Manchester United’s Gary Neville has built an eco-friendly house and promotes social causes through his celebrity status. LWD subscriber Mark Williams examines how a professional footballer might also be an environmentalist, an example of eco-leadership, and a role model
Eco-leadership is a term suggested for an emerging form of leadership which has been proposed as a more socially aware replacement for controlling messianic or charismatic forms.
How media ignore energy conservation stories
What encouraged me to write about Gary Neville, was a report in the Independent about his (then) forthcoming testimonial match at the end of last season . While reading, I noticed his concern that the news media had previously showed little interest in energy conservation efforts at Manchester United, which have saved the club £235k in energy costs within 7 months during the 2008-9 financial year.
Lurid headlines and quiet conservation
That this was largely unreported is worth noting. One is more familiar with the lurid headlines of off the field exploits or other celebrity footballers. Sadly, I guess it is the latter which sell papers. Maybe Neville’s environmentalism and energy conservation is a refreshing sign of maturity?
Another example I recall is Jurgen Klinsmann during his time with Tottenham Hotspur, who chose a VW Golf in preference to a luxury sports car favoured by her peers.
An Ambassador for sport
I consider Gary Neville to be an excellent ambassador for sport. He uses his position to convey a positive image of environmentalism, responsible energy use, onservation and sensible living by example and encouragement. His inspiration came from the ‘Kick-it-Out’ anti-racism campaign, and how this was widely adopted and accepted by the fans.
Neville conveys his message by highlighting the benefits of doing things just a little differently. I empathise with this view, for it is ‘smart’ to get the same or very near to, for less energy used. An example of his persuasion was his suggestion of altering kick-off times to make greater use of natural daylight. However, this suggestion was initially met with cynicism, but gained interest.
Gary uses his position to connect with his audience and peers to promote ethics and sustainability by using his privileged position to build an energy-efficient ‘zero-carbon’ home. This conveys a cool-to-be-green image to his fans and wider audience. More people are noticing and talking about this. His testimonial match at Old Trafford was ‘powered’ entirely from renewable generation sources.
Inspiring the fans
How does sustainability and eco homes inspire football fans? While many cannot currently afford the leading-edge technologies of Neville’s home, these will become cheaper and more accessible over time. Meanwhile there is encouragement by example to do a little more with a bit less. Gary Neville is the thinking person’s footballer: he flies in the face of the common perception of feckless footballers because he is as much a leader off the pitch; it is what he is doing outside of the stadium which is now being reported.
So what makes a leading footballer a good example of eco-leadership? One reason maybe is that sportsmen and women are seen as non-political, whereas the electorate is increasingly suspicious of politicians.