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NHL taking the green lead in pro sports

Last month, the NHL released their sustainability report, the first of its kind produced by a major sports league in North America. The report showcases NHL Green, an environmental sustainability initiative made public at the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic by Commissioner Gary Bettman. NHL Green was established to promote green practices across the league, and its goals include reducing the use of natural resources in business operations, to track and measure the environmental impact of the sport, and to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.

Although the NHL has been criticized heavily for being slow to “get with the times”, most recently with their failure to acknowledge the severity of brain injuries due to contact to the head, this is a clear example of the league being proactive. It’s not the first time; last year, the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to associate themselves with an anti-homophobic group by partnering with You Can Play, an organization focused on promoting acceptance in the often homophobic world of sports.

The NHL is breaking barriers by being proactive to real world events, rather than being reactive when it’s too late. The environment has been a hot button topic for the last decade, yet the NHL is the first league to announce any real plans for change. This isn’t a marketing ploy to make themselves look good for the environmentalists; there is research and plans for the future to back up what they preach.

Having joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the NHL is doing their part to change the way we go about life.

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

The report states that the league’s carbon footprint is currently 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This includes league and team business activities and travel for over 182 game days and nearly two million miles of team air travel per season. By way of comparison, the annual emission from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tons.

The league hopes to use NHL Green to reduce that with measures such as sharing between clubs and venues as well as audits of individual venues to identify needs and prioritize environmentally beneficial projects. They also plan on offsetting their environmental impacts, by both reducing their emissions and by purchasing “green power” — electricity from renewable, clean energy sources.

The report also looks into the league’s water usage (over 300 million gallons per season), the amount of waste going to landfill (25.5 tons), and the average amount of air travel for each team (65,000 air miles, emitting 3,136 metric tons of CO2). All of these are numbers the league hopes to bring down significantly in the future.

Change comes slowly to professional sports. If the NHL succeeds on following through with its initiatives, it could set the example needed to bring the rest of the sports world into the 21st century. It’s long overdue.