Agility, Adrenaline, and Ice. Our game depends on them. Yet, the ice our athletes grow up on is disappearing in our time. Our job? Protect. Our. Sport.
“With 30 clubs across North America and 750 players from more than 20 different countries, the National Hockey League (NHL) has become the world’s premiere ice hockey league. And with that growth has come a commitment – to not only grow the sport, but to preserve our planet. To mitigate climate impacts, the NHL is dramatically reducing its waste and carbon footprint. Purchasing green products and renewable energy, and also restoring our rivers. For the game, and for the planet.”
– The National Hockey League.
Last month, from March 12-18, the National Hockey League inaugurated its first-ever Green Week, a showcase and celebration of the League’s commitment to sustainability.
“The efforts we make today toward a more sustainable planet will impact not only our sport, but future generations. All of our clubs support NHL Green environmental programs, and NHL Green Week is an important initiative to create even more attention for, and awareness of, this critical priority for the National Hockey League.”
– Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League.
Green Week served a multitude of purposes: it allowed the NHL, its member teams, and partnering organizations to share with the world some of their incredible green initiatives, it encouraged fans and partners to join the efforts to accelerate sustainable progress, and it allowed the League to take inventory of the sustainability of its arenas and operations. But the crux of Green Week was centered around raising awareness and excitement for the intersection of sports and sustainability.
Recognizing that the aggregation of individual actions is vital to ignite change, the NHL engaged its fans by publishing a Green Tip of the Day for each day of Green Week.
As part of Green Week, the League announced its commitment to restore 7.5 million gallons of water to the Colorado River – an amount approximately equivalent to that consumed per arena, per game. Additionally, all greenhouse gas emissions that transpired from League operations during Green Week were offset by investments in wind power and methane gas capture.
The League also advocated its water conservation and restoration efforts, rink refurbishment legacy projects (helping to transfer used equipment to people without access), food donations, community rink development initiatives, and efforts in combating greenhouse gas emissions through energy and operational efficiencies.
“I’m so incredibly proud of the NHL because they haven’t shied away from the issue, they’ve embraced it while reaching an audience the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) can’t really reach. They make it real for people. It isn’t just about some far-off drought problem, it’s about whether we can take our kids skating anymore.”
– Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
WHY DOES THE NHL CARE ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY?
Professional sports are not often equated with sustainability. Sports are about competition, athleticism, physical strength, coordination, speed, collaboration, mental toughness, pride…the list endures. In large part, this stems from a lack of media attention and conversation about the potential of sports to accelerate sustainable change. Sports were being played and championed long before the world started talking about global warming.
Depicting this very norm, Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and sports commentary writer for the Washington Post, recently published: “I was reading a random article last month about the goings-ons at the historic climate change conference in Paris when my eyes stumbled across what appeared to be a fish-out-of-water participant – the National Hockey League. The piece mentioned that an NHL Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, Omar Mitchell, presented on sports and sustainability. The NHL. Climate change. I had to call the league.”
But the National Hockey League is, in fact, taking massive strides to engender positive impact on the environment and society.
Why? The growth of hockey is dependent on sticks in hands and outdoor ice for young athletes to skate on. Hockey requires freshwater, energy, and healthy communities for athletes, fans, and employees.
The routine of my daily life as a kid was pretty simple. One way or another, it always seemed to lead me in the direction of a body of water, regardless of the time of year. The only question was whether the water would be frozen solid for hockey or open and flowing for fish. – Bobby Orr, renowned Canadian former professional ice hockey player.
Yet, the ice many of us have been fortunate enough to experience is slowly melting, due to the ever-warming atmosphere and freshwater scarcity. The heritage of pond hockey, showcased through the NHL’s premiere outdoor Winter Classic games, is severely at risk, as adverse climate effects are destroying the ice. This is not a hypothetical of the future. This is now.
2010: NHL GREEN IS BORN.
The year 2010 marked the origination of NHL Green: an all-encompassing initiative designed to address the effects of climate change on the sport of hockey. The initiative was revealed at the NHL’s 2010 Winter Classic at Boston’s Fenway Park. Two years later, the League put its money where its mouth was, hiring its first-ever Director of Sustainability, Omar Mitchell.
Mitchell was instrument in helping the League become the first (and still the only) professional sports league in North America to issue a Sustainability Report (2014), a comprehensive publication detailing the League’s carbon footprint and commitment to environment/society.
