NHL Issues Its 2nd Sustainability Report: Environmental Performance Improvements vs. 2014; NHL Green Goals — “Innovate, Transform, Inspire”

Four years ago, the NHL became the first pro sports league to issue a sustainability report, one of many examples of its environmental leadership. Why has the NHL made such a strong commitment? The report said it best: “Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity. The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of the [NHL’s] history and culture.” At that time, the league reported on its water and energy usage, carbon emissions and its conservation efforts.

On Wednesday, with the publication of its substantive, engaging and accessible 2018 sustainability report, the NHL provided a detailed look at how it performed on a variety of environmental metrics since 2014 and sets out how it plans to improve going forward. The goal is to ensure that all levels of hockey – from frozen ponds to community rinks to the NHL – thrive for future generations. To make good on that objective, the league promises to innovate, transform and inspire.

 

“What is the greenest sports league?”

I get that question a lot from folks outside of the Green-Sports ecosystem.

My response has always been the same and without hesitation: “The NHL.”

Why? The league:

  • Launched NHL Green in 2010, a comprehensive environmental sustainability program addressing the effects of climate change and freshwater scarcity on the sport.
  • Became the first in North America to have carbon neutral seasons by offsetting all of its direct carbon emissions starting in 2014
  • Started the Greener Rinks Initiative, providing managers of many indoor ice rinks in North America with the tools to operate in more environmentally friendly ways
  • Issued, in 2014, its first sustainability report, the first ever produced by a North American professional sports league.

I could list many more but you get the gist.

The NHL, which celebrated its centennial in 2017, takes a very long view when it comes to environmental sustainability. According to Omar Mitchell, the league’s vice president of corporate social responsibility, “We are working to make sure we ensure that we have hockey for the next 100 years. That’s why ‘Green’ is integral to our DNA.”

 

omar

Omar Mitchell, NHL’s Vice President of Corporate Responsibility (Photo credit: Claire Greenway/Getty Images Europe)

 

That big picture approach to sustainability becomes crystal clear as one navigates through the NHL’s second installation of its sustainability report.

The 2018 version is imbued with the ethos expressed in a pledge the NHL made last September’s in its Declaration of Principles, stating that: Hockey should be an enjoyable family experience; all stakeholders – organizations, players, parents, siblings, coaches, referees, volunteers and rink operations – play a role in this effort. To Mitchell, this is much more than a statement: “It is our way of stating our values. We believe hockey improves lives and communities.”

 

NHL Sustainability Scorecard: Improvements in waste diversion, energy usage and more

The report provides the reader with a detailed scorecard illustrating the league’s — and its 30 teams’ — performance over the last few years on a variety of environmental metrics, including water restoration, landfill reduction, efficient electricity use, and more. Highlights include:

  • Waste diversion rate of 32 percent thanks to composting, improved concessions forecasting, and enhanced waste tracking, with half of NHL arenas currently composting their own waste. The NHL has set a goal to increase waste diversion to 50 percent within five years.
  • A one percent reduction of energy consumption from Fiscal Year (FY)14 to FY16 by using more efficient lighting, enhanced building management systems, waste heat recapture technologies, and onsite renewable energy generation.
  • An approximate seven percent decrease in water consumption from FY15 to FY16, through fixture upgrades in arenas, minimizing consumption in water towers, and installation of smart sensors on water irrigation systems.
  • Throughout the NHL Centennial year, fans donated 4,245 pounds of equipment (more than 2,000 items), including helmets, skates, and pads. This equipment avoids landfills and gets repurposed back into the community.
  • A two percent year-over-year reduction in CO2 emissions from FY14 to FY16 – from 189,503 to 182,355 metric tons – through innovations and efficiencies.
  • 963,200 megawatt hours of energy counterbalanced since 2014 through the investment of renewable energy credits, generated from U.S. wind and Canadian biomass.

 

Bringing sustainability to community rinks and pond hockey lovers

The NHL’s Greener Rinks Initiative, a program launched in 2016, is prominently featured. With approximately 4,800 indoor ice rinks across North America, the initiative measures and evaluates their environmental impact. Modern-day NHL arenas use more environmentally-friendly energy sources, including solar power, fuel cell technology, waste water recapture and reuse, and geothermal technologies. NHL Greener Rinks aims to help rink operators make similar, sustainable business decisions in their aging community rinks (average age: 30 years) while also reducing energy and operating costs.

