The rules of the game we call soccer, also known worldwide as football, haven’t changed much in the 170 or so years since the sport originated in Britain.
But at a minor league team in a small town a couple of hours west of London, football is being reinvented.
The Forest Green Rovers are the world’s first vegan, carbon-neutral professional sports team.
The Rovers weren’t making money or winning and were on the verge of going under when Dale Vince, the owner of a locally-based, renewable energy company, stepped in to save them.
“Did you have the big idea then that you would take this long-established club that was in financial difficulty and not just rescue it, but turn it into what it’s become, this kind of ideal?” CBS News’ Mark Phillips asked Vince.
“No. All of that kind of grew organically. Like you say, it was without any thought other than saving the club, and then everything else became apparent, one thing at a time,” Vince replied.
The first thing that became apparent was that Vince, a long-time vegan, found himself in the sports business and the meat business. Not for long. The club not only stopped serving meat to the players, but they also stopped serving it to the fans.
And a funny thing happened. Everybody liked the food. Former carnivore players like Dan Sweeney said it even improved their game.
“Just faster recovery times, before games pre-match, you feel like you got way more energy,” Sweeney said.
Then another funny thing happened. The team started winning. They’re now fighting to move up into a higher division of the English League system.
The club now powers its park with wind turbines and solar panels. It plays on an organic field: No chemical fertilizers, just seaweed. Even the water they use is collected and used again.
“How do you go carbon neutral? You are in the sports business. You have to go to away games. Your fans travel, all this stuff eats up, eats up energy,” Phillips asked.
“You’ve got to measure your carbon footprint first, then you’ve got to do what you can to reduce it, and then what you’ve got left that you can’t reduce, you offset by a scheme that absorbs carbon in some other way,” Vince said.
This year’s uniforms are made out of bamboo. Next year’s uniforms will be made out of used coffee grounds. The team hopes to build a new stadium, built not out of steel or concrete but out of wood.
“The question I keep coming back to is why? Are you trying to create an example here? Or is it just part of your own personal approach to life that you want to run a business this way?” Philips asked.
“You know, it’s both,” Vince said.
“That you happen to have a football club, soccer, we call it, and that, and you can turn into and run it the way that you want it to run?” Philips replied.
“Yeah, I run everything the way I want to run it,” Vince said.