The NHL is also the first professional sports league to have every singe one of its 30 clubs become active members of the Green Sports Alliance, a nonprofit organization that “leverages the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.”
“The NHL has for years been a global leader in ecological responsibility, pioneering water conservation, energy efficiency, recycling, food donations, and fan engagement throughout the League. Now, with all NHL Clubs signed on as members of the Green Sports Alliance, the League’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship rises to a new level of accomplishment.” – Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Co-Founder and President, Green Sports Alliance.
Among others, hockey stars Andrew Ference, Mike Richter, Willie Mitchell, and Scott Niedermayer have emerged as passionate spokespeople in the field, driven in large part by their desire to afford future generations the same hockey opportunity they had growing up: playing outdoors.
Mike Richter, former goaltender for the New York Rangers and 1994 Stanley Cup champion, has been deeply involved with Cleantech since his retirement in 2003, most significantly as the the Co-Founder of Healthy Planet Partners (HPP) and President of BrightCore Energy. Richter’s focus has been towards modernizing buildings with clean energy technologies to reduce energy consumption.
“People may think that combining sports and environmentalism is odd but it’s not, because waste is an example of being inefficient and sports is all about efficiency. Who can throw the ball the quickest? Who can get to the puck faster? I think the NHL has done a magnificent job in making their buildings as efficient as the athletes that use them. It’s difficult to move our society and culture in a different direction, but nothing cuts across political and socioeconomic barriers more in our society than sport, and we have incredible leadership from Gary Bettman on down. They have given me all kinds of opportunities and we’re trying to score a couple hat tricks here but taking it one shift at a time. The opportunity is there and we’re slowly but surely getting it right.” – Mike Richter.
Andrew Ference, Stanley Cup winner (2010-2011 Boston Bruins), current captain of the Edmonton Oilers, and student at the Harvard Extension School Certificate program for Corporate Sustainability and Innovation, has become one of the greatest eco-athletes in any league, leading by example and continually advocating the importance of mitigating climate changes. In fact, back in Ference’s days with the Bruins, he and teammate Zdeno Chara rode their bikes to the games in both Boston and Vancouver during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Willie Mitchell of the L.A. Kings is on the Advisory Committee of Save Our Salmon and Scott Nierdermayer is an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The breadth of possibility for the National Hockey League to make a difference extends far beyond the change that those currently working or playing in the League are driving: retired athletes passionate about sustainability are still very involved with both the NHL and fashioning positive change. The potential is tremendous.
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR NHL GREEN:
Through its partnership with Constellation Energy, a vertically integrated energy provider, the NHL is continuously implementing energy efficiency strategies in its arenas and purchasing carbon offsets and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset emissions.
And, as the 17th largest user of green power in the United States, the NHL has been able to recognize massive cost savings through implementation of sustainability.
In the 2014-15 season, Constellation provided over 270 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of RECs to counter the energy used at all NHL games and premier events. Constellation also supplied the NHL with Green-e certified carbon offsets to counter approximately 126,500 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from air travel and waste. For the 2015-16 season, Constellation is providing RECs specifically focused on supporting wind projects in the United States and a biomass project in Canada. Constellation also continuously audits and advises the NHL on energy efficiency for its rinks. To date, six NHL arenas now boast light emitting diode (LED) lighting.
In 2015, the NHL was awarded the prestigious Green Power Partner of the Year Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Community Rink Development, Rock & Wrap It!, & Other Initiatives:
The NHL has recognized the broader impact it can create, by sharing best practices at not only the professional level, but also within the community: therefore, the League is making tremendous effort to green community rinks around the nation. Rink refurbishment efforts are enabling the League to transfer used equipment to athletes you otherwise wouldn’t have access to such equipment.
Partnering with Rock & Wrap It Up! in 2010 allowed the NHL to massively eliminate food waste and instead redistribute the leftover concession food to those in need: The League and all 30 member teams participating, enabling the redistribution of over 210 tons of food (more than 250,000 meals) to homeless shelters across the nation.
Water conservation and restoration is a tremendous focus for the NHL – as such, reverse osmosis water systems and waterless urinals are being increasingly installed. Gallons for Goals is a water restoration initiative inaugurated in 2012, aimed at tackling freshwater scarcity: the NHL has pledged to restore 1,000 galloons of water for every single goal scored in regular season. As of March 15th, 2016, Gallons for Goals had restored 5,492,000 gallons of water.
