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The big interview   |   Climate change   |   Ethical business   |   Renewable energy

The man on a zero-carbon mission

“I’m convinced that my Asperger’s is nothing less than a superpower,” declares Dale Vince, founder of pioneering renewable energy firm Ecotricity and chairman of Forest Green Rovers, the 'greenest football club in the world.' 

Is this neuro-divergence a common trait, unifying some of the world’s boldest and most dedicated activists? The thought has certainly occurred to Vince. “You’ve got people like Greta, Chris Packham and me who are all pursuing sustainability, and we’ve all got the same condition, that’s really interesting,” he says. 

“I wonder if the traits of Asperger’s are actually fundamental to the pursuit of sustainability, because we have a different view of what’s happening. We see it very clearly.”

It might also be due to these traits that Vince comes across as quite an intense person, speaking at such a pace that it can be hard for mere mortals to keep up. He’s a man who knows exactly what he is going to say, long before he actually says it. 

And how Vince describes himself is a bit of a clue to how he’s achieved so much in the last 25 years, building up his green empire. In the process he’s become something of a cult personality in the environmental movement, a regular figure in the media via his column in the Daily Express, his own podcast Zerocarbonista, and he’s a veracious tweeter, willing to take on anyone who challenges his views on the social media platform. 

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Diagnosed with Aspergers, Vince sees it as his superpower and key to his success.  

“I’m easily bored. I’m kind of keen to get things done,” he says. “Things have happened too slowly, things take too long. I probably would rather that they would happen at the speed at which I could think of them, but that doesn’t work in the real world. I’m happy when I’m busy, busy getting something done.” 

It’s fair to say he has already got a lot done. His journey began 25 years ago with his first windmill. When he tried to negotiate a fair price for his energy with the local monopoly energy company, he was laughed out of the room.

According to Vince, this is when his self-professed qualities of stubbornness and doggedness come into their own. 

“The harder someone pushes me to do something, the harder I just push back, it’s like a law of physics. Equal and opposite forces,” Vince says, explaining how that initial injustice drove him to establish Britain’s first green energy company, Ecotricity. 

Ecotricity now turns over three quarters of a billion pounds a year in the supply of green energy and the management of ‘the Electric Highway’, the national network of charging points Ecotricity pioneered over ten years ago. 

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Vince has come a long way since he erected his first windmill in 1995. Credit: Ecotricity 

In 2010, Vince became the majority shareholder and chairman of league two football club, Forest Green Rovers. It might sound like an odd investment for a green energy company but for Vince it was the missing part of puzzle: a way in to finally campaign on food. 

With fierce views on animal farming – he describes it as “the number one immoral act” – he has used his acquisition of the club as an outlet to campaign on veganism. Despite much uproar from players and fans, Forest Green Rovers became the first vegan professional football club in the world in 2015. 

But you get the impression that Vince simply doesn’t care about any of the criticism, it’s all background noise to him. Nothing will distract him from achieving his mission, a zero-carbon future. 

And this is the premise for his book, Manifesto: How a Maverick Entrepreneur Took on British Energy and Won. The book is part biography, where he describes his year living on the road and his “run-ins with some corporate bastards along the way”. But as the title suggests, it’s also Vince’s manifesto for a radical decarbonised future.  

It all boils down to three areas; energy, transport, and food. “These areas of life are responsible for 80 per cent of everybody’s personal carbon footprint,” Vince explains. “You can apply it to an individual or a company of any size.”

The book goes into the detail, but today Vince is adamant this simple mantra can be a vital tool in the pursuit of a green Britain, combatting a sort of eco-anxiety that can often stifle positive action. 

“It’s quite common for people to think that it’s not possible for me to have any impact, or what can I do. At the same time, we’re bombarded with messages about we should and shouldn’t do. It can be overwhelming.

“If you look at these three areas, it makes it immediately addressable. I find that to be a really empowering act.” 

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Vince saw Forest Green Rovers as his chance to campaign on food and veganism.

Vince seems to oscillate between two different attitudes towards the current crises’ humanity faces. One paints a picture of serenity; totally certainty that we’ll solve them, pointing to the huge shift in consumption in electric cars, renewable energy and plant-based food as definitive proof that we’re heading in the right direction. 

But conversely, he is palpably frustrated that “things aren’t changing fast enough by any degree.” He puts this down to what he calls “the dead hand of government.” 

“The playing field is rigged at the moment against the good things,” he says. “The subsidies in brown [fossil fuel] energy are way bigger than in green energy. We pay a carbon tax as a green energy company. We create no carbon, and we pay a carbon tax which is just perverse.”

Would he ever consider a future cameo in politics, and take matters into his own hands? It’s something listeners of his podcast suggest no end. 

“I used to think politics would be a hideous waste of life, all about talking and not doing, and I’m all about doing. I’ve got to a place when I’ve done the doing; I think that the big levers of power are in the hands of politicians now,” Vince reflects. 

“Some days I think, god I don’t want to do that, and others I think it’s the only logical thing to do.”

Manifesto, How a Maverick Entrepreneur Took on British Energy and Won by Dale Vince is out now

    Comments

    ha3

    3 Weeks 5 Days

    I've been with Ecotricity for twenty years, and just this week Isigned up for Ecotalk at ecotalk.co.uk. It's a virtual mobile network on EE that puts profits to buying land and then leaves it to rewild, how cool is that?

    0 Reply

    adam42

    3 Weeks 5 Days

    I don't think you are being fair to this guy when you say "you get the impression that Vince simply doesn’t care about any of the criticism". I suspect he is very aware of the criticism but just isn't swayed by it. The quantity of criticism has no direct relation to the quality of criticism and he no doubt knows that and just won't accept things that his set of facts tell him are not right - and if the criticism doesn't bring anything new to the table, then I would ignore it too. The author is missing the point with the Aspergers superpower. It's this that enables them to follow their beliefs when everybody else is doing something else, when "normal" people would be unable to withstand the not-belonging or the rejection.

    0 Reply

    jennyhollaway

    3 Weeks 5 Days

    JennyH
    Not just getting into parliament, this man should be Prime Minister!

    0 Reply

    SunnyJim

    3 Weeks 5 Days

    We have been satisfied customers of Ecotricity for the past decade and have been pleased to help turn their 'bills into mills' vision into reality. In turn, they have helped us adopt a greener way of living thanks to the renewable energy we now consume, payments for the solar energy we produce, discounts on EV charging and also Ecotalk. Ecotricity and Riverford are two outstanding exemplars of the way all businesses should operate for the good of the planet. Politicians would do well to take note but sadly most of them are more interested in pursuing power for their own ends than tackling the biggest problem humanity has ever faced.

    0 Reply

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