So, players’ meals and match day food for fans are without fish, dairy or animal products of any kind.

At this point, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask why Forest Green Rovers? Why has this club taken such a huge step towards sustainability? Well, you shouldn’t have to look too far because Dale Vince, the Chairman of the football club, is the founder of Ecotricity, a green energy company, that is the world’s first. So as far as sustainability at the club goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because something of an environmental pioneer is a big part of the club, in the form of Vince. He is a vegan himself and passionate about environmental and animal issues and rights. Regarding services to the environment, he received an OBE from the Queen in 2014.

In a very detailed and meticulous Environmental Report released in 2016 by the club, FGR noted a list of environmental objectives they hope to implement and achieve, including to become a zero-carbon omissions club, reduce energy and water consumption, reduce waste and emissions produced and maximise the recycling of waste from their operations. Environmental importance really is a focal point of the club and it seems to be embedded within the entire running of it.

As the club make big leaps for the environment off the pitch, they’re not doing too badly on it either. Last season they were promoted to League Two after winning in the play-off final against Tranmere Rovers at Wembley. They do, however, currently sit in the bottom half of the league in 20th position.

Perhaps the social responsibility to take a closer look at the running of football clubs, and how it can impact environment and climate change, should be taken a lot more seriously. Even though developments and changes continue to happen in the background, the need to bring the issue to the forefront of making football sustainable is greater. But Forest Green Rovers certainly are showing other clubs how it should be done when it comes to going green.