Faced With Melting Ice, The NHL Is Going Carbon Neutral


Cold weather is necessary to continue annual NHL events like the Winter Classic, the league highlighted in an environmental report released earlier this year.

The National Hockey League is going carbon neutral.

On Thursday, the professional ice hockey league said it would buy enough renewable energy credits to completely offset its carbon footprint during the 2014-2015 season — an estimated total of 550,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the emissions equivalent of 115,000 cars. The move is meant to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, not only on the environment, but on the future of ice hockey itself.

“Our sport was born on frozen ponds and relies on winter weather,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Everyone who loves our game will benefit by taking an active role in preserving the environment and the roots of the game.”

The NHL’s announcement came the same day as a new study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, documenting a steady decline in the length and availability of the outdoor ice skating season in Ottawa, Canada. Though the study is new, the sentiment isn’t — it’s been speculated for years that the length of skating season was rapidly contracting, threatening the viability of the sport in the future.

Season length (opening to closing; n = 42) and skating days (opening to closing minus within season closures; n = 18) at the Rideau Canal Skateway are shown in blue and red respectively.

Season length and skating days at the Rideau Canal Skateway are shown in blue and red respectively.

CREDIT: Brammer, et al./Nature Climate Change

The new data coincides with the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that the planet’s overall temperature is gradually increasing due to human-caused carbon emissions. The phenomenon manifests itself more visibly in colder, Northern climates like northern Canada and Alaska, where warming happens faster than the rest of the planet.

Ice melt driven by climate change has long been a concern for the NHL. In July, the league released a comprehensive report noting that it has a unique responsibility and incentive to take on environmental issues. As ThinkProgress’ Travis Waldron explained at the time, the NHL depends on cold weather and clean water more than any other league — not because its arenas and outdoor events are ice-based but also because many youth hockey players learn to play the game on frozen outdoor ponds. Those youth players are essential for making sure the league has future talent.

“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity,” the NHL’s report stated. “The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of the League’s history and culture. Many of the NHL’s players, both past and present, learned to skate outside on frozen lakes, ponds and backyard rinks. The game of hockey is adversely affected if this opportunity becomes unavailable to future generations.”

The NHL also launched a “Green initiative” back in in 2010, partnering with environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council to promote environmental causes. One of those is the league’s “Gallons for Goals” program, which restores 1,000 gallons of water to critically dewatered rivers every time a goal is scored during the regular season.

Hockey fans will likely rejoice at the latest news. According to the NHL, they are 11 times more likely to recycle than the average American adult, 19 times more likely to donate to environmentally-friendly causes, and 20 times more likely to pay for environmentally-friendly products and services.