The sustainability report also shines a welcome spotlight on RinkWatch, a research initiative launched in 2013 by two professors from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. The program brings together citizens from across North America who share a love for outdoor hockey. Participants track and monitor backyard rinks, ponds, and winter weather conditions to assist with the study of long-term impacts of climate change. To date, more than 1,400 outdoor rinks and ponds have been tracked and monitored. Fans are encouraged to participate; those interested can visit RinkWatch.org to join the movement.

 

Creating a Sustainability Report that is accessible for fans, substantive for sustainability “deep divers”

Have you read a corporate sustainability report? I have. And let me tell you, some of them make corporate annual reports seem like light reading. And I’m a sustainability metrics nerd!

Thus, I was a bit nervous before clicking on the new NHL sustainability report. The one major criticism I had of its 2014 predecessor was that it was hard to follow as it was laid out in the “continuous scroll” format  in vogue at the time. I felt like I had to scroll forever to get to a desired topic area.

So I was immediately heartened upon seeing that the 2018 sustainability report had done away with continuous scroll and replaced it with what I call an accessible site map structure in its “Report at-a-Glance” page.

 

Report at a Glance

Screen shot of the 2018 NHL Sustainability Report’s “Report At-A-Glance” navigation page

 

Eureka! I wanted to see where climate change fit into the league’s efforts and plans. There it was, “Frozen Ponds & Climate Change,” third from the top in the Home section. Interested in how the NHL is doing in its carbon emissions reduction efforts? Check out the “Innovating the League” section, second item from the top. And so on.

“Moving away from ‘continuous scrolling’ was intentional on our part,” shared Mitchell. “Taking feedback about the readability of our 2014 report to heart, we spent a lot of time with Scrum50, our marketing agency, to develop a ‘Choose Your Adventure’ approach. This resulted in a report that is at once broad enough to engage casual fans in understanding what the NHL is doing on the environment and detailed enough for sustainability practitioners and the like to take deep, analytic dives.”

 

NHL’s First Green Month

The 2018 sustainability report comes out at the same time as the NHL is launching its first Green Month. “The last two years we had ‘Green Week’ but found out that was not enough time to do it right,” offered Mitchell. “Our clubs now have the time to activate meaningful fan engagement programs.”

 

A 30 second NHL Green Month video from the Anaheim Ducks about the environmental performance at their Honda Center arena

 

League needs to measure fan awareness of NHL Green

It says here that the one major area the NHL can improve upon in its sustainability reporting is to get a baseline measure of fan awareness of, and interest in, NHL Green and then track it over time. To my mind, this should be done ASAP — don’t wait three or four years until the next sustainability report is issued. Keeping score as to how NHL fans react to NHL Green will help the league tweak and improve upon its environmental efforts on the fly.

And when I say fans, I mean all NHL fans: those who attend games, and the far bigger number who don’t set foot in an NHL arena but who follow the sport on TV, online, via mobile devices, etc.

 

Innovate, Transform and Inspire

What will a 2022 NHL Sustainability Report look like?

It’s (way) too early to get into that conversation but, says Mitchell, the league’s direction for NHL Green is clear.

“Our sustainability missions now and going forward are to innovate, transform and inspire. Innovate means we will continue, at club and arena levels, to improve on water and electricity use, waste reductions, and more. For example, we have a goal to have installed energy efficient LED lighting at all NHL arenas within five years. Transform…an initiative like Greener Rinks is transformative. It takes what we’ve learned to help community rinks operate more effectively from a variety of environmental and efficiency perspectives. It also helps them connect on the environment with their customers. Inspire means doing more to educate and engage our fans and players to take positive environmental action. One player from each club will be designated as a Green Ambassador. ”

 

Rogers Place

Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, features LED lighting (Photo credit: NHL)

 

The NHL also sees environmental sustainability as economic and social imperatives. Final words go to Omar Mitchell:

“Our focus on community rinks is crucial because it’s how kids come to the sport. We think Green Rinks can potentially help those rinks lower the high cost of ice time — it typically ranges between $200-$700 per hour — by reducing energy costs. Reductions in natural ice — as documented by RinkWatch — can limit kids to playing in rinks and many can’t afford it. So, you see, environmental sustainability is existential for the NHL and hockey more broadly.”

