Over the past 5 years, the National Hockey League has been steadily increasing their commitment to the environment. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman summed up some of the concerns of the NHL well when he said “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.” As I have witnessed challenges maintaining my own outdoor rink over the years and with city run neighborhood rinks, the outdoor skating season is shortening and becoming less predictable. In Canada and other countries, many of the youth leagues rely heavily on outdoor ice and they have seen the season shortened by 20-30%.
After hiring a Director of Sustainability and doing a significant amount of analysis of everything that is a part of the NHL, they released their incredibly detailed sustainability report. The report outlines goals and initiatives, details how each of the 30 teams are doing, information from player perspectives, and much more. In many other professional sports you will hear or see stories about ad hoc sustainability initiatives like a new kajillion dollar stadium reclaiming irrigation water or similar and while there is some merit, stories like that are often more about publicity than actual sustainability. This is where the NHL really differentiates itself, they have top down support and are outwardly vocal about this problem and their work towards doing their part to resolve it. Further, the NHL concedes that while they have made some progress, there is much more to do. They are an organization that is truly committed to lessening their environmental impact and to helping catalyze a larger movement toward a healthier planet.
Collecting data from 30 different clubs and their facilities which use different systems from different suppliers and making sense of it is no trivial task. The NHL has learned that 75% of their emissions come from electricity consumption, about 20% comes from club travel, and the remaining comes from natural gas and other fuels. At their Arenas they are focused on improving efficiencies with refrigeration, humidification, concessions, HVAC, lighting, water usage, technical display and audio systems. They are also focused on deploying alternative energy systems including solar, geothermal, biogas fueled fuel cells, hydro and more. It is not every organization that has taken the time to calculate how many BTU’s per employee are consumed each year, how many gallons of water are used per attendee at each game, or how many pounds of CO2 emissions happen per square foot at each venue. The fact that they are measuring everything is incredibly impressive, that is a key component of being able to know where to focus efforts and validate accomplishments.
The report outlines the efficiencies to date which include significant improvements in rink lighting, solar installations, fuel cell implementations, concessions changes, and more. What is more impressive is that each club has created their own sustainability goals. The MN Wild for example, have already reduced their carbon footprint by 35% as they make their way to their 80% goal. They also already met their initial goal of reducing trash by more than 50%. In an era where all we often hear about in professional sports is championships, the agony of defeat, and criminal behavior; it is nice to see the NHL making calculated investments on improving their own sustainability.