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Tina Casey headshot

NHL Takes on Climate Change, Beyond the Rinks


Last week the National Hockey League announced that it is stepping up its sustainability actions through a new partnership with the energy services company Constellation. The new deal makes Constellation the official preferred energy provider for the NHL with a focus on improving energy efficiency at ice rinks and other facilities throughout the organization. The agreement also calls for Constellation to provide enough carbon offsets to equal the entire carbon footprint of the NHL for the upcoming 2014-2015 season, estimated at a whopping 550,000 metric tons.

That's all well and good as far as the NHL's near-term operations go, but if you take a closer look at the league's concerns, you can see how the long-term outlook for climate change demands a stepped-up response from the business community.

Climate change and encroachment

Before we get to the NHL, let's take a look at the big picture. We had an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago with Rebecca R. Rubin, CEO and president of the environmental consulting firm Marstel-Day. The firm's extensive experience with military sustainability initiatives provides it with a bird's-eye view of the basic issue facing the military, and for that matter, many if not all businesses.

That issue is encroachment. Military operations deal with resource encroachment as a matter of longstanding concern over access to energy, water and other resources. Climate change has ramped things up to a new level.

Just consider, for example, how an increase in extreme and destructive weather events limits the opportunities for training and readiness, and you can see how the effects of climate change ripple deeply into operations.

The NHL and encroachment

The training issue is front and center in terms of the NHL's long-term concerns.

Getting the league's indoor professional facilities up to speed is just the tail end of a broader concern that extends outdoors, to neighborhood ponds and lakes where incoming generations of hockey players get priceless hours of early childhood training. As those local opportunities evaporate, it also threatens to shrink the pool of talent and the quality of talent.

In other words, water resource issues -- specifically, cold-climate water resources -- are a huge deal for the NHL, in addition to the energy management concerns it has with its indoor, controlled-environment facilities.

Business and encroachment

Now take a look at some leading sustainability businesses from the encroachment angle, and you can see how facilities management is closely entwined with broader sustainability concerns.

The interest of agriculture-based businesses in climate action is obvious, and that extends to products other than food.

One standout example is Levi-Strauss. The company's identification with cotton gives it a bottom-line affinity for improved water resource management, and Levi-Strauss has broadened that to embrace a "radical" new approach to corporate social responsibility issues that includes addressing environmental issues in local communities that host its supply chain.

The new NHL sustainability partnership

The new energy partnership becomes even more significant when you consider it in the context of the current off-the-cliff trend in oil prices. With this announcement (here's that link again), the NHL is making a clear statement that its interests as a business depend on broadly scaled climate action, not so much on fleeting bottom-line benefits.

The new partnership provides the NHL with a springboard to provoke change far beyond the organization and its facilities, as expressed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman:

"Our partnership with Constellation advances our commitment to promoting responsible energy use by the NHL, including our teams, our venues and our fans. Our sport was born on frozen ponds and relies on winter weather. Everyone who loves our game will benefit by taking an active role in preserving the environment and the roots of the game."

Sustainability and leadership

If your business is gearing up to grow its sustainability profile, note that the announcement was made by the highest level of leadership for the NHL, rather by than an NHL sustainability manager.

That's no accident. As a "visionary" voice for climate action in professional sports, Commissioner Bettman has probably learned something else that we picked up from our conversation with Marstel-Day -- namely, that leadership makes all the difference when it comes to effective action.

In our conversation, Marstel-Day's Rubin noted that while it's important for a business or organization to have a sustainability office, leadership has to make clear that sustainability is a foundational issue for the business as a whole, not just a "sustainability issue."

By that measure, it looks like the new partnership is destined to be a best practices model. In addition to the carbon offsets and working behind the scenes on energy efficiency measures, here's a rundown on some of the high-visibility actions planned for 2015 that will call Bettman's leadership into play:

NHL and Constellation will work together to promote efficient energy use throughout the League and at key events throughout the season, including the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series and the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Constellation also will serve as presenting sponsor of NHL Live Powered by Constellation on NHL Network.

In addition to partnering with the Green Sports Alliance, the NHL has also partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council to set goals and benchmarks for its groundbreaking 2014 sustainability report, so stay tuned.

Image courtesy of NHL.

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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