Learn about a multitude of other initiatives at nhlgreen.com.
THE NHL INFLUENCES LARGE-SCALE ORGANIZATIONS THROUGH STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS.
NHL Green Week served as an incredible opportunity for the NHL’s partners to discuss their shared dedication to sustainability and each of their own initiatives and commitments. As part of the Green Week Celebration, the NHL released an inspiring article highlighting many of its partners’ accomplishments.
Constellation Energy has teamed up with fuel cell technology provider, Bloom Energy, and the duo is now powering a handful of arenas including the SAP Center, Honda Center, and Staples Center. The impact is huge: Bloom Energy servers are replacing 90% of the electricity at SAP, offsetting 2 million tons of CO2 annually from the Honda Center, and reducing Staples Center’s carbon emissions by 2.2 million pounds of carbon annually (a 39% reduction compared to that from local utilities).
Bridgestone, the “Official Tire of the NHL”, is working to improve tire efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions and water intake, source 100% sustainable raw materials, and recycle resources. Last year, as part of street hockey rink refurbishments, Bridgestone and the NHL repurposed rubber tires into floor matting for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Washington D.C. and the 2016 Classic in Boston.
Molson Coors has not only committed to engaging directly with suppliers, but has also established organization-wide 2020 targets (2011 baseline): 25% reduction in energy use, 15% reduction in greenhouse gas intensity, 15% reduction in water use, and zero waste to landfill.
Honda, the “Official Vehicle of the NHL”, was the first-ever automobile maker to establish voluntary C02 emission-reduction targets (2006). Since, the company has engaged in tree planting campaigns (One Honda, One Tree), a strong commitment to reduce C02 emissions, and numerous waste reduction activities.
Originated for the Canadian rinks, Kraft Hockeyville is now a North America wide competition awarding the winning community (strongest commitment to ice-hockey) the ability to host a pre-season NHL game and $150,000 in arena upgrades.
In 2015, Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, PA was selected. Although an NHL game had never before been played at this rink, Cambria had gained popularity subsequent to its moment of fame in the original motion picture Slap Shot.
With less than four months to meet scrupulous NHL facility television broadcast standards, Constellation’s experts swooped in, performing an energy efficiency analysis and unearthing opportunities to update lighting fixtures. In just under four months, the arena was lit by 48 new LED fixtures, a new wiring grid that provided light level specification and the ability to control the entire system, and, importantly, energy savings of $30,000 per year and an expected eradication of 336,838 pounds of carbon dioxide, an amount equivalent to taking 32 cars off the road. These transformations and cost+energy savings resulted from changes to one arena, in just four months.
Through Constellation’s Efficiency Made Easy funding program, Cambria Country was able to sign a five-year power contract to fully switch to an entirely energy-efficient game with zero upfront capital.
Kraft Hockeyville is but one example of the ability of the Constellation/NHL partnership to dramatically improve ice hockey’s financial and environmental sustainability.
The apolitical, universal language of sports yields colossal power to influence society, as proven by the ability of sports to transcend cultural, political, and socioeconomic barriers.
Women’s softball and basketball leagues were established before women had the right to vote. U.S. baseball exhibited desegregation an entire decade before the rest of the nation followed suit. Rugby served as a means to unite South Africa. Sports have long fashioned an indispensable impact on the economy, patriotism, and society as a whole.
The National Hockey League is seizing the tremendous opportunity to not only disseminate the sustainability message, but also set an example for what can be done.
NHL Green is good for hockey, good for business, good for the environment, and good for society. In fact, it’s great.
Moreover, there exists a following of diehard hockey fans that pay very close attention to what the League and their favorite athletes are doing and saying. Professional athletes serve as role models.
The implications are tremendous.
If there is one trait that prevails across the professional sports industry its competition: it thus seems reasonable to conclude that the MLB, NBA, and NFL will soon be following suit. Initiatives are happening in other pro-sports areas, but the NHL is a clear frontrunner: a true paradigm for the business and social case for the greening of sports.
Next year marks the centennial for the National Hockey League. Strides in sustainability are imperative to ensure that the sport grows for the next 100 years.
Disclosure: I will be working for the National Hockey League this summer.