The GSB Interview: Andrew Ference Goes from the Ice to the NHL Front Office; Sustainability and League’s Long Term Health His Remit

Pro athletes are unique among human beings in that they face retirement while they’re in their 20s, 30s or, at the latest, their 40s. After the shouting stops, what do they do? Many become coaches. Some go into team management. Others go into business. 

But only one that I know of becomes a Director of Social Impact, Growth and Fan Development.

That would be Andrew Ference.

During his 16 seasons as an NHL defenseman, Ference won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and served as captain of the Edmonton Oilers. He also became known for his involvement with environmental and climate change-fighting causes — something that was unique at the time. 

Retiring after the 2015-16 season, Ference earned a certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Harvard and became an investor in sustainability-related startups before joining the NHL league office last month. GreenSportsBlog caught up with Ference to find out what his new role — and his cool and super-long job title — entails.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Andrew, it’s great to catch up. Director of Social Impact, Growth and Fan Development…When did you start and what does that job title actually mean?

Andrew Ference: I hit the ground running on NHL Green Month when I started on March 1, working with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team — Omar Mitchell, Alicia Chin and Paul LaCaruba. It was a smooth transition as I knew and had worked with them during my playing days. That gave me more experience and familiarity with the league office than the average player. The job came up as an extension of my environmental work as a player, as well as my experience on the league’s Joint Marketing Committee and as a representative to the Players’ Association (NHLPA). My role is varied and exciting in that we’re the people who get to look at the long term future of the game of hockey.

 

Andrew Ference

Andrew Ference, upon winning the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: What does “looking at the future of the game of hockey” mean, exactly?

AF: A lot of things. In most jobs, in sports, business, whatever…you’re forced to manage with a short term perspective — the next two weeks, the next quarter. The NHL Corporate Social Responsibility team thinks and acts differently, putting more responsibility in the CSR department. I’ve been tasked with, among other things, looking at what hockey will look like 20, 30, 40 years out. What will the U.S. and Canada look like demographically? Especially with low birth rates meaning that immigration will need to continue to drive population growth. How can we get those new, mid 21st century Americans, especially those in places without a strong ice rink infrastructure, to care about hockey? We’re looking at things like street hockey, ball hockey, and floorball. We’re looking at inner cities in places we haven’t been before. We need to expand hockey as a thing to do.

GSB: What an interesting job! And what is floorball?

AF: It’s a hockey-like game that’s popular in places like Finland and Sweden. It’s embraced more by schools as it’s less dangerous. And we want to work to make it, like the other games I mentioned, a gateway to playing and caring about hockey.

 

Floorball

Floorball is one of several sports Andrew Ference is examining as potential gateways to ice hockey (Photo credit: Floorball.org)

 

GSB: Getting millennials and Gen-Z-ers to care at levels anywhere close to their elders is the holy grail for all sports. So looking at those generations and beyond is not only smart, it is essential, it seems to me. I can’t wait to hear more once you’ve had more time to dig into this part of your job. Let’s pivot from the long-term future to the present. What are you working on, sustainability-wise?

AF: Well, to be clear I had nothing to do with writing of the new sustainability report. That was all Omar and Alicia.

GSB: I know…it was a Herculean effort on their part!

AF: Yes, and Sustainability Report 2.0 did a great job I think, especially on the qualitative side. Going forward, a lot of what we will be working on on the environmental side will be on the quantitative, measurement side to answer the question: What is a sustainable rink? We will be data driven, both with NHL rinks and community rinks. We will take deep dives into water and energy usage, to see where we are and how to improve.

 

Report at a Glance

Screen shot of the 2018 NHL Sustainability Report

 

GSB: Are these data points, water, energy usage and the rest, easy to obtain?

AF: It’s not as easy as you might think, Lew. Twelve NHL arenas are shared with at least one NBA team or a Power 5 men’s college basketball team. What energy and water usage is a hockey team responsible for in those cases? You would think community rinks would be simpler — and many are. But many community rinks in Canada and some in the U.S. are part of a larger fitness center that includes a swimming pool, a gym, and more. In those cases, the same question applies as with the shared NHL-NBA arenas: What is the ice rink’s energy and water responsibility? So we will drill down deep and use the best quantitative tools we have to get the accurate answers we need.

GSB: I look forward to seeing those answers in Sustainability Report 3.0, if not before. One thing that drew my eye in the current Sustainability Report, version 2.0, was the way climate change was called out. How will climate be dealt with by the league in 2019 and beyond?

AF: I don’t see us thumping our chest about climate change. But we will look for and find more ways for our fans to compost at games, have greater access to mass transit and bike valets.

GSB: The NHL certainly has done a solid job at engaging fans who attend games on the environment about energy efficiency, water restoration and more. My question is more geared to fans who consume NHL hockey on TV, via mobile and who rarely or never go to a game. I know Green Week, or this year, Green Month, gets mentioned here and there but that is rare, it seems to me. How will you communicate NHL Green and the climate change fight — while not thumping your chests — to that large cohort of fans?

AF: Storytelling will play a key role in communicating NHL Green, including those related to climate, to our fans who don’t go to games. The good thing is that we have great stories to tell, from what the teams have done and are doing on the environment, to our players’ efforts. And these stories will be driven locally more than on a league-wide basis. Which makes sense to me — you’ve got to care about where you live, after all. That’s what the core of environmentalism is, right?

GSB: Indeed. You mentioned the players. As someone who was in the league not long ago, I imagine a part of your remit is dealing with the current crop.

AF: Yes, part of my job is as a liaison to current players from a community relations point of view. We are letting them know that they don’t have to fit a mold…

GSB: What do you mean by that?

AF: Well, for some players, visiting kids at a children’s hospital is the right thing. Others will feel more comfortable doing other things. We aim to empower our players to engage the way they like by finding out what they’re interested in, what motivates them and then to provide them with the opportunities to engage…

GSB: …Including engaging with environmental issues…

AF: Of course! I want to help the guys find what their things are, in terms of community relations. For me, it was the green thing. The idea is to go beyond what the team and league expect. And the great thing is that hockey guys are, for the most part, very humble, very relatable.

GSB: So with that being the case, and harkening back to your long term mission of growing the game 20 to 40 years out, what can you and the league do to help young people choose to play hockey and also to become fans? In Canada, the NHL is still the biggest thing so maybe it’s easier there. But in the U.S., you’ve got basketball, football. Soccer is growing. Baseball is still a factor, of course. And then there are individual sports as well. Lots of competition.

AF: Great question. I’m a believer that people choose one pursuit over another based on emotion. What feels good. Something you can do with your friends. Maybe a terrific coach inspires you. We’re working with Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to emphasize fun, friendships, and teamwork with young players. That’s the way you create memories, that’s the way you create hockey players and lifelong fans.

GSB: I for one hope you succeed because once you get them in, then the younger generations will be exposed to the generosity of the players, the league’s community relations initiatives which, of course, include its myriad of green programs.

 


 

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NBA and WNBA March in NYC Gay Pride Parade; GSB Imagines When Leagues March for Climate, Science

The NBA and WNBA, for the second consecutive year, sponsored a float in the Gay Pride Parade in New York City. When will the NBA and WNBA — and, for that matter, other sports leagues, have floats and/or some other sort of presence at a climate change and/or science march? GreenSportsBlog imagines such a future.

 

North American sports leagues and teams have, for the most part, shied away from taking overtly public stands on issues of the day, even ones that have broad public support.

When asked by GreenSportsBlog, not one North American professional sports league would comment on President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We asked executives at Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL and the NHL and all either said “no comment” or declined to respond at all. This, despite survey data from the Huffington Post/YouGov poll showing that 61 percent of Americans support staying in Paris.

So I was very happy to see that the NBA and WNBA co-sponsored a float in last Sunday’s Pride Parade in New York City for the second straight year. Commissioners Adam Silver and Lisa Borders were on board, enjoying the day, waving and throwing balled-up, NBA- and WNBA-branded towels to the crowd, estimated to be in the one million range. 

Media recognized that this was a BIG DEAL: The New York Times gave it front page-of-the-sports section treatment. Bleacher Report, the New York Daily News and numerous other outlets covered it as well.

So that got me to thinking: What if the NBA, WNBA and the other sports leagues that are aggressively greening and use science in every aspect of their operations, including to abet their sustainability efforts, had decided to lend similar support to the April 22nd March for Science and the People’s Climate March a week later?  

So that got me to conjuring a series of conversations that imagined Mr. Silver, Ms. Borders, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, ESPN’s John Brenkus and others having participated in one or both marches.

 

APRIL 30, 2017, Edmonton, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C.

For the second consecutive Saturday, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on Washington, D.C., New York City and other cities throughout the United States, Canada and beyond.

Yesterday, the People’s Climate March took center stage, with an estimated 300,000 Americans taking to the streets to advocate for meaningful climate action, along with clean energy jobs, and against the Trump administration’s anti-environmental and anti-climate executive actions and plans. Only a week earlier, on Earth Day, 1.3 million people marched in the U.S and beyond to defend the role of science — including climate science— in policy and society through the March for Science.

That many marchers took part in both events is no surprise as the climate change fight and many aspects of science are under attack from the Trump Administration and many of its supporters.

What may have surprised many is that the NBA and WNBA, along with Major League Baseball, ESPN, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer all participated in both marches. The NFL sent representatives to the March for Science but chose not to take part in The People’s Climate March, citing a conflict with Day 3 of its annual draft. They did release a vague statement that supported “the goals of the Climate March.”

Politics averse sports leagues, participating in marches? What the heck is happening?

“The NBA, its teams, players and staff are not averse to politics,” asserted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “That’s a myth. Because we in the NBA are U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, we encourage our players, coaches and staff to voice their opinions. And they have, on a wide range of relevant issues, including on science and climate change. And, when we believe something is important, we march!”

The marches supporting science and the climate change fight must be very important to Silver and the NBA since they took place at the beginning of the playoffs, the most highly-watched games of the season.

Thus some fans—and not only those in the anti-science, climate-skeptical corners of the political spectrum—might question why the NBA marched the last two Saturdays while playoff games were being played.

To Commissioner Silver, they need not wonder at all: “First of all, we can walk-march and chew gum—i.e. play playoff games—at the same time. That’s why we joined the People’s Climate March today. And then tomorrow I will be in Boston for Game 1 of the Celtics-Wizards series. Science is intrinsic to the entire operation of NBA basketball, from state-of-the-art training centers and arenas to advanced nutrition to advanced statistical metrics to equipment. On climate change, my predecessor, David Stern, said in 2013, that ‘climate change is just about number one on [our agenda for] the future of the planet.’ At the same time, we invited Congress to promote effective standards and incentives designed to help our nation mobilize in time and at the scale needed to address the risks of climate change…The logical place to start is with standards to reduce the carbon pollution from electric power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. The environmental executive actions and policy plans of the current administration in Washington show they are moving in the opposite direction. So here we are.”

This isn’t the first time professional basketball has played a significant role in a political march. As WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders noted, “last June, the NBA and WNBA became the first sports leagues to have a float in a parade when we took part in New York City’s annual Pride Parade. In fact, Adam (Silver) and I walked alongside and on the float. It was fantastic. And I have to tell you, I got a similar feeling at the March for Science and The People’s Climate March. Both were great.”

 

NBA Float

WNBA legend Sue Wicks, WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and former NBA player Jason Collins on NBA float at the 2016 Pride Parade in New York City (Photo credit: Outsports)

 

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who took part in New York City’s March for Science with a group of staffers, interns and fans, before heading out to Citi Field for the late afternoon Nationals-Mets contest, likened investments in science to a team’s investments in its farm systems. “We cannot attack science. Just the opposite: we need to fund science consistently and aggressively; that way society can absorb the occasional failure with the fruits of science’s many successes” said Mr. Manfred, “Just like when MLB clubs aggressively and consistently invest in their farm system, the odds are the successes are going to far outweigh the failures.”

John Brenkus, host of ESPN’s popular Sport Science series, joined by thousands of fellow travelers in the Los Angeles People’s Climate March, offered that “Our show is really about the physics of sports—the exit velocity of an Aaron Judge home run, measuring the agility of Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette, that sort of thing. Well, climate change is ultimately about physics—how the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses by humans impact the climate. The physics is clear and is not in humanity’s favor right now unless we make changes towards cleaner energy.”

 

John Brenkus

John Brenkus, host of ESPN’s Sport Science. (Photo credit: Sport Techie)

 

Ex-Boston Bruin and Edmonton Oiler, and current cleantech/green agriculture venture capitalist Andrew Ference, joined a gaggle of hearty Edmontonians at the Alberta city’s cold but friendly People’s Climate March. Not surprisingly from someone who is betting on green businesses, Ference was bullish about the climate change fight in general and the power of athletes to help: “There are athletes who do get it and want to lead, whether they are on field/on ice superstars. We need to provide them with the education and tools they need to engage teammates, sponsors, and fans.”

Leave it to NBA Hall of Famer, announcer, Grateful Deadhead, and environmentalist Bill Walton, who walked in both marches in San Diego, to provide the exclamation point on the intersection between sports, science and climate change: “When I was marching through the glorious streets of San Diego the last two Saturdays, I saw the hope of mankind displayed as many thousands supported scientists and then climate change. As (legendary UCLA basketball) Coach (John) Wooden often said ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’ Well these marchers showed they are preparing to fight for science, for curiosity, for learning and for the planet. They are preparing to succeed, no matter what goes on in Washington. Live Green or Die, man!”

 

Walton

Bill “Live Free or Die” Walton (Photo credit: Awful Announcing)

 

Have a great Independence Day weekend. GreenSportsBlog is taking the week off—unless there is breaking Green-Sports news. Then we will be there to cover it.

 


 

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Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement

FIRST OF A TWO-PART, GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE-FOCUSED STORY: The Green Sports Alliance (Alliance) offered an action-oriented statement as a response to the decision by President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Partnering with basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton, the GSA is using this “Post-Paris Exit” (#Prexit) moment to launch a new initiative, the “Live Green or Die™” challenge and to welcome individuals to join its ranks.

 

 

President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that he plans to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement has, according to Justin Zeulner, executive director for the Green Sports Alliance, strengthened the Alliance’s resolve to do what it can to accelerate the pace of the greening of sports.

“In the current climate, we’ve gone from a state of concern to a state of emergency. Climate change threatens the sports industry’s very existence. It has never been more urgent for the industry to take action – and it’s doing just that,” said Zeulner. “Across the board, from owners to athletes, sports organizations are focusing their attention and resources on greening their sports. That singular focus is essential to winning in sports – and in the battle against climate change. The stakes are too high to risk inaction. Losing is not an option.”

The Alliance invited eco-athletes, team owners, and stadium designers to share their feelings on #Prexit and the way forward in the statement.

 

Bill Walton and the Alliance Partner to Involve Fans Now with LIVE GREEN OR DIE

The Alliance sees increasing fan involvement in the Green-Sports movement as an immediate and important next step. With that in mind, they are opening Alliance membership, heretofore the preserve of teams, venues, leagues and business, to individual fans. And they’re partnering with basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton to do it.

 

Walton 2

Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

Walton and the Alliance are urging fans to take the LIVE GREEN OR DIE™ challenge. Click here to take a pledge, commit to greater sustainability, and join the Alliance in leading the sports greening movement.

