Talking NHL Green Week II with Omar Mitchell, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility

The NHL’s second annual Green Week runs from March 11-17. To get a sense of what’s new and improved this year as well as what the league is doing sustainability-wise beyond Green Week, GreenSportsBlog talked with Omar Mitchell, the league’s VP of Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

The National Hockey League, the first professional sports league in North America to issue a sustainability report—which documents and discloses its carbon footprint—and the 26th largest user of green power in the US^ is adding to its sustainability legacy through its second annual Green Week. Starting Saturday and running through St. Patrick’s Day—talk about GREEN!—NHL Green Week aims to communicate the league’s consistent and forward-leaning commitment to doing what it can to foster a healthy, pond-hockey-friendly environment.

Pond Hockey

NHL Green Week II, to launch on March 11, will educate fans about what the league is doing to preserve a Pond Hockey-friendly environment and what fans can do to help. (Photo credit: NHL)

 

According to Omar Mitchell, the NHL’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, the league will use Green Week to “educate our fans and other stakeholders—including staff, players, sponsors, and more—about the environmental initiatives undertaken by the NHL and its 30 (soon to be 31*) clubs” via a comprehensive multi-media activation that is highlighted by 15 and 30 second Public Service Announcements (PSAs.)

Comprehensive is the watchword here:

  • The PSAs will run across the full panoply of NHL broadcast/cable outlets: NHL Network, NBCSN, as well as Rogers SportsNet in Canada—the NHL’s official Canadian broadcast partner. And all 30 NHL teams have the option to run the PSAs on their regional cable networks.
  • NBCSN, for the second consecutive year, will also interview retired New York Rangers and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Mike Richter about his post-career work in solar power and energy efficiency as well as his take on NHL Green 2017. Other retired and current NHL’ers will share their sustainability-inspired stories via Sirius XM Radio.

Richter eco-preneur

Mike Richter (photo credit: Zimbio.com)

 

  • NHL.com will get into the Green Week act as a new NHL Green site will launch on the 13th; Green Week banners and other online messaging will also help tell the league’s sustainability story. Social media will, not surprisingly, also be in the NHL Green Week storytelling mix.

The NHL Green Week media blitz is a very big deal.

Why? Well, think about it: When have you seen a major sports league devote significant air time to a strategic, concerted, multi-media, sustainability campaign?

Actually, I know the answer.

Never.

Until now, that is, with the NHL Green Week PSA campaign.

As of this writing, I have yet to see the PSAs. But, the NHL’s history of high quality creative gives me confidence that the spots will break through strike a positive chord among the fans. Building (and measuring) fan awareness of the NHL’s commitment to sustainability is a crucial next step for the league and its clubs, as is encouraging positive environmental action.

The NHL clubs have stepped up on this front.

“All 30 of our clubs are participating in Green Week via their own social and digital channels.” said Mitchell, “And teams that are playing at home during the next week can, and many will, highlight the league’s sustainability efforts in-arena.”

One way they will do so—and new for NHL Green Week II—is the Gear and Equipment Donation Net.

All 30 clubs are provided with a hockey-goal-shaped “Donation Net” to be placed in a high visibility, high traffic area in their arena concourse. The teams are asking fans of teams playing home games during Green Week to donate their used hockey equipment by dropping it into the Donation Net. Per Mitchell, this program has two key benefits: “There’s an environmental benefit as the equipment is kept out of the landfill. And, some of the people who will get the repurposed gear will be folks who otherwise would not have had the chance to ever play hockey. So we’re growing participation.”

And, what about teams who are on the road during Green Week? Not to worry, says Mitchell. “In addition to Green Week, we are in the midst of our Centennial season. We’re in the midst of our Centennial Fan Celebration (CFA), a 2017-long traveling celebration of the NHL that will visit all 30 arenas this year. The Donation Net is embedded in the activation.”

Helping maximize the impact and effectiveness of NHL Green Week—as well as many of the league’s other sustainability initiatives—is the Green Sports Alliance. “The GSA has been our main sustainability partner for several years and is integral to the league’s and the clubs’ greening efforts,” offers Mitchell, “They add vital sustainability expertise to our clubs. That is one of several reasons all 30 are members of the GSA for the second year in a row. Another is that they can tap into a broader green-sports knowledge base by meeting with counterparts from other leagues and sports governing bodies.”

