Gary Neville: Building own homes turned me green

Gary Neville (Image: PA) Gary Neville's latest home is designed to meet the highest environmental performance level

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Former England and Manchester United footballer Gary Neville has said the experience of building his own homes made him aware of environmental issues.

But he admitted he had to make compromises in his role as England coach, which involved a lot of flying.

He is currently building an eco-home, designed to meet the UK's highest environmental performance standards.

England's most capped defender was speaking at an event organised as part of World Green Building Week.

"I have always been interested in building, properties and renovation," he told BBC News.

"I self-built my first house at the age of 22, and then built another one when I was 26. Now, I am building another one."

From red to green

When he was building his second house, he realised that he had made "a big mistake", but the project was too far advanced to change the design.

"Everyone seemed to be moving towards [the concept of sustainability]; buildings were changing and regulations were changing," the former Manchester United captain said.

"This is when I got really interested in that side of things, realised that I had made mistakes and wanted to change the way I lived my life.

"So I have had a transitional period in my personal life, from car to home, to become as efficient as I could."

The Nevilles' new family home, which they plan to move into next year, has been designed to reach Level Six of the Code for Sustainable Homes, which indicates an "exemplary development in terms of sustainability".

But Neville was careful to explain that he had to make a philosophical distinction between his personal and professional lives.

"In my professional life, I travel a lot by aeroplane in my ambassador role with Manchester United and with the England team," he said.

Aerial view of suburban houses (Image: Science Photo Library) About 80% of the homes that will be used in the middle of the century have already been built

"It is more difficult. I love my job, I love what I am doing and I am not going to give up those roles and not travel.

"In my personal life, I want to be as efficient and sustainable as possible.

"Professionally, we will do the very best that we can but, as with every commercial project, there is the balance of achieving what you want on the financial and commercial side against achieving a sustainable solution."

However, he has been able to combine his status as a high-profile sportsman with his environmental credentials in Sustainability in Sport, an organisation he co-founded with Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity and chairman of Forest Green Rovers.

"We believe in the power of sport to deliver a message. You have seen over the past 12-18 months, the way that the Olympics and football transcends all social issues. In fact, it brings social issues that are a problem in society to a head through football."

He acknowledged that communicating what sustainability meant was a difficult message to get across to people.

But, he added: "Through my connections with sport and my interest in sustainability, I thought that we would bring something together to create a foundation to spread the word and to get people involved and engaged.

"Initially, it is about engagement and awareness but, hopefully, we ultimately want to create an impact. There is no point setting something up unless you are going to have an impact."

Using proceeds from his testimonial game against Italian side Juventus, Sustainability in Sport fitted solar panels at Forest Green's ground.

Sustainability in Sport plans to use the proceeds from a recent charity match between Forest Green and a Manchester United XI to work with footballing bodies to build "efficient and sustainable football facilities, such as [all-weather] pitches and energy efficient changing rooms for communities".

Neville was guest speaker at an event in Manchester, organised by the UK Green Building Council (UK GBC), to mark World Green Building Week.

Side view of the proposed development Gary Neville's new house will be shaped like the petals of a flower and built partially underground

UK GBC chief executive Paul King said hundreds of events were being held in more than 90 countries around the globe to "celebrate green growth in this industry".

But, he added, there was concern amongst the UK construction and built-environment sector that "mixed messages" were coming out of different government departments.

"The idea that tends to come out of the Treasury is that the green agenda is a brake on growth rather than something that needs to go hand-in-hand with growth," he hold BBC News.

He said there was an appetite for green economic growth, citing EcoBuild - an annual trade conference and exhibition - that had grown from about 1,000 delegates five years ago to about 60,000 attendees this year.

"That is incredible growth through a recession that has hit the construction and built-environment sector very hard," he observed.

"What industry needs, more than ever, is as much clarity and certainty about the direction we are heading. This would mean that the industry can invest, it can innovate and it can develop solutions."

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