The Forest Green Rovers Football Club in Gloucestershire, England already has a slew of green credentials to its name — but has now decided to take things one step further and test out a new sustainable kit made from coffee bean waste.
The League Two team will be trialling its prototype coffee bean kit in a match against Colchester United this Saturday.
Lab tests have shown that the new shirts, made of three cups of coffee bean waste and five plastic bottles, are lighter and more breathable than the kit they are currently using, according to the club’s owner, sustainable energy entrepreneur Dale Vince.
With the Forest Green Rovers labelled the “greenest football club in the world” by FIFA, international football's governing body, Vince has set out to show how much more sustainably managed football can be since taking over in 2011.
All the food served on the grounds on match-day is vegan, while the pitch boasts an organic lawn mowed by electric mowers and irrigated with recycled water, according to CNN. The club is powered by 100% renewable energy too.
“We have been working with PlayerLayer [a company that designs sports clothing with eco-fabrics] looking for more sustainable materials for shirts, after I learned that the default for modern sports kit had become 100% plastic,” Vince said.
“That didn’t make much sense to me from an environment perspective or a performance perspective,” he continued. "We came up with bamboo and since then we have been looking for more sustainable versions and they came up with coffee a few months ago. Saturday will be the final road test."
Other ambitious plans to improve the carbon footprint of the club include obtaining an electric, rather than petrol-fuelled, bus for the team’s transport and even a low-carbon impact all wooden stadium.
Vince went on to explain that while using bamboo for their football shirts is sustainable because bamboo is renewable, the coffee used is a waste product and the shirts will be completely recycled.
“We have to improve the ethics of clothing manufacturing and the sustainability of the materials, and we have to use less, so we are only changing one of our three kits each year,” he added.
Football on the whole has been criticised for its outsized impact on the environment, especially with its rapid expansion, sponsorship from polluting companies such as airlines, and rounds of ever-updated merchandise.
The World Land Trust estimated that 2019’s Champions League Final between Liverpool and Tottenham produced 8,693 tonnes of carbon, more than the entire city of Glasgow produces in a day, Huck magazine reported in December 2020. That’s mainly because of the hundreds of flights taken by UK fans to Madrid to watch the match.
Some players have taken a stance and promoted green initiatives. For example, Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has invested in ethical alternatives to leather, and Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin has been involved in a campaign to plant 60,000 trees in the Amazon.
Vince, who is a champion for the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Initiative, says that sports players have a lot of power to influence people to take climate action more seriously,
“I think in football we are seeing some great examples of players stepping up and using their platform. Players have a great ability to influence people,” he said. "There is an enormous opportunity that sport has and a bigger responsibility because people look up to sporting icons and take their lead from them."