By Cain Lindsay
For over a week now the eyes of the world have been focused on Glasgow. COP26 kicked off inside the SSE Hydro on October 31st and is just a day away from its conclusion.
Whilst COP’s presence in Glasgow has inspired the public to consider how they may cut down on their carbon footprint, Hibernian Football Club are leading the way in fighting climate change in Scottish sports.
Although Hibernian have ‘got the ball rolling’ with their greening initiative, the club’s Finance Director, Chris Gaunt, insists the club are still taking baby steps towards significant change.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in Britain, Hibs pledged to become ‘the greenest club in Scotland’, taking several measures to ensure the club became more sustainable and eco-friendlier.
The capital club now find themselves in the top three most environmentally friendly teams in the UK behind Manchester United and Forest Green Rovers.
When speaking to Chris about the club’s green ambitions, inevitably, we began with Forest Green.
Chris appeared extremely modest when discussing the Hibees’ campaign to cut down their carbon footprint.
Although he did admit that the club had held several meetings with League Two table toppers Forest Green, Chris insists that Hibernian are some way off the English side.
“They are like the Real Madrid”, he claimed, when discussing Forest Green Rovers’ impact on greening in football.
Chris revealed that Hibs have held meetings with Forest Green, and that a new venture implemented by the club to combat climate change had stemmed directly via one of their discussions.
The Leith club recently struck a deal with American firm, Legend Soccer which will supply players with bamboo shinpads in an effort to cut down on plastic usage.
Another move from the club in their fight against climate change is the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) which will allow Hibs to acquire solar panels for both the club’s training centre and the East Stand of their Easter Road Stadium at feasible costs, council approval pending.
With a background in the energy industry, Chris has bolstered the club’s ambitions to become greener, but insists that a separate role in this field allows Forest Green to make considerably more progress.
Chris entered his role at Hibs in December 2020, sometime after the greening campaign began, yet despite his best efforts, his primary role is finance and accounting.
“We’re trying as hard as we can, but we don’t have the resources.”
Down South, many clubs employ a true sustainability lead who pursue opportunities.
From our discussion I gathered that more sustainability leads in Scottish football will be required to compete with efforts in England.
Nonetheless, Chris sounded eager to share his solar panel deal with other clubs should they come knocking.
One movement of Forest Green’s which Chris fully endorsed was the community outreach.
Highlighting the importance of spreading the message to our younger generation could prove immensely significant in the fight against climate change.
Chris eagerly envisioned how effective a Christian Doidge appearance at local schools could be within Hibs’ campaign.
With roughly 2,000 pies sold at their last game, and just 11 of those meat free, influencing our younger generation may be as crucial as the EV (Electric-Vehicle) charging points installed at the training centre and Easter Road.
The club’s entire fleet are now entirely electric, with Chris currently looking to offload the remaining ‘gas guzzlers’ as he so poetically put it.
Staff members can also benefit from a salary sacrifice scheme which allows them to buy into an electric car programme.
The club also joined forces with TOO GOOD TO GO, which cuts down on food waste by collecting any unsold snacks at the game, placing them in mystery boxes and selling them at a heavily discounted price.
The Hibees are pulling out all the stops financially viable in the current climate.
Whilst English clubs rely on matchday tickets for roughly 10% of their revenue, Scottish clubs are dependant on ticket sales for an astounding 50% of theirs.
That Hibs have been able to make any progress in greening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the Easter Road terraces completely barren for over 490 days, speaks volumes of the campaign’s importance, and the club’s intent.
Chris attended COP26 on Monday evening, alongside Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy.
During the evening McMenemy revealed that Stenhousemuir had been in contact with an underground heating pump source. Another venture Hibs may well pursue.
The pair were representatives in a panel discussion led by climate journalist Wolfgang Blau which looked at climate change and sustainability in football.
One key change that football clubs can make in order to become more sustainable is by switching to LED floodlights, although this would require a far more significant expense to the club’s budget.
Chris admits that although sustainability could prove as important as a new signing (a statement which landed him some backlash in a BBC interview), LED lights could take between 20-25 years to pay for themselves.
Floodlights like these would be incredibly sustainable, lasting upwards of 100 years, but at such an extravagant cost, they are not something on the Hibs agenda for the foreseeable.
There is a grant available which could reduce the costs by 15-20%, but at a few hundred thousand pounds for installation, Chris insists ‘there would be huge capital outlay for us’.
Chris has been on the lookout for a partner who may combine with the Hibs greening initiative to install LED floodlights at a reduced cost. Hibs’ solar panels are paid for by a funder, whilst a majority of the costs of the EV charging stations are covered by a grant, however these LED lights would go as far as altering manager Jack Ross’ transfer budget.
Chris did quip that should Aston Villa nudge John McGinn out the door, the sell on clause may help fund some brand-new LED floodlights, but for the time being it remains baby steps for Hibs.
At the opening of COP26 in Glasgow Boris Johnson claimed that humanity was 5-1 down in its fight against climate change.
As a club more than familiar with an unwanted 5-1 deficit, Hibs will continue to pave the way for a sustainable future in Scottish football.