The blue football club is emerging as the unlikely leader of a green wave in sports and adventure.
"Twenty years ago, it wasn't called the green agenda. It was called business." There's a note of pleasant disbelief in Simon Taylor's voice. The Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Chelsea Football Club recently scooped a People and Environment Achievement (PEA) Award, a new scheme in association with The Co-operative to reward individuals showing innovation, inspiration and perseverance in their sector. Taylor's surprise isn't just sparked by the limelight – though he admits he was quite taken aback by the professionalism of the ceremony, and found it "a huge honour even to make the shortlist". What really gets him is winning such recognition for actions that are already amply rewarded on the balance sheet.
"A lot of good business practices have environmental practices attached to them", he tells me. "There are little things like how you can halve your paper consumption overnight – and then there are cost and energy saving measures, like building management systems. I started at Chelsea six years ago, and we already had a system that turned the lights off when you left the room."
Now all lighting at Chelsea's home ground, Stamford Bridge, is being replaced with LEDs, and motion sensors turn down the temperature if no one's around. Heat recovery coils reclaim the warmth from extracted air and store it for use when needed.
At the Cobham training ground in Surrey, meanwhile, water is collected from the turf roof and stored in a moat-like reservoir to irrigate the pitch. This moat has a dual function: it also reflects sunlight to warm the basement, which makes up a third of available space for training.
Landfill waste has also been cut to zero at both Stamford Bridge and Cobham, with the majority sent to the White City Depot – one of Europe's most advanced recycling centres.
Taylor is adamant that Chelsea "doesn't want to start preaching to other clubs" – but he hopes that it can have some sway over its 19 million global fans.
"We can reach them through Facebook groups, Twitter, ticketing and travel information..." It's this savvy approach to behaviour change that stood out at the PEA Awards. Chelsea provides its fans with free coach and train travel for selected away games to encourage fewer car trips, and has introduced a liftsharing scheme to get more fans per gallon to the stadium. Of course, all of this helps build a sense of community among the fans and loyalty to their team – assets that no club underestimates.
For some, it's business sense. For others, it's the sheer love of sport.
"We were climbing in the Andes, and we had this idea", says PEA Award-nominee Alex Smith of Fuel for Adventure. "It doesn't make sense to be out there enjoying the great outdoors [while at the same time] spoiling it too. You need lots of food, but you have to be really careful about what you leave behind. It's all very well advocating biodegradables like bananas, but have you ever had one in your pocket for a full day's climb?"
Smith and his partner Jimmy Doherty set up an enterprise in partnership with organic dried fruit company Fulwell Mill, to make energy bars with sustainably sourced ingredients and fully recyclable packaging. The ultimate goal is a product "where you could eat the whole thing" – wrapper and all. But, they complain, the packaging market is lagging behind.
"We've been to loads of packaging conventions, but it's not commercially viable to use most wrappers that come anywhere close to sustainable. They're just too expensive. There are a lot of oil companies behind the wrapping companies, and no one's doing the development…"
Fuel for Adventure is currently "moving towards" compostable wrappers with vegetable-based inks, and ploughing the takings from the 1.5 million bars it sells each year into further research and development. It hasn't yet turned over a profit, with input costs far outstripping those of non-organic competitors.
This is where schemes like the PEA Awards come in with a useful nudge. "The power of awards is pretty incredible in telling a consumer what you're about and what you're trying to do", says Smith.
Tony Juniper, environmentalist and Chair of the judging panel, agrees: "By highlighting some of the many inspiring initiatives that are underway across the UK, [the PEA Awards] will encourage many more people to get involved in bringing about the changes we so urgently need."
Anna Simpson is Managing Editor, Green Futures.
Pureprint Group is a Forum for the Future partner.
Image credit: Pgiam / istock