NHL: Climate change poses threats to the winter sport

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

In a first of its kind report, the NHL this week says that climate change threatens hockey, a sport that many pros began playing on the frozen ponds and lakes of North America.

“The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates. Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors.”

“The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” said scientist Allen Hershkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council. “The report’s focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”

The report reviews the numerous programs, benchmarks and successes that have increased the overall sustainability of NHL, its teams and their arenas, and it details the impact of NHL Green, the 4-year-old initiative that involves a partnership with the National Resources Defense Council.

NHL Green was launched to promote green business practices across the league by:

• Reducing the use of natural resources in business operations.

• Tracking and measuring the environmental impact of the sport.

• Inspiring fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.

The sustainability report released this week puts the NHL’s carbon footprint at about 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This comes from operations that include travel and play on 182 game days, with 1,230 regular-season games, more than 60 playoff contests and nearly 2 million miles of team air travel per season. By comparison, annual emissions from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tons.

The analysis concludes that the NHL has made progress, but still has much to do to minimize its impact on the environment.

“At the NHL, we recognize that we have great responsibility for the way we conduct our business, and we are uniquely positioned to promote the environmental message,” Bettman said in a news release. “Today, we join many of our business partners who have for years been documenting their emissions and making progress toward their own sustainability goals.”

Hershkowitz, NRDC’s senior scientist in charge of the green sports program, added, “This document is an important reminder to all sports fans, leagues, teams and businesses that while natural hockey ice might be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to the effects of climate change on sports, the effects of climate disruption are a challenge to all leagues and businesses, and we must take meaningful action to reverse course.”

He said the single most important thing the NHL can do to address urgent ecological challenges is to help change cultural expectations and attitudes about how humans relate to the planet. There are 68 million NHL fans in North America, and the league’s total social media audience, not including individual team sites, exceeds 10 million followers.

Online …

The report is at nhl.com/green/report.

Quotable …

“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.” — legendary hockey player Bobby Orr

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