NHL Working Hard to Save Ice, Cut Carbon Emissions in Midst of Climate Change

The National Hockey League is worried about climate change. Finally! The Washington Post reports that League Commissioner Gary Bettman vowed to “wipe out its carbon footprint by the end of the season.”

The league teamed up with Constellation Energy, Baltimore, which will conduct an energy-efficiency analysis starting in the next few days to determine whether the NHL can improve lighting and refrigerator motors that cool everything from the rinks to the drinks. Bettman said it will start at Verizon Center, where the Capitals play.

This isn’t a shock to some. Last summer, the NHL released the first comprehensive sustainability report in any professional sport – and the findings aren’t good for a sport that needs ice.

Philadelphia Flyers NHL game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Flyers NHL game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia

The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report was written by the NHL with assistance from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Dr. AllenHershkowitz, Senior Scientist and Head of NRDC’s Green Sports program. . Unlike a lot of professional organizations that try to shy away from using words related to climate and change, the report’s first sentence mentions the unmentionable word:

“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity”

The main focus of the report is to highlight not only the problem ice hockey faces, but the solutions that teams in the NHL are tackling to fix these problems. Some stadiums are using LED lighting to use less energy, therefore lessening their carbon footprint. Others are reducing water use through rainwater retention. All are recycling. Since the announcement of the NHL Green partnership in 2010, the league has sponsored many green initiatives, including the following:

  • Gallons for Goals: to restore freshwater streams, considering a lot of NHL players and hopefuls use freshwater to play pond hockey in the winter
  • Beyond Sport organization: providing funding for sustainable projects
  • Legacy Tree Project: educating the public on tree pests, sickness, and how they can help
  • Hat Tricks for Trees project: a commitment to plant trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, number based on goals scored by different players

The NHL as a whole has also worked with green partners (like the NRDC and Energy Star) to further the green mission, as well as corporate partners like Bridgestone tires, Honda, Miller/Molson, NBC, Pepsi and Scotiabank, which all support the NHL’s push to become more sustainable. The biggest environmental impact for the league is electricity use, although their greenhouse gas emissions are getting lower every season thanks to solutions like LED lightning. Water use is obviously a huge issue, considering they need it to make ice, but stadiums around the country have cut water use by installing waterless urinals, retrofitting sinks, using reverse osmosis to filter water instead of chemically treating it, low-flow toilets, and rainwater harvesting systems.

The goals for the future include tracking environmental impacts, reducing energy, waste and water, offsetting impacts, supporting environmental programs and inspiring environmental progress. There is also another push to have athletes in the NHL be the voice of the green campaign in their city. I think this is the best way to go about spreading the word: thousands of kids (and adults!) idolize these players. If they were leaders in sustainability, imagine the impact they could have on our society.

Pond hockey in Pennsylvania
Pond hockey in Pennsylvania

As a hockey player myself, I appreciate these efforts, and hope the NHL continues to be a powerhouse for sustainability and environmental change. In the words of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: “Our game originated on frozen ponds. Many of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations, we need winter weather and, as a League, we are uniquely positioned to promote that message.”

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