When Dale Vince became the chairman of Forest Green Rovers, a hundred-and-twenty-eight-year-old club in English soccer’s fourth tier, in the autumn of 2010, one of the first problems that he set out to fix was on the menu. The club was serving meat lasagna to the players, a practice that, Vince says, conflicted with the team’s values. “I saw that and realized that made us part of the meat trade,” he told me. He added, “We agreed on the spot that we’d take red meat off the menu. Then we began to express our values into the club in all respects. That began the journey.”Soon, the front office did away with white meat and fish for players, staff, and fans alike. Eventually, Vince, who is fifty-six, and can frequently be found kitted out in fashionably punk attire to go with his long, flowing hair, changed catering companies altogether, hiring Em Franklin, a cook at one of his favorite restaurants near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, the small civil parish that the team calls home.
Forest Green is the first completely vegan professional sports team in the world. But its ethos extends way beyond food. The team plays on an organic and vegan field, called the New Lawn, which is fed with a solution of Scottish seaweed that’s hand-cut and cold-pressed. No pesticides are used to kill weeds; the groundskeeper, Adam Witchell, pulls them himself. “I’m the only groundskeeper here, except for the robot,” he told me recently. He was referring to Forest Green’s lawnmower, an autonomous, solar-powered, G.P.S.-guided device they call the Mow Bot. The New Lawn’s stadium boasts solar panels, a rainwater-collection system, drainage under the pitch that captures excess water for reuse, and charging stations for electric cars. In May, fifa dubbed the team the “world’s greenest football club.”
The team’s eco-friendly transformation began after the volunteers who ran the shareholder-owned club had racked up an enormous debt and asked Vince for a loan of thirty thousand British pounds to get through the summer. Vince, a former hippie who lived in a trailer for ten years, had founded Ecotricity, one of Great Britain’s largest green-energy companies, in 1996, and made a fortune. (He’s said to be worth a hundred million pounds.) Several months later, Forest Green’s board asked Vince for more money, at which time he realized how much danger the club was in. “We faced a very clear choice between walking away and seeing it fall over, or rolling up our sleeves and getting completely immersed in the club and putting every aspect of it into a different place,” Vince told me. The only way he could right the ship, he decided, was to become the club’s director, and his company, Ecotricity, became its majority owner. That meant doing things his way, and for Vince, a devout environmentalist, the opportunity to present a green message to an unlikely audience—sports fans—proved too tempting to pass up…
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