Greening up the Beautiful Game
We recently caught up with Helen Taylor, former CEO of Forest Green Rovers, whilst at the Meaning Conference. On a day dedicated to champions of better business, Helen’s journey was one that stood out. After a successful career at Ecotricity, the world’s first green energy company, she uprooted her skills, entered the football world and sparked a series of firsts. Helen soon became the club’s first chief executive in 2017. But what inspired this cross industry move was her desire to prove that the sports industry — in fact any industry — can start “doing things differently”.
Since stepping down from her position in July, she’s achieved in creating the world’s first UN certified carbon-neutral club. But what’s refreshing about Helen is that her thinking is much more than a tick box exercise. Sustainable development is looked at from all angles, with an equal concern for both the environment and local community.
We asked her a few questions about what is was like greening the game and pushing the boundaries in a traditionally male working environment.
TBT: Why did you decide now is the time to bring green energy and sustainable practices to football?
HT: For us, it doesn’t feel very unusual to be doing it. The club is a partner of Ecotricity, a green energy supplier, which I joined in 2010. Although the Forest Green community is large (at 6,000 people), greener initiatives were easy to implement from the get go. Luckily our location works in our favour. There’s a windmill up the road, which meant we could easily install solar panels in the stands to power the club.
But when asked why did we do it? Simply because we wanted to. We aren’t profit-driven, we’re purpose driven, and it’s important to look at bigger profits across all our lifestyles. I hold strong beliefs as to why we should be different, and made it my mission to integrate the ethos of Ecotricity into Forest Green.
TBT: We’re really interested in the idea that the club is carbon neutral. How does this work? Do you buy carbon credits? Do the fans?
HT: The initiative was never terribly focused on credits. The important part of being carbon neutral is trying to minimise your emissions in the first place. You do more to reduce, and start with doing as much as you can, by eliminating those carbon emissions that are created in a normal club. Then you reduce what is possible after that, and if you can’t do the last bit, we then did some offsetting. We worked with the UN, who offered a variety of different methods to achieve that offsetting. We chose to support an onshore windmill in India, and gave a bit towards that, which then meant we were 100% carbon neutral.
TBT: What was it like to be a female CEO for a football club?
HT: It was quite interesting but good fun! Interesting in the sense there are hardly any female CEOs in the football industry. The experience made me realise if you can do the job, then it really doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. From the start, that point really framed my mindset. But there are some real differences. For example, when you attend the big English Football League meetings, you’re one of very few women present. But I believe the football game is changing. It’s very interesting a woman is taking over the Premiership and is a key indicator of this progress.
TBT: What are you doing now?
HT: I stepped down as CEO this summer, as I wanted to do more of ‘the making a difference’ part of things. I’m still working for the club, but run their community outreach programme. I’m head of the community trust, known as the FGR community. We’re engaging with local schools and groups, who can learn about all the green things we do. For example, schoolchildren can come and make vegan food, which we offer on our match days. We help them understand areas of wellbeing, like the importance of sports health and being outside. We’re aware a career in sport has its fair share of highs and lows, so we try and help equip people with how best to cope with these.