By Andrew Warshaw
May 1 – It isn’t every day that a new age traveller turned environmentalist pioneer and lower-league football club chairman is invited to address the great and the good of UEFA.
But such is the impact made by Dale Vince, who runs fourth-tier Forest Green Rovers – described as the world’s “greenest” club – that he will be travelling to Switzerland on Thursday in his role as a United Nations ambassador for climate change.
Vince, chief executive of a renewable energy company, has become something of a footballing pioneer since taking over Forest Green which became the world’s first official carbon neutral club last year as part of a new UN ‘Sports for Climate Action’ initiative – with the aim to bring sporting bodies and clubs around the world together to fight climate change.
Forest Green’s sustainability spans three major areas – energy, transport and food. The club is famously vegan – serving plant-based food to its players and fans. It also plays on an organic pitch, with the stadium powered entirely by green energy.
Now Vince has been invited by UEFA to explain the club’s philosophy and how others badly need to follow suit.
On Thursday he will addressing UEFA’s 20-strong Fair Play and Social Responsibility Committee to raise awareness and stress the need to treat climate change responsibly.
“UEFA got in touch and asked if I’d go and speak to them about the topic of greening up football,” Vince explained. “It’s great that we’ve got their attention on the topic. What this tells me is that there’s an open door there in terms of adopting sustainable policies. It’s a massive opportunity and I’ll be encouraging them to bring sustainability in to their particular club or organisation. Sport really reflects wider society, where there are concerns about the environment.”
Trying to make UEFA officials and fans in general aware of the environmental challenges represents an important part of Vince’s message.
“Sport has such a big influence on the way people think and act, it’s a powerful platform that can be used to address the most urgent issue of our time.”
Vince may be unconventional by comparison with most successful businessmen and football executives but his message has touched a nerve and chimes with the current campaign for climate change, manifested by recent mass demonstrations across several cities.
He himself wanted to go on the Extinction Rebellion demo in central London and was even willing to get arrested but wasn’t sure he would have been able to get back to Forest Green, in the heart in the English countryside, in time for a series of crucial meetings including one regarding plans for the League Two club’s new stadium.
“They did a fantastic job to bring the issue to the attention of a lot of everyday people who may not always talk about the issue but who now realise this is an urgent issue,” says Vince.
What UEFA does with the information Vince provides on Thursday is anyone’s guess but just to be given the chance to address delegates shows to extent to which the issue has entered the public consciousness.
“Sports governing bodies have a leading role to play and Uefa is a great example of that. We’ve already had talks with the English Football League about their own environment policy.”
His hope is that ultimately more clubs follow Forest Green’s lead. “I’ve got no doubt that they will, it’s only a matter of time. This is the way the world is moving. There is a climate emergency.”
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