Green Sports Alliance Summit Chicago, Day 1: NHL, Eco-Athletes Tackle Climate Change

The Green Sports Alliance Summit featured two powerful programs on Monday: The NHL’s Sustainability Symposium, presented by Constellation Energy and a panel discussion, “Walking the Walk: Athletes Advancing More Sustainable Communities”, headlined by an elite surfer, triathlete and big mountain skier. These sessions had several things in common: People passionate about making their sport more sustainable. Great greening success stories. A sense that there’s no resting on laurels. Moderators from ESPN. And, most notably to GreenSportsBlog, a strong focus on climate change.

This is the third Green Sports Alliance Summit GSB has attended. Each of the two prior events left a distinct brand impression: Brooklyn 2013 was “The Greening of the Games” summit, largely focused on the blocking and tackling of energy efficiency, recycling, on site solar, etc. The fan was largely absent. Happily, Santa Clara 2014 turned that around and brought the fan to the fore–it was the “Fan Engagement” summit.

A key phrase lurked mostly in the background at both summits: Climate change. OK, ok–it wasn’t like climate change was like “He Who Could Not Be Named” of Harry Potter fame. But it seemed to me as though the Alliance might have felt that climate change was too controversial for sports teams and venues in 2014.

What a difference a year makes! Day 1 of Chicago 2015 made clear that the Alliance was ready to take on climate change.

NHL SUSTAINABILITY SYMPOSIUM

Climate change was a star of the NHL Sustainability Symposium from the get-go. NHL Sustainability Director and symposium emcee Omar Mitchell noted that Commissioner Gary Bettman testified to Congress in favor of meaningful action on climate change. Green Sports Alliance President Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, in his introduction of the Commissioner, related that he is the only major sports league CEO to have told CNN that “we need to act on climate and renewables.” Bettman himself added that climate change, along with fresh water scarcity, are huge problems for a league whose heritage is on frozen ponds–ponds that are frozen for shorter and shorter periods of time due to climate change. He listed some the ways the league is working to address climate change through NHL Green. The NHL:

  • Mandates the donation of uneaten food, the only league to do so
  • Was the first sports league to issue a sustainability report that was, per Dr. Hershkowitz, “intensive, honest, authentic, and transparent”
  • Is the 17th largest user of clean energy in the US, as a result of the Constellation Energy relationship
  • Has helped restore 30 million gallons of fresh water to rivers through a partnership with Bonneville Environmental.

But, hard as this may be to believe, Mitchell, Dr. Hershkowitz and Commissioner Bettman were climate change appetizers. Video presentations from two climate change fighting heavyweights made up the main course: US Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), hockey fans both, lauded the NHL for its environmental and climate change leadership. Moniz, who couldn’t be in Chicago because he’s in Switzerland negotiating the Iran nuclear deal (where are your priorities, man?), once famously remarked about those who say the jury is still out on climate change, that “If you were a corporate CEO and your risk manager told you that there’s only a 98% probability of something bad happening, and you said, ‘Oh, well, I don’t think we need you to react to that.’ You wouldn’t be in that job very long.” Whitehouse, a GSB hero, gives a speech every week in the well of the senate on the need to fight climate change*–he’s now done this over 100 times.

Ernest Moniz Sheldon Whitehouse

US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), shown here making one of his 100 speeches to the senate on the need to “wake up” on climate change, both commended the NHL for its environmental/climate change fighting work in videos shown at the NHL Sustainability Symposium at the Green Sports Alliance Summit on Monday. (Photo credits: Moniz: Energy.gov, Whitehouse: Politifact)

 

ESPN SportsCenter anchor and hockey fan extraordinaire Linda Cohn then moderated a discussion with Edmonton Oilers’ captain Andrew Ference and Pat LaFontaine, former New York Islander and currently the league’s VP Hockey Development and Community Affairs, about the commitment of hockey players to environmental sustainability. While the session did not focus specifically on climate change, the message was clear that players, many of whom grew up playing the game on frozen ponds, are increasingly becoming engaged on sustainability.

The symposium was wrapped up by a terrific call to action from Omar Mitchell: “In 2017, the NHL turns 100. We all need to do what we can to ensure another 100 years of the NHL and of pond hockey.”

 

WALKING THE WALK: ATHLETES ADVANCING MORE SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES

I’m not only a sports junkie, I’m a sports media junkie. Phil Mushnick, Bob Raissman and Rich Sandomir are must reads every week (if you don’t know who they are^, you are obviously not a sports media junkie!) ESPN Sportscenter anchors are more well-known to me than most of the 2015 New York Yankees&. After witnessing “Walking the Walk: Athletes Advancing More Sustainable Communities”, moderated by Sarah Spain of ESPN, ESPN Radio and espnW, I said to myself “Spain is FANTASTIC! I must not be the sports media junkie I thought I was.”

Sarah Spain

Sarah Spain of ESPN, ESPN Radio and espnW. She moderated “Walking the Walk: Athletes Advancing More Sustainable Communities” Monday evening at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago. (Photo Credit: Sarahspain.com)

 

Spain asked the most hard hitting, clever, direct, sometimes humorous@ climate change-focused questions I’ve heard at any of the 3 summits I’ve attended. Her panelists were three smart, thoughtful, committed-to-the-climate-change-fight, individual-sport athletes: Ironman Triathlete, 50 km Ultramarathon Champion and plant-based diet advocate Brendan Brazier, skier Caroline Gleich and Greg Long, a big wave surfer.

Brendan Brazier Caroline Gleich Greg Long

Brendan Brazier, Caroline Gleich, and Greg Long (Photo credits: Brazier: Vegetarian Times, Gleich: Onthesnow.com, Long: OC Register)

 

 

Climate change was the common theme: How do we get mega stars (LeBron, Brady, etc.) to care about the environment and climate change? (Gleich: Have “big stars do little things” at first.) Have there been awkward moments for you with sponsors about this issue?  (Long: “Athletes can influence sponsors…I won’t sacrifice my ethics.”; Gleich: You have to “accept discomfort from criticism” from sponsors and fans alike, especially through social media.) Looking five years out, what would you like to have influenced in the greening of sports/climate change fight? (Gleich: “I want to fight for legislation on carbon.”; Brazier: “Increased adoption of plant based diets.”)

Aside from the awareness and respect gained for the panelists, I came out of this panel with two key thoughts:

  1. Sarah Spain is an investigative sports journalist whose star is about to explode.
  2. Day 1 of the Chicago “Climate Change” Summit 2015 would be hard to top…OK, Day 2 may have done it–stay tuned to GSB!

 

*  The senate is, sadly, largely empty during those speeches
^  They are, respectively, the sports media columnists of the New York Post, New York Daily News, and New York Times.
&  OK, the 2015 Bronx Bombers are pretty anonymous.
@  Humor is necessary when talking about climate change.

Please comment below!

Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com

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3 thoughts on “Green Sports Alliance Summit Chicago, Day 1: NHL, Eco-Athletes Tackle Climate Change

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