 

 

 


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The GSB Interview: Diane Wood, President, National Environmental Education Foundation, on its Partnership with the NBA

We are in the midst of Earth Fortnight (Earth Day was Saturday, April 22; related celebrations were held during the week prior and are continuing this week), a great time for sports leagues to highlight their sustainability bona fides to their fans and other stakeholders. GreenSportsBlog is celebrating with two columns this week: Tuesday, we reviewed the Earth Fortnight activities of Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the NFL Draft. And today we talk with Diane Wood, President of the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), about its innovative “energy saving” fan engagement partnership with the NBA.

GreenSportsBlog: Diane, I can’t wait to share with our readers the nuts-and-bolts of the program NEEF and the NBA launched at the start of the playoffs a week or so ago, encouraging fans to take energy saving actions and then measure those actions. But they will have to wait just a bit. First, let’s talk a bit about your story—how you got to NEEF, what led you to the NBA, etc.

Diane Wood: Well, this partnership between NEEF and the NBA seems like a natural evolution for me. After getting my Masters in Science and Environmental Education, I went to the Peace Corps, helping Paraguay develop its first environmental education program. It was truly life changing—I saw that I was able to make a real difference in peoples’ lives. It was a privilege, really.

GSB: I love it! Thank you for your service. What came next?

WoodD

Diane Wood, President, National Environmental Education Foundation. (Photo credit: NEEF)

 

DW: Next came the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). I was there for 18 years, running their Latin America and Caribbean programs most of that time and then spending a few years leading their research and development program. But, after awhile, I got a bit restless: I had adopted two kids from Colombia and the travel from the US and being away from the girls was taxing. And, almost as important, I felt that the environmental problems that animated a lot of my international conservation work emanated from the USA. I wanted to help Americans learn about how people and the environment beyond our borders were suffering consequences because of our actions or lack thereof. So when the NEEF opportunity came up, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is ideal.”

GSB: What did the opportunity look like?

DW: Let’s take a step back. When I arrived, I found a great model, what we call Lifelong Environmental Education, that was based on reaching people through trusted professionals—think meteorologists, medical care providers, teachers and land owners. NEEF provided environmental education content for them and they disseminated it to their audiences.

GSB: How was that working out?

DW: It went well, but…

GSB: I knew there would be a “but” there!

DW: …But I and the NEEF board felt we were risking being successful only on the margins, meaning we were only touching hundreds or maybe thousands of people. That is several orders of magnitude shy of the numbers of people we need to impact. So, even though we were in the midst of the Great Recession, we decided to go big.

GSB: Hey, never let a crisis go to waste. And the econo-pocalypse certainly qualified. So what did you mean by “going big”?

DW: We set ourselves a vision that by 2022, 300 million Americans actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the wellbeing of the earth and its people. Yes that is about 90 percent of the population.

GSB: You know what? That qualifies as “Going Big”. How the heck are you gonna do THAT?

DW: Well, we set benchmarks through a 2012 survey that queried the US population on their environmental attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors. We gave people eco-scores and then segmented them. The most knowledgeable and environmentally active group we call the “bloomed”, but the group we were most interested in engaging is what we refer to as the “moveable middle,” which represents some 129 million Americans.

GSB: What defines the “moveable middle”?

DW: They want to do the right thing environmentally, but simply forget or feel it’s too expensive, both in terms of money and time. Or, by doing the right thing, these folks feel they would somehow have to become someone else to fit in. These are real barriers that cast the environment as something extra to care about, an obligation to add on to an already very busy lifestyle. Even though they understand that we all need a healthy environment to survive.

GSB: So, how does NEEF overcome “green is too hard to do?”

DW: Our approach is fourfold: 1. Start where people are; 2) Individual environmental actions matter; 3. Taking environmental action can make you feel good, save money, and improve health, and 4. Collectively, people are motivated by their peers and are rewarded by being part of something much bigger than themselves.

GSB: That makes sense to me as a way to make environmental action less daunting. But that approach and motivating 129 million Americans? That’s a heavy lift!

DW: We knew that and that’s why we needed to find trusted partners with scale to amplify our reach and engagement. And that led us to professional sports.

GSB: Bingo! As Allen Hershkowitz, former President of the Green Sports Alliance, often says, 65-70 percent of people follow sports.

DW: Yes…sports reaches a diverse national—even global—audience, engendering both trust and emotional connection. We have also worked with zoos, natural history museums, and aquariums as they too, when you roll them up nationally, engage huge numbers of people in an immersive experience that creates a high level of trust and emotional connection too. So sports and zoos are in great positions to reach many people when they’re open to receiving a positive environmental message, and to then lead them to making better everyday environmental decisions. Now, speaking of Allen, he has been key to our sports journey. We went to several GSA summits during his tenure. And it was he who brokered our introduction to the folks at NBA Cares.