Beyond Green Week, the league, is looking to expand its Greener Rinks campaign, the year-old program that provides valuable sustainability information for free to over 4,500 community ice rinks in North America. More Mitchell: “We’re launching the Greener Rinks website on Monday. It’s the next stage in our campaign to be a valuable sustainability resource to community rinks, most of which may not have the access to, or awareness of, this information. We, in partnership with NHL energy partner Constellation, take the better sustainability practices from the NHL arena level and provide them, in one place, for the community rinks, including sustainability technologies along with recommendations on energy saving products and services.”

Finally, Mitchell and his colleagues are hard at work collecting and interpreting data from the league office, all 30 teams and their supply chains for the NHL’s second Sustainability Report. Mitchell declared that the report, a follow up to the breakthrough document published in 2014, will be issued by the end of 2017—an ideal way, it says here, to wrap up to the NHL’s Centennial year from a sustainability point of view.

nhl sust report

 

That said, to me, the document will fall short of its potential impact if it doesn’t measure fan awareness of the league’s sustainability efforts. Mitchell eased my concerns, stating, “we are looking to track fan awareness and attitudes and that will come through in this year’s sustainability report.”

I can’t wait to read it—look, I’m the kind of guy who loves a good sustainability report! But that is down the road. Starting Saturday, I look forward to following NHL Green Week. Hopefully, the powers that be at the NBA, MLB, NFL, MLS and sports leagues around the world will do the same.

 

^ According to EPA’s Green Power Partnership
* The Vegas Golden Knights will begin play in the 2017-2018 season

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The GSB Interview: Damian Foxall, Bringing Canadians Closer to Nature Through Sports

The Canadian Wildlife Federation is Canada’s largest conservation non-profit, with a mandate to get folks from New Foundland to British Columbia, especially kids, to experience nature up close. According to Recreation Education Manager and world class sailor Damian Foxall, outdoor sports, especially sailing and paddle boating, play key roles in the Federation’s efforts. We chatted with Foxall about his life on the water and how it influenced his work linking sports to conservation.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Damian, first of all, how did you get into sailing racing and, in particular, around-the-world races?

Damian Foxall: I’m sure you can tell from my accent that I’m from Ireland. Grew up in County Kerry and have been on the water, primarily sailing since birth. I also developed an appreciation for nature and the outdoors from that time as Kerry is amazingly beautiful and wild.

GSB: I’ve been there; I know!

DF: Yes, I grew up near Ring of Kerry National Park, near Skelligs Rock. Just spectacular. And it’s a great area for sailing, wind surfing, fishing. I did all of those but sailing was my thing. So I left high school when I was 16, 17 years of age to sail.

GSB: Oh, your parents must’ve loved THAT!

DF: They weren’t too impressed, let’s just say. I thought about studying Marine Biology but the adrenaline rush of sailing took over. Delivered a boat to the Caribbean and never looked back. Spent from about 1987-1995 in the Caribbean sailing and becoming a dive master. Then I left the Caribbean to race in the TransAtlantic circuit, became the first non-Frenchman to win the rookie section in the French sailing circuit. And then I started sailing the around-the-world.

GSB: I cannot fathom that…

DF: Most folks can’t but it is an incredible experience. I was fortunate to win the Volvo Ocean Race as part of an American team in 2008. Also that year, took 90 days to win a 2-handed (two person crew) around-the-world race from Barcelona. Also in 2008, with the late, great Steve Fossett

GSB: The fellow who went around the world in a hot air balloon?

DF: Exactly. We set a record that still stands for the fastest non-stop around-the-world trip—54 days. Also I competed in the Quebec to St. Malo race, the only Canadian professional transatlantic race.

damian-foxall-volvo-ocean-race

Damian Foxall (Photo credit: Volvo Ocean Race)

 

GSB: That’s not a bad year, I’d say. So how did you get to Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation?

DF: Well I met my ex-wife in Quebec City so that’s how Canada happened. It turned out that the Canadian Wildlife Federation was involved with the Quebec to St. Malo race and its organizer, Sail Canada, