Jerseys made of bamboo waste and recycled plastic, a stadium powered by one hundred percent renewable energy, organic lawn carpet, electric car charging stations and exclusively vegan food for fans and players. Forest Green Rovers, part of the English Quarter-Division, went from a nearly bankrupt British semi-amateur team to the world's first carbon-neutral football club in ten years.

Few people think about pollution when it comes to football, even though the connection is obvious. Clubs that play in the higher division usually operate large stadiums with thousands or tens of thousands of people. Buildings need to be heated, cooled, lit, which can consume a lot of energy. As is the maintenance of the football field: in order for the grass to grow faster, not only do you need plenty of water for irrigation, but special night lighting for the grass is also essential, and of course the heating must also be taken care of so that the well-groomed lawn does not freeze. Also, a lot of energy can be consumed by large projectors, scoreboards, advertising boards.

Fans eat and drink during matches, which produces a lot of plastic waste. Unconcentrated water is also used in washbasins. In addition to this comes the travel of the players and the professional staff, not to mention the transport of the fans, which is a burden on the city, and in the case of foreign fans, the environmental effects such as carbon emissions are even more evident. One match day can be a huge burden.

But how can this environmental burden be reduced? According to the Sports Positive Summit report published in January 2021, there are eight areas where clubs have the opportunity to operate more environmentally friendly, to have a direct impact. They are as follows:

  • the use of renewable energy sources,
  • energy efficiency,
  • efficiency of water use,
  • environmentally friendly modes of transport,
  • waste management,
  • replacement of disposable plastics,
  • availability of plant-based or low-carbon foods,
  • communication, commitment to green goals.

Although Sports Positive Summit analyzed the teams of the English first division, the Premier League based on the above, according to FIFA, the greenest club plays in the English quarterfinals. Forest Green Rovers also received an honorary title from the United Nations: they were the first in the world to earn the title of carbon-neutral football club. Moreover, today representatives of Premier League teams also visit Forest Green Rovers from time to time to learn about its good practices, and football clubs from other countries or even representatives of other sports are also interested in each other.


The birthplace of football is undoubtedly England. It was here that the sport was first established in its modern form, which still enjoys immense popularity to this day. The Premier League is the most revenue-producing league in the world, with teams playing tens of thousands of full houses from week to week if epidemiological restrictions do not make it impossible. But even in the fourth or fifth class, the number of thousands of spectators is not uncommon, which exceeds the viewership of the Hungarian first-class champions. However, economic stability does not necessarily exist. In England, too, more and more clubs are forced to face bankruptcy proceedings, and associations with enormous traditions that are more than a hundred years old are also on the verge of dissolution.

Forest Green Rovers, founded in 1889 in the West of England, also had to face this. What a prestigious club it is, shows that the Ferencváros Torna Club was established only ten years later, in 1899. True, the patina does not necessarily mean success for the English team either: Forest Green Rovers have always played in the low division, and despite the fact that in the Gloucestershire county there is in Gloucestershire on the model of El Clásico of Real Madrid and Barcelona El Glosico, the clashes against Cheltenham Town hardly interest too many people outside the locals.

Forest Green Rovers have been struggling to survive for years, the annual budget was ploughed together by donations from the league, the municipality and local entrepreneurs, living day by day. In 2010, such a “hatter” action was found in Dale Vince, one of the most successful companies in the region, the renewable energy company Ecotricity. founder-owner. The club asked to support the team with a smaller amount, in exchange for receiving any appearance surface in the matches. Although he really could have asked for anything, Dave Vince saw no business value even in this offer. However, as a local patriot, Forest Green Rovers was important to him, so he recommended “all or nothing”: he would buy the whole club, but then it would be transformed in all areas as he wanted.

In his approach, environmental awareness and business goals played a role at the same time: he decided to create the world's first carbon-neutral football club, which obviously also promotes the promotion of his renewable energy company, the cleverly named Ecotricity.