GSB: Why did you decide to go to the NBA and not one of the other pro leagues?

DW: Well, we saw great value in all of the major sports leagues and hope to work with more going forward. But, to start off, we felt the NBA fan base was the best match with our 129 million “moveable middles” we were trying to, well, move. Specifically, we found their audience to be a fit with our target on a variety of metrics, including diversity in the broadest sense, household income, social media engagement and, size. They had also decided to move away from their focus on a once a year “Green Week” and were working with Allen to identify a more on-going eco-outreach opportunity.

GSB: Plus it has to help that the league, at least in my opinion, has the highest cool factor of all of the leagues.

DW: Don’t get me picking favorites Lew. We think they’re all cool. Plus we found the league to be—and I know this will sound cliché—authentic.

GSB: Absolutely. So you, NEEF and Allen Hershkowitz identified the NBA as your prospective partner. What did you propose to do with them?

DW: We pitched our concept to NBA Cares and they were very open to extending their fan engagement around energy saving—something many teams are already championing in-arena. They already had done “NBA Green Week” in the past, and were looking for a fresh way to involve fans in saving energy at home in their everyday lives. They invited us to further develop our concept, and, following some preliminary meetings, we chose energy efficiency as the focus. Our challenge was to then develop an approach that would garner attention without interrupting the flow of the game. So, in late 2015, a group of us, including Allen and a brand consultant, Ryan Gallagher of Good Gallagher, met with Kathy Behrens and her team at NBA Cares, to share our “Learning By Doing” fan engagement concept. It has two main components: a fun animated video featuring a handful of diverse former NBA and WNBA players, as well as a text messaging (SMS) option to remind and prompt fans to take a series of six energy saving actions at home (unplugging electronics when not in use, switching laundry from warm to cold water wash, etc.). We call this platform “NBA Green Energy All-Star.”

GSB: Great! How did the NBA Cares folks react?

DW: Positively. They invited us back to work with their NBA Cares leadership team and we added our pro bono creative agency, Culture ONE World. Our message had to be tight, relevant, and fun. The working group came up with four concepts, each of which fit within NBA culture. The winner turned out to be the animated bobblehead video, which was launched by NBA Cares and through NBAGREEN.com on Earth Day (April 22nd) with the video and “timeout tips.” The video and timeout tips are being promoted by all NBA and WNBA teams to their fans on social media and through other outreach. In addition, at NEEFUSA.org, you can find more information about why these energy saving actions count.

NBA Green Energy All-Star video (0:58)

 

GSB: What about in-arena during the NBA playoffs?

DW: It is certainly possible that the video will run in-arena during the playoffs but that is up to each individual team. The big news is that the video aired on NBA TV on Earth Day!

GSB: That’s a big win. Let’s hope that most of the remaining teams show the video…and hopefully the Green Energy All-Star campaign makes it to WNBA arenas this summer. Now, speaking of All Stars, how was it to work with those former NBA and WNBA greats?

DW: The former players themselves who were “bobble-ized” were great to work with: Dikembe Mutombo…

GSB: Oh, he’s a tremendous humanitarian and gets environmental issues.

Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo bobblehead (Courtesy of NEEF)

 

DW: He’s terrific. Also Bill Walton…

GSB: Another fabulous “get”…

DW: …Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, Jason Collins and Felipe Lopez. Then fans are cued by text to take an energy saving actions— The fan then receives a “slam dunk” or a “swish” response message that positively reinforces their action and provides an option to learn more about that specific environmental action.

GSB: That seems to fit the “it’s easy” metric quite well and also will appeal to the slightly younger demographic of the NBA attendee as compared to the NFL and MLB. Speaking of metrics, what does success look like??

DW: Our greatest success is developing our working relationship with the NBA on the issue of environmental literacy. I hope we can continue to build on this good work. In terms of metrics, we will be looking at multiple measures, from total impressions across social media and web, to texting opt-ins and action-taken, and then estimating collective energy savings, including how that translates to dollars and greenhouse gases prevented. We know that individual actions taken together can add up to a significant lasting impact. We look forward to sharing the results of the NBA community’s collective impact at the end of this campaign.

GSB: Please let us know the results when you have them. We would also love to talk about Year 2 when the time is right.

DW: Will do!

 


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