Tucked away in the Green Mountain State is a new American soccer club with heartwarming ambition. You may not know about Vermont Green FC (VGFC) of the United Soccer League (USL), and that’s understandable. Playing in the third tier of the American pyramid, the Burlington-based team began operations in 2021 and completed its inaugural season in the summer of 2022. It is a minor league club that aims to raise awareness about sustainability through the power of sports and community involvement.
VGFC is in the USL League Two, a series of clubs from smaller cities around North America, and plays 14 games due to the league’s less grand nature and size. However, that hasn’t stopped the club from becoming an influential symbol for Vermont soccer fans.
“Not only did we see awareness grow about what the club is doing, but we saw engagement grow. We had significant attendance growth throughout the season, culminating in a sold-out final regular season match of 2,500 fans,” club representatives told Consensus. “We also had a group of our supporters independently form and create a mission-aligned supporters group.”
The club has publicly set up environmental and social justice campaigns, such as becoming a net-zero emission organization, fighting systemic racism in soccer, and donating club earnings to environmental advocacy programs. Perhaps most important, the team has educated fans about the different economic and social challenges that Americans face.
Taking action to support the environment is embedded into the competitive strategy and culture of the club. Rather than build a costly new stadium, VGFC shares a field with the University of Vermont. To keep track of and eliminate all emissions from club operations, the team worked with Science Based Targets, a firm that helps businesses identify and control greenhouse emission rates.
This clarity is pertinent to being open and honest about the club’s climate impact. All club merchandise is made from recycled or upcycled materials. The team supports the idea of a circular economy that reuses clothes and materials without creating more waste.
Keeping with community engagement, VGFC partners with 1% for the Planet, based in Burlington. One percent of proceeds from merchandise and ticket sales go directly to this organization, furthering environmental initiatives across the state.
VGFC is not the first club with a strong desire to promote sustainability as a core value. In the U.S., USL and Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs have adopted eco-friendly actions. A new Portland, ME-based USL club, whose name has yet to be determined, also has a community-driven green mission. It has worked with the Portland immigrant center to supply kids with books, soccer balls, training equipment, and community college information for young adults.
At the MLS level, DC United hosted a sustainability night where it handed out 5,000 Kraft boxes that are plantable and filled with tree seeds. Out west, Colorado Rapids hosted a green initiative week from April 18 to 30 this year that raised funds toward an effort to reduce glacial melting.
You can’t talk about sustainability in soccer without mentioning Forest Green Rovers. Think of this club as the Vermont Green of England, similarly stationed in the third tier of the English system.
Through its work of using LED lighting for lower energy use and the whole club adopting a vegan, plant-based diet to reduce individual carbon footprints, the club earned the honor of FIFA’s greenest club in 2017.
Also situated in a smaller city, Nailsworth, the Rovers travel to away games by an electric bus while encouraging fans to use public transportation, walk, or bike to get to home matches. The club plans to construct a new stadium called Eco Park to embody the club’s commitment even further. It will be made entirely from wood and run almost entirely on renewable energy sources.
The small-town appeal of VGFC brings the citizens of Burlington together. Since there are not many professional sports teams in Vermont, this camaraderie is a big deal. It’s creating a sense of community while promoting a sustainability message.
“We are constantly looking for ways to advance the club’s environmental justice mission,” club representatives said. “We are currently in the planning stages for this next season and are evaluating the initiatives that will be prioritized.”