Hockey tackles climate change

Maple Leaf Gardens hockey arena in Toronto, Ontario.

If three billionaires can’t get people to pay attention to climate change, maybe the National Hockey League (NHL) can.

In a report released on Monday, the NHL urged anyone who cares about the future of the beloved sport to take action to stop climate change.

“As hockey fans, it is imperative that we take the time to understand these issues and make an effort to become strong environmental stewards. The future of our sport, and your local pond hockey game, depends on all of us,” said Mike Richter, a former U.S. goaltender and Hall of Famer, in the report.

And, as the great unifier, sport could take the politics out of the climate change discussion and focus it on the realities of what life could look like on a warmer planet—including one without hockey.

“Hockey is not political, it’s non-partisan. This is really a mainstream affirmation that we have a challenge that needs to be addressed by business…. Climate deniers can attack the Environmental Protection Agency, but they can’t attack the NHL,” says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who has been working with the NHL over the last four years to develop their environmental protocol.

The NRDC is behind the “sports greening” movement, which started in 2004. The organization advises all professional sports leagues in North America to develop environmentally friendly protocols across their global supply chains, while educating millions of fans on how to take care of the environment.

The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is the first environmental report to be released by a major sports league, and is uniquely frank about the risks climate change poses to the existence of the NHL, says the NRDC website.

The report cites a paper published by the Institute of Physics’ Environmental Research Letters in 2012 that confirms a hockey-lover’s worst fear: global warming has reduced the skating season in Canada by as much as 30 percent over the last 50 years.

A report released by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2009 called On Thin Ice: Winter Sports and Climate Change warned Canadians that climate change would wipe out most of the country’s winter sports culture if measures were not put in place to reduce carbon emissions.

To counteract these risks, the NHL has purchased renewable energy certification, carbon offsets and water restoration certificates. Combined with other efforts, the NHL says it has reduced its carbon emissions by more than 38 million pounds since 2012.

The NHL realizes that measuring energy use and carbon emissions is good business management, and the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball will soon follow suit with similar reports, says Hershkowitz.

At the end of the day, political affiliation is not important to the leaders of professional sports leagues, he says.

“They understand that water freezes at 32 degrees…. In congress, things are negotiable, but when you’re operating an arena, you have to be precise,” he says.

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