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Gary Neville

For footballer Gary Neville, sustainability really does begin at home. The former Manchester United and England captain has long been planning to build a revolutionary zero-carbon underground dwelling in Lancashire, Northwest England. In August he submitted his latest plans for the five-bedroom underground property, to be powered by photovoltaic panels, heated with a ground source heat pump, and supplied with recycled rainwater.

“This has been the spark that has ignited my desire to move to a more sustainable lifestyle”, he told Our Planet. “I first became aware of the need for sustainabuilty through the development of my home. It was during this journey that I realized that I wanted to do more than just build a living environment: I wanted also to reduce the economic and environmental impact of the property. I am hoping to provide an optimum living environment for myself and my family with high eco standards that is not only unique but a template for how homes can be built.”

Neville, who joined Manchester United at the age of 16 in 1991, captained the iconic club for five years, and during more than a decade as it’s first-choice right back helped it to eight Premier League titles, three FA Cup wins, a FIFA Club World Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and other trophies. He appeared 85 times for England, becoming its 8th most capped player ever. Increasingly committed to environmental action he had his 2011 testimonial game powered by wind, and made changes to his way of life. “Like many footballers”, he says “I had my share of big, expensive cars, ironically really as I am not a car person. The petrol bills were extortionate, they lost their value. Enough was enough. I then became aware of the work that Toyota was doing in hybrid cars so I gave it a go. I changed my car to a Prius: you can imagine the stick I received when I drove into the players’ car park, but it made sense to me. I now drive a Vauxhall Ampera and I think, in the last three months, I have only had to fill it up once!”

He adds: “I am at the beginning of my journey, but I am further on than I was five years ago,and hopefully in the next further years I will be further on still. My experiences also started me thinking how we could use sport to implement sustainable issues. Sport has a global audience reaching millions. It can influence and change people’s attitudes, as we have seen over racism with the Kick It Out campaign. So what if sport stars start to install solar panels, promote recycling, travel to venues in different modes of transport. The potential is massive and can only raise awareness of sustainability.

“Stars can influence children, we all know that. Children grow up wanting to emulate their favourite sporting hero: I know I did. The Olympics will have bred a whole new generation of children wanting to row, cycle, run, just like their medal heroes of 2012. However,its not just children but adults too. It’s about breaking the stigma that green is not cool.

I honestly think that is happening. It is a slow process, but it is happening and it is all about raising awareness.”

To help this along, Neville this year joined with green entrepreneur, Dale Vince — founder of the leading British sustainable energy firm, Ecotricity — to launch a new campaign, Sustainability in Sport (SIS), to “put environmental issues at the heart of sport”, helping sports club to improve their green performance partly by setting eco-standards for pitches and other facilities. “Sport, as an industry, must grasp the green agenda”, he says. “SIS aims to raise funds and to plough them into projects with a sustainable angle. It will also use the influence of sport to both raise awareness of sustainability and create behavioural change.”