Thoughts on Dale Vince OBE, a British green energy industrialist, traveller, and author.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Dale Vince or not. He lives in Stroud, a town in south-west England, which is where I’m from, and he’s a household name there. In my view, there are few people who have contributed more towards the transition to a renewable energy system than him. 

Arriving in Stroud, you will see a huge green Union Jack flag hanging from a big building. That building is Ecotricity, the first ever green energy company in the world, founded by Vince in 1995. 

The following year, Ecotricity made history by supplying businesses in Gloucestershire with green electricity for the first time, which was generated from landfill gas. 

Then, in December 1996, Vince used the money he earned from Ecotricity to build a wind turbine in Stroud after researching wind energy for the previous five years.

During the nineties, wind energy technology was in its infancy and seen as controversial. Vince saw great potential in wind energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels and was determined to build more turbines across the UK.

By 1998, Ecotricity had entered a successful partnership with Thames Water, supplying them with over £100,000 worth of renewable energy every day, which was generated by burning sewage sludge to produce biogas

This partnership took Ecotricity’s turnover to over £50 million a year, sending a powerful message to the world: that renewable energy can make money. 

Importantly, unlike most energy companies, the profits made by Ecotricity are not paid out in dividends to shareholders, but are instead reinvested into the company’s mission to build a fully green economy. 

Vince reasoned that since burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of the climate crisis, transitioning to a renewable energy system should be the top priority. Therefore, he continued to build more and more turbines, which were being used to power branches of a variety of companies, including Sainsbury’s, Ford and B&Q. 

Also, in 2003, Ecotricity began supplying green energy to households as well as businesses, which was an important step towards including more of the public in the transition away from fossil fuels. 

However, Vince was also mindful that, alongside transforming the energy system, the transport and food systems must also be revolutionised in order to deliver meaningful climate action.

From transport to football

So, in 2010, Vince created the first ever British electric supercar, called Nemesis.

Also, Ecotricity invested heavily in scaling up the electric vehicle transition by building the Electric Highway in 2011, a network of charging points for electric cars that spanned across the entire motorway in England. 

This crucially allowed early adopters of electric vehicles to travel the length of the country without running out of charge, which significantly boosted the popularity of electric cars. 

Vince diversified into sports as well, buying the football club Forest Green Rovers (FGR) in 2010. He set about transforming the team, turning it into the world’s first vegan football club. 

Now, the stadium site is organic, with no chemical or pesticide use, and the pitch captures and recycles rainwater for irrigation. 

Up until this point, the worlds of football and environmentalism had little to do with each other, but both crowds attract passionate people, and the merging turned out to be a brilliant idea. 

In 2017, FIFA named FGR as the greenest football club in the world, boosting the profile of the team even further.

Wind turbine under clouds.

An Ecotricity wind turbine (Annabelle Tipper/Unsplash)

The battle for a green Britain

Vince’s first book, Manifesto: The Battle for a Green Britain, presents the hopeful view that we have the means to transform our energy, transport and food systems, and that a sustainable future is within reach. 

This is not simply naive optimism, as he has spent a lifetime researching and proactively throwing himself into these systemic transitions. 

In terms of energy, Vince explains that a fully renewable energy system makes economic and logical sense, seeing as this will produce more energy that is both cheaper and more secure, while also having a very low environmental impact. 

He proposes that Britain has enough wind and solar energy to power our country 10 times over, and that a 100% renewable energy system could be possible within 10 years. 

Granted, this will be a technical challenge for the National Grid, but he outlines how the Smart Grid concept can handle the balancing of the generation and storage of green energy. 

Ecotricity has also studied the feasibility of producing green gas from grass, using a green gas mill. The study found that there is enough spare land in Britain to grow enough grass to heat all of our 26 million homes. 

This will also create 75,000 jobs in the rural economy, and provide more habitat for wildlife. 

Businesses’ demands for gas heating are not accounted for in this study, however, but a shift in our food system would free up a vast proportion of the UK’s landmass, providing ample opportunity for more green gas mills. 

Plant-based power

By replacing the animal products in our diet with plants, and transitioning to a plant-based food system, we could free up 75% of Britain’s farmed land, which is equivalent to about 50% of our landmass. 

