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If you’re not familiar with international football, let me tell you about Gary Neville. He is the captain of Manchester United, the world’s most popular sports club and a perennial contender for the championship of the English Premier League, the top football league in Britain and possibly the world.

Before you ask … there’s a reason I’m writing about this for Cool Green Science — a very green reason. So keep reading.

Neville is the club’s fullback, which means he’s not a flashy goal-scorer, but a meat-and-potatoes, hard-tackling defenseman. He doesn’t have his own shoe/clothing line, or a signature fragrance, and — to the best of my knowledge — the tabloids have never paid any attention to his wife, a neglect that is increasingly uncommon these days in sports coverage. Neville also hasn’t hopped from team to team like David Beckham, but has spent his entire career at Manchester United, rising from the club’s youth system.

I am not a United fan — my Premiership sympathies lie with perennially average Fulham — but Neville is the type of hard-nosed, dedicated athlete you’d be happy to have your sons emulate. (Liverpool fans, please use the comment section below to register your outrage.)

Here’s the environmental connection: Neville is also an unabashed greenie who has contracted the first underground zero-emissions home in the United Kingdom.

I’ll pause to let you read that again. An international football star is building not only an underground zero-emissions home — it’s the first such home in his entire country.

Neville’s foray into green living is a welcome change in the admittedly stereotypical view of the environmentally friendly male. You know: The fey guy taking the bus to work, wearing hemp and recycled rubber eco-shoes and “vintage” button-downs over a T-shirt with a cryptic green message, and contemplating vegetarianism.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with that guy. It’s just that he’s not likely to convert the baseball-cap-wearing, Bud-Light-drinking, SportsCenter-watching, stereotypically red-blooded American male. And we need to convert these guys if this whole sustainability thing is going to really go wide.

To do that, we need more Gary Nevilles. We need more Gary Nevilles coming out to say: “Look, trashing the Earth is just not cool and giving a crap doesn’t make you less of a man.” (Of course in America, Neville is an imperfect example — the mere fact that he is a soccer player significantly decreases his “man points.”)

What we need are NFL players, hockey guys, baseball players, home-improvement show hosts (and NOT on Planet Green — no offense, I love my PG, but you’re preaching to the choir), hunting and fishing guys … heck, even NASCAR guys to come out and start standing up for the environment.

We especially need to bring out the hunting and fishing crowd — the sportsmen. These guys will literally lose the lifestyle they love if we continue to go down the road we’re on. It’s hard to shoot a pheasant in a strip mall parking lot and even harder to catch a trout in a river that’s dried out or irreparably damaged by unsustainable hydropower.

There is absolutely no reason a pickup truck with an NRA seal on the window shouldn’t also have a Nature Conservancy sticker on the other. Why make hybrids so obvious? Why not put a hybrid engine in a Chevy Camaro and tout its fuel efficiency and its power?

There’s already been some fits and starts toward manning-up the green movement. The Philadelphia Eagles have their “Go Green” initiative, magazines like Field & Stream have the occasional debate on environmentally friendly gear and Chevy is rolling out a hybrid version of its Silverado Pickup truck.

But for my money, the best move toward manning-up the green movement is coming from Audi and its “green police” campaign. This campaign launched during the Super Bowl and is built around the company’s A3 TDI diesel, the 2010 Green Car of the Year, which gets an EPA 42 miles-per-gallon highway.

The campaign deftly pokes fun of annoying greenies who chastise people for drinking bottled water and using plastic bags and old-fashioned light bulbs. At first you think the commercial is a jab at the environmental community … until you realize the A3 is in on the joke — it’s an environmentally friendly car that hasn’t given up its manhood.

The commercial is as funny, snarky and self-deprecating as the best bits of The Daily Show.

But the “Green Police” campaign doesn’t end with the Super Bowl commercial. There’s a whole series of fake green PSAs (these are not as good as the original commercial) and a clever YouTube “interactive challenge” quizzing users on some of the basic principals of green living.

Like the Super Bowl commercial, these extensions of the Green Police succeed in manning-up the green movement because they rely on a type of self-referential, slacker, lovable-lout humor that resonates with this audience. Appealing to this demographic is the last step in making green living completely mainstream.

What we need to make green living go mainstream are more regular guys — more Gary Nevilles, more Philadelphia Eagles, more hunters, anglers and lovable louts pushing eco-friendly luxury motor cars.

In short, we need to stop being preachy and defensive — we need to learn to be comfortable living in our own skin.

— Text by Dave Connell, Cool Green Science Blog
Man up, greens: The world needs more Gary Nevilles
Neville, an international soccer star and a guy's guy, is an unabashed greenie. The enviro movement needs more like him.