NHL Warns Climate Change Could Threaten The Future Of Hockey

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

The National Hockey League on Monday released a comprehensive report on the league’s environmental impact and how it plans to reduce it, saying that action on environmental issues is imperative for the league’s future growth. The report, which draws attention to the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on the growth and long-term outlook of the sport, is the first of its kind from any major sports league, the NHL said.

The NHL more than any other league depends on cold weather and clean water, not just in and around its arenas and outdoor events but also because many youth hockey players — the future talent for the league — learn to play the game on frozen outdoor ponds.

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

“We believe that this effort is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but is also a core strategy for the long-term success of our League,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wrote. “We have a vested interest in this cause. As a business, we rely on freshwater to make our ice, on energy to fuel our operations and on healthy communities for our athletes, employees and fans to live, work and play. Moreover, to continue to stage world class outdoor hockey events like the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic or NHL Stadium Series, we need winter weather.”

The NHL has previously highlighted its dependence on the environment and the potential threat of climate change in letters to members of Congress and at a press conference on Capitol Hill last year that was part of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) bicameral task force on climate change.

Notably, the report discloses the NHL’s carbon footprint, which it calculates as nearly 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. The vast majority of the league’s footprint comes from electricity to power its arenas and from team travel between games. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator, that is the equivalent of the yearly output of approximately 111,579 cars or 48,358 homes. The NHL says in its release that its emissions still pale in comparison to coal-fired power plants, the largest of which emits 23 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.

The report details the efforts the NHL is taking to reduce that footprint. The league launched the NHL Green initiative in 2010 in partnership with environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council, and it has since undertaken initiatives aimed at water and environmental restoration, like its Gallons for Goals and Hattricks for Trees programs that put money back into the environment based on goals scored in games. The report also highlights future plans to increase energy efficiency and carbon offsets while reducing waste and sets specific benchmarks for those efforts in the future.

Hockey fans, the report states, are already 11 times more likely to recycle than the average American adult, and 20 times more likely to pay for environmentally-friendly products and services. But the NHL hopes its Green initiatives and the Sustainability Report will inspire its fans and other people who see the league to do even more.

“At the NHL, we recognize that we have great responsibility for the way we conduct our business. As our revenues, TV viewership and attendance continue to rise, we are acutely aware of our influence on culture and society, especially with today’s youth. We have the power to promote, develop and support positive change,” Bettman wrote in the report.

“As a League, we are uniquely positioned to promote the environmental message. One of our great assets is our visibility. Millions visit NHL.com, NHL Network, and the many other high profile digital and social platforms each year throughout the League,” he continued. “In conjunction with our players and Clubs, who have enormous and passionate followings of their own, we can impress upon millions of fans just how important these environmental issues are.”