“We have the moral obligation, duty, and responsibility to do everything we can to remedy what’s happening – environmental cancers, poisoned water, and unbreathable air – all due to climate change, which is a self-inflicted tragedy,” intoned Walton as he pressed fans to take the challenge. “Get on the Green Sports Alliance express. This is not something that will happen by itself. Our success, our future, our lives depend on each of us taking positive and concentrated steps forward based on knowledge, science, and technology.”

 

Other eco-athletes are speaking out on Trump, Paris and Moving Forward

It’s not only Bill Walton.

The Alliance’s statement included the takes of several leading eco-athletes, some of whom may be familiar to GreenSportsBlog readers.

 

Andrew Ference

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the global efforts to combat climate change being politicized in the United States,” said former National Hockey League player Andrew Ference. “People and businesses from across the country don’t see this as a left or right issue, rather an issue which means going forward or backward. The world is stronger when America moves forward.”

Ference created the NHL Players Association Carbon Neutral Challenge in 2007, the first major environmental initiative in professional hockey. He encouraged more than 500 players to go carbon neutral, establishing him as a leader in the green sports movement. Ference holds a certificate in Corporate Sustainability and Innovation from Harvard Extension School, and is the most recent recipient of the Green Sports Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award.

 

Ference

Andrew Ference, after winning the 2016 Green Sports Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

Mary V. Harvey

Olympic Gold medalist (soccer, Atlanta ’96) Mary V. Harvey called Prexit “extremely disappointing” but sees it as “a rallying cry for all of us to step up our game. And we will. Climate change is real, and we all have a responsibility to advocate for protecting our environment.”

During the FIFA reform process, Harvey helped organize a global campaign calling for gender equity as a core tenet. Over 12 weeks, #WomeninFIFA reached more than 10 million people. Recently Harvey became the first woman to receive the Werner Fricker Builder Award from US Soccer for her long-term advocacy of the sport.

 

 

Harvey

Mary V. Harvey, the first woman to receive the Werner Fricker Builder Award from US Soccer for her long-term advocacy of the sport (Photo credit: Mary V. Harvey)

 

Will Witherspoon

According to a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, not only do 86 percent of Democrats want to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, but so do 51 percent of Republicans. Will Witherspoon, who spent 12 years as a linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans, reflected this reality when he said, “The voices of the few should not outweigh the voices of the many. The work we do together is critical – now more than ever.” Witherspoon manages his Shire Gate Farm, a 500-acre, grass-fed cattle farm in Missouri, renowned for its use of sustainable farming techniques and certified by Animal Welfare Approved.

 

Witherspoon Jeremy M. Lange

Will Witherspoon at Shire Gate Farm in Missouri (Photo credit: Jeremy M. Lange)

 

Sacramento Kings Owner Speaks Out

Sacramento Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé sees sports as an important, positive counter-force to #Prexit.

“It is tremendously disheartening to see the recent step back from climate change leadership,” said Ranadivé. “However, through sport as a platform for good, we’re witnessing tremendous strides and new records in how businesses operate, how fans mitigate their impact on the planet, and how together, communities are working to preserve our environment for generations to come.”

 

Builders of sports venues are sticking with Paris

HOK, is, arguably, the world’s leading stadium and arena design, architecture, engineering, and planning firm. They are behind several of the most sustainable sports structures in North America, including Met Life Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, Rogers Place in Edmonton (Oilers), and Nationals Park in Washington.

“We are encouraged by the number of current sports projects that are pursuing ambitious sustainable design goals,” said Chris DeVolder, HOK’s senior vice president and managing principal. “We stand by our commitment to AIA^ 2030, which targets carbon neutrality for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations by 2030, [as well as] the companies, organizations, and US cities, counties, and states that continue to honor the Paris Agreement. As a global firm, we can do no less.”

TOMORROW, PART TWO: A PREVIEW OF THE SEVENTH GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE SUMMIT

 

^ AIA = American Institute of Architects

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