Fans do not like the change, so they did not take it well when one of the first steps he took was to change the jersey to include neon green, also known as lime green. It also caused a minor scandal by the fact that the colors of the coat of arms were changed to black, green and white, leaving the cross of St. George, which was also the flag of England. Many felt that with this his company, Ecotricity, imposed the colors on the club, but he indicated that on the one hand the word green is also included in the name of the team, and on the other hand that the association is really green, that is, the change is based on real foundations and it is not just about redesigning the club culture.


An organic turf mat has been installed at Forest Green Rovers Stadium that not only drains but also collects and utilizes rainwater, providing the amount of water needed for irrigation. The stadium, called The New Lawn, is maintained entirely from renewable energy, with a significant portion of the electricity generated by solar panels placed on the top of the stadium. The mower is not only electric, but it does not require a human to operate it, guided by GPS coordinates, it automatically walks the track and mows the grass. Grass that is not treated with any herbicides or spray chemicals and is recycled after being cut: composted into farmland by a local farmer. The involvement of fans as volunteers is also taken seriously. There was an example of how the applicants repainted the buildings with environmentally friendly paint from roof to toe, thus saving the club's budget and not burdening the environment.

The players' meze is made of 50 percent bamboo waste and 50 percent recycled plastic. A trifle, but an important detail is to wash the jerseys with phosphorus-free washing powder at the lowest possible temperature.

The team travels 100 percent in electric vehicles, thereby also reducing carbon emissions. Fans are also trying to convince them to do the same: those arriving with electric cars can charge their vehicles at the charging stations located near the stadium, as well as promoting car sharing. Forest Green Rovers compensates for the carbon emissions of fans arriving at The New Lawn Stadium and attending away matches by including a compensation amount in each ticket.


Although the current stadium is very environmentally friendly, plans have already been completed for the new stadium, which will be equipped with the latest sustainable technologies. In addition to this green, a forest also named after the club will also appear: it will be the first sports facility to be made only and exclusively of wood. And the parking lot will really be in a “park”: 500 trees will be planted and a hedge 1500 meters long will be formed next to the stadium to receive guests. This is also indicated by the name of the establishment: Eco Park.

And the designer of Eco Park is none other than the star architect Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016, whose design includes buildings such as the Hong Kong Innovation Tower, the Canton Opera House or the water sports center prepared for the 2012 London Olympics. Despite this, the environmentally friendly concept of Eco Park was rejected at first by the local authority in mid-2019, but their decision caused so much outrage that the regulation was later changed, so that construction work could start from the end of the same year.

These efforts have already been recognized by the United Nations: in 2018, Forest Green Rovers became the world's first carbon-neutral football club. As owner Dale Vince put it: “kWe are an icsi club with great ambitions and it is fantastic to be working with the UN to take the message of sustainability everywhere in the world.”. Miguel Naranjo, Program Manager of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), highlighted:”The most beautiful thing about the history of Forest Green Rovers is that it is a small organization with a limited budget, yet doing a lot to reduce its environmental footprint. And if Forest Green Rovers can do it, everyone else can do it.”


A significant element of the green club model is the application and promotion of environmentally friendly vegan nutrition. According to a communication from the unit, one of the main reasons they went vegan is that mass livestock farming has a pronounced negative impact from an animal welfare and environmental point of view.

Their pioneering, innovative endeavors have also been recognized by major international institutions. In 2017, they were the first to receive the mark proving vegan certification from the Vegan Society. Red meat has not been consumed at the club since 2011, and since 2015 only vegan dishes have been on the menu. All this not only means that on match days in the buffets of Forest Green Rovers you can buy food made exclusively from plant ingredients, but also that the employees of the sports association and even the players receive vegan food every day. No one, but no one, can bring in or eat meat on the club grounds.

Of course, at the beginning, many did not like it either. As Vince Dale put it:Becoming the world's first vegan football club was the hardest thing we've ever done. And even that wasn't that difficult.”The educational messages were not overthought either:”We told the fans: there is a football game every week, every two weeks, and the whole program is only a couple of hours. Then why not eat something different, try something new, something healthy and delicious, compared to what you eat all the other days of the week?”In the end, it also turned out that fans actually liked vegan food: while the number of spectators increased fourfold, the food sales increased fivefold.