This transition is central to Vince’s action plan for a green Britain. Not only would a plant-based food system provide a monumental opportunity for rewilding on a mass scale, but it would also mean that we could produce many times more food. 

On average, it takes six kilograms of plant protein to produce one kilogram of meat protein, and this inefficient protein conversion efficiency ratio is not justifiable when millions of British people are living in food poverty. 

Excessive quantities of meat and dairy products in our diets are also a leading cause of most chronic illnesses suffered by people in the UK. Science does not support the pervasive myth that we need to eat meat in order to have a healthy, balanced diet. 

Vince debunks the popular ‘vitamin B12’ argument, stating that 90% of all the vitamin B12 we produce as food supplements is fed straight to factory farmed animals, which make up 95% of all meat produced. 

This is because while livestock would normally source their B12 from contacting soil bacteria during grazing, they are denied this as they cannot go outdoors. 

Instead of eating animals to get vitamin B12, just eat the supplements that we routinely feed them in the first place. 

Finally, Vince doesn’t shy away from criticising the cruelty and violence of our food system in the UK. While this may turn off some readers, I respect the courage it takes to reveal invisible and uncomfortable truths that are more easily ignored. 

Transitioning to a plant-based food system will not only emancipate animals from exploitation; it will also be critical to restoring biodiversity and natural habitats, drastically decreasing methane emissions, and improving human health. 

The future of flying

Vince also explores the logistics surrounding the electrification of our entire transportation system, with the most challenging example being long-haul flights

Once again, he has a positive attitude towards this challenge, reassuring the reader that this seemingly overwhelming task can be achieved if the political will is there.

Who bears responsibility? 

These three systemic transitions will only be possible if significant action is undertaken by the three main sectors in society: governments, businesses and people. 

Governments must utilise the three levers available to them in order to create change: taxes, subsidies, and regulations. 

For example, the British government currently spends 25% more money supporting the fossil fuel industry than the renewables industry — £10 billion compared to £8 billion. This financial support comes in the form of both tax breaks and subsidies. 

Vince suggests shifting £2 billion of government spending from fossil fuels to renewables. Within 5 years, we would no longer be wasting money on subsidising fossil fuels. 

Similarly, the government spends around £3.5 billion a year on farming subsidies, of which about half goes towards meat production. Imagine if we spent all that money subsidising plant farming instead. 

Businesses also have a vital role to play in these transitions, as they ultimately provide the products and services we need to transform our economy and create new industries that do not destroy the planet. 

However, the role of business must be repurposed. Business is a useful tool for achieving difficult things, with a model that is organised around a central aim, and an extremely efficient operating system, compared to a charity, for example. 

Instead of businesses existing solely to create profit, they must instead pursue environmental and social objectives.

Ecotricity is a brilliant example of this mission-led business model; there needs to be more companies like that in order to get out of this mess. 

Finally, people must take action for the climate and biodiversity. In the West, we are living in a constant state of denial, refusing to accept the reality that we have plundered the world into a catastrophe in just a few lifetimes.

Now we must devote our energy to addressing this huge problem. It will be difficult, but there are plans in place. 

As we bear the historical responsibility for creating this mess by enthusiastically burning fossil fuels and embracing factory farming, we must also become leaders in the struggle for a green future. 

My thoughts on the book

I got Vince’s book for Christmas, and I ended up reading it all in one go on boxing day, finishing around 3 a.m. I found the hopeful energy of the book addictive and inspiring. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so positive about the future. 

Vince writes in a fast-paced and common-sense style, which is the exact opposite of most writing you can find about environmental issues and systemic transitions in academic literature. 

The book is also autobiographical. I loved reading about his ten years spent on the road living with the New Age traveller community and resisting police violence at the iconic Battle of the Beanfields near Stonehenge. 

Dale Vince is not perfect, but he has become a major role model for me. I don’t expect to make millions like him or to become such a prominent figure in the green movement. 

But I do aspire to hold on to my passion for a better future and to keep a sense of clarity about what changes we must make as a species in order to safeguard the planet for the next generation of humans, along with all other animals and ecosystems, which are equally deserving of a liveable future.