Ecotricity boss, Dale Vince, tells Tony Wardle why he is taking his campaign to save the world into the macho setting of burger-eating professional football.
Today Forest Green Rovers - Tomorrow... The World
The Blue Square Bet Premier league is where football clubs go when they drop out of the four divisions of the football league. Others are born and bred there. On the day I watched Forest Green Rovers play, they were up against one-time Premiership big boys, the Dons.
Wimbledon was made infamous by its hard man midfielder and peripatetic actor, Vinnie Jones, and now here they were on a football pitch atop a pretty rural hill on the outskirts of Stroud in Gloucestershire with an attendance of about 2,000 locals. How the mighty have fallen!
It was a crucial match for both teams - one to gain promotion, the other to avoid relegation. It was the Rovers who were fighting to survive! In fact they might have been out of football entirely six months ago if Dale Vince, vegan, founder and CEO of Britain's only clean, green energy company, hadn't come to their rescue. Ecotricity's offices are based five minutes from the ground and Dale wanted to save this local institution with its more than 100 years of history. He loves football but there was more to it than that. Just weeks after becoming chairman of the club he banned red meat from the dressing room for reasons of health and as part of his green agenda. It then seemed fairly logical to extend it to the rest of the ground and meat burgers and sausages were given a red card and were substituted by veggie burgers.
Well, you'd think he had called for compulsory castration, such was the outcry from notoriously macho football supporters everywhere. Had they known that Dale does ballet and is going to introduce it into his players' training regime, I can only imagine the outcome. As it was, fingers were wagged in warning and burger sales slumped - well, for two weeks they did after which they returned to normal and nobody thought any more about it.
"The decision was part of a much bigger attempt to raise eco awareness," explains Dale. "It was to get people thinking about the big themes of energy, transport and food, all the things we believe in. I was shocked by the outcry from some of the supporters but then it's all tied in with male virility and working class culture. Men seem immune to the moral argument and simply don't hear the environmental one so my approach is through health."
Dale Vince is an athletic, tall guy and presents a pretty commanding macho image of his own, which probably helps. He recently played a charity match against a Hollyoaks team and won it with a last minute belter of a header. "Didn't do my vegan image any harm", he smiles.
"I'm bringing environmental responsibility to the club, which includes water recycling and eventually the self-generation of electricity and shortly we'll be going organic. I intend it to become an ecocentre that offers a model for others.
"At the moment we're still selling free-range chicken and sustainably-caught fish because this is a gradual process and I'm trying to take people with me rather than force things through. The number of news reports and personal interviews that resulted has really helped to get the message out there. It's exactly what I wanted."
And reading through some of those reports, it is pleasing to see that they are pretty accurate and fair, when micky-taking would have been so easy.
Dale Vince is an old friend of Viva!'s and his story is extraordinary. After leaving school, with a bucketful of O-levels he spurned the employment treadmill and spent 12 years in a variety of old vehicles and benders as a new age traveller.
"I've been concerned about the sustainability of life since I was a kid. I was a drop-out, searching for an alternative way to live. In the early 90's, I was living on a hill in an old military vehicle I called home and using a small windmill to power the lights. That's what inspired me to drop back in and promote the use of large-scale wind energy. The idea for Ecotricity came a few years later."
The idea behind Ecotricity is a simple one - charge a fair price for wind-generated electricity and use the profits to build new wind turbines in an ever-expanding, carbon-free snowball. That has become a reality and Ecotricity is now a mainstream electricity supplier and has also moved into gas supply with a source from Holland based on the anaerobic digestion of sugar beet waste.
Obviously, as its customer base grows, Ecotricity has to provide a mix of its own generated fuel and that from mainstream sources but its investment in new turbines and other sources of clean energy outstrips all the other major fuel suppliers by a factor of between 50 and 100 per customer.
Dale Vince also sees diet as an essential part of his Earth-saving strategy.
"I went vegetarian when I left home and started to feed myself. Meat has always revolted me but I came from a family of meat eaters to whom my ideas were heresy. But the world has moved on massively and Viva! has played a big part in that - today, vegetarianism is a pretty normal lifestyle choice. Give it another few years and veganism will be, too!"
You can sign up to Ecotricity for your green electricity and gas supplies and earn Viva! a bonus of £40 in the process. Contact them at www.ecotricity.co.uk/viva, email email@example.com or phone on 01453 756111. Don't forget to use Viva!'s name to ensure we get your donation.
And the result of the football match? Dale's Forest Green Rovers took on the Don's and should have beaten them but were happy to settle for a 0:0 draw and stay up. Just you wait until next season when diet and ballet will produce super champions. I just know it!
Football Food Crazy!
From Viva!life magazine, issue 49, Spring 2012
Viva!’s founder, Juliet Gellatley, feasts on a new vegan menu in the macho world of professional football Never thought I’d say it but I’ve got lulled into football – and through an unlikely source, my stomach! Forest Green Rovers, based in Gloucestershire, are a Blue Square Premier club whose chairman is on a eco mission. Dale Vince, vegan, founder and CEO of Britain’s only clean, green energy company, Ecotricity loves football – but also animals and the planet.
Just weeks after becoming chairman of the club he banned red meat from the dressing room for reasons of health and as part of his green agenda. He then extended it to the rest of the ground and meat burgers and sausages were given a red card and were substituted by veggie burgers. Now Rovers have gone a step further and launched Britain’s first vegetarian and vegan menu for football fans. It’s part of Dale’s plan to create the UK’s most sustainable football club. Dale explains: “Forest Green Rovers began this journey a year ago. I’m bringing environmental responsibility to the club, which includes water recycling and we’ve just installed solar power on the stadium’s roof. We also changed what we fed to players but it’s just as important what we feed our fans.
“When you take meat out of the diet, some people think that restricts choice but it actually opens up a different world for them to try. So we’re doing this to provide tasty food and because it takes 10 times more energy to feed a meat-eater than a vegetarian. So Rovers is becoming the first sports club to offer fans and players a sustainable menu.”
At the launch of the new menu by caterers, Relish, last December, me and my sons, Jazz and Finn, tried a fabulous array of dishes including rainbow kobez wrap with pumpkin hummus, grated beets and carrot; polenta chips with chilli and thyme; Jerusalem artichoke soup and roasted artichoke wedges; and Rocky Mountain veggie chilli. Desserts included pear & apple fiands and cardamon & ginger tart. It was exceptionally impressive. Contemporary, delicious food a million miles from the junk usually offered to footie fans.
I asked FGR football players Reece Styche and Chris Todd how the fayre has been received. Reece told me: “The new menu is a good idea, it’s the future. Eating less meat means killing less animals – and being healthier. I eat vegetarian at the club now and I enjoy it, I’ve got a broader vision of food.”
Chris chipped in: “At first players resisted the change, we had a mental block that we wanted meat! But now the boys are happy to eat vegetarian. Dale wants us to have proper food and the caterers have done really well. The lads now look forward to the meals – we hope the fans will open their minds and get stuck in too!”
With that I tucked in to my lovely tasters, sipped some champagne and watched FGR win an exciting match. Hmmm, could get a taste for this football culture!