What's more, the players could also benefit from a vegan diet and the resulting easier digestion, because the previously fifth-class Forest Green Rovers advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history in 2017. And the fans were also very happy about this, as we admit, for them the place in the table is more important than sustainability. Climate change and the reduction of the ecological footprint are preceded in order of importance by the weekend's result against a neighboring city.

Despite the initial criticism, fans can feel the positive effect of each measure on their own skin. With car sharing, for example, they can get to matches not only earlier, but also cheaper, and it also expands their circle of acquaintances and friends. Through vegan food, they learn about a healthier diet, different from classic British cuisine and fast food offerings. After studying the benefits of renewable energies and after seeing solar panels in the stadium, quite a few fans installed solar panels in their homes. Fans have become more educated, more conscious consumers, which is reflected in their other consumer decisions, consumer behavior and their efforts to live in a more sustainable way, for example, an increase in the purchase of electric cars in their circles.


Efforts for change have paid off both in England and internationally. Despite the fact that Rovers play only in the fourth division (and not so long ago it was even in the fifth class, as already mentioned), the news of their green philosophy and activity has spread everywhere. So much so that, according to their media analysis, they have reached three billion people with their press appearances since 2017! Moreover, Forest Green Rovers now has its own fan clubs in twenty different countries. And when the new jersey was released, in the first 24 hours there were orders from 16 countries, including places such as South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia.

It is also a great achievement that first-class football teams and leading clubs in other sports regularly attend Forest Green Rovers with good practices such as vegan hamburgers, parking lots with electric cars or installing solar panels - the latter was implemented by Arsenal after the visit. Delegations from UEFA, Bundesliga, World Rugby, Roland Garros, EFL, Sky Sport and even Wembley Stadium have visited Forest Green Rovers.


Dale Vince and the team have been supported by a number of sponsors in recent years, as they can offer a value proposition relevant to any organization/company that wants to emphasize its climate protection and green nature. The first and most important sponsorship cooperation was, of course, with the owner's company, Ecotricity, which supplies green energy and operates modern wind farms — as it is on the green values it represents that the paradigm shift of Forest Green Rovers is based. This relationship has now become much more fruitful for the sponsor, the extra media attention and the relationship system thus formed have also added a lot of marketing value to Ecotricity. Among the first sponsors, Grundon joined the Forest Green Rovers cause: they recycle one hundred percent of the garbage produced by the club. Quorn, a vegetarian and vegan food company, helped the sports association achieve its vision of becoming the world's first vegan football club.

These partnerships have been ongoing since the beginning of the change of ownership, meaning that working with Forest Green Rovers has since become a proven and fruitful business for each company. As for the skull symbol so often used in football berks, Forest Green Rovers also featured their own version, thanks to a collaboration with the international non-profit conservation organization Sea Shepherd.


In 2020, these collaborations were scaled up. The club's new investor was Héctor Bellerín, a professional footballer from Arsenal (now on loan at Real Betis), who became the second largest shareholder in Forest Green Rovers after depositing a serious amount of money. Bellerín has been committed to green values for years, he is vegan himself, and he has also agreed to fund the planting of 3,000 trees for each team victory of the season through an association. The 25-year-old has since turned his social media page to support Forest Green Rovers and the cause they represent, bringing the message of sustainability and climate neutrality to millions. Bellerín also helped the club to rest on an even more stable financial footing.

And what can come next? The association now seeks to extend the values it represents globally. As one of the marketing laws says, being the first in something is one of the most important to business success. Since Forest Green Rovers became the first carbon-neutral football club in the world, everyone is tying this marker to it, so that other associations can no longer occupy the leading role. Followers, on the other hand, will be sure that if sustainability gains more space through them, it will be good for the whole planet.

As Dale Vince put it:”It's a great thing to be first, but I think it's only a matter of time before the big guys like Real Madrid, Manchester United or the San Francisco 49ers start to follow our lead.But other clubs can also start working on sustainability. Important advice for them in this regard is that”We should not worry about what we have no influence on, but focus on what a club can do to protect the environment.Said the businessman.

Dr. The writing of Árpád Papp-Váry and Máté Farkas was originally published in the 2021/4 issue of the Brand Monitor.