Gary Neville yesterday placed himself at the head of a campaign to make football more environmentally sustainable, declaring that he wants to drive change in fan behaviour in the same way that the Kick it Out campaign has driven out the scourge of racism.
Neville, who will devote a large slice of the revenue from his testimonial game against Juventus next Tuesday to the environmental cause, told The Independent that he would engage football's governing bodies to reduce carbon emissions and drive home an environmental message.
"Sport is such a powerful [vehicle for change]," Neville said. "If Manchester United want to get a message across in something, they will do, they have that power, and so do the Premier League. It is worldwide – watched by 1.15 billion people every week. While United have 75,000 people coming every week, there is an audience there that means sport can be at the forefront of this. We have a team of people behind this to make sure we can become as powerful as possible in the next few years."
The former Manchester United captain, whose zero-carbon eco-home in the Lancashire Pennines became only the 17th of its kind nationwide to secure planning approval last week, today reveals details of a Sustainability in Sport fund, set up in partnership with the Ecotricity green energy supplier, which will funnel grants to green community sports projects. Though the question of football's carbon footprint has tended to be focused on internationals – the last World Cup had a carbon footprint nine times greater than the previous competition at 2.75 million tonnes – simple activities like watching a football match account for most of our carbon emissions, rather than a lack of insulation or a prevalence of 4x4 cars.
Neville, who believes that clubs could ultimately be persuaded to think about earlier kick-off times to reduce the need for energy-intensive floodlights, said that he has encountered some cynicism to his ideas, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had his own eco-house, was receptive and Rio Ferdinand has also recently been awakened to the environmental message and has had solar panels fitted on his house. Neville said that a lack of interest in stories about energy conservation meant that United's own work had not been recognised. The club recently achieved the Carbon Trust Standard for work including reducing lighting by 50 per cent in the North Stand tunnel, which alone is saving the club £10,000 each year. For the financial year 2008-09, Manchester United's carbon management efforts helped the club save over £125,000 in electricity, £110,000 in gas and £235,000 in total energy use in seven months.
Neville said that a belief that footballers were incapable of taking up such causes was inevitable. "You're always going to get that attitude," he said. "I could build a house that wasn't sustainable and that wasn't sending a message out. But I'm in a privileged position. There will be a time when everyone can afford technologies [like eco-houses]. My house might be a statement piece but sometimes it's important to convey the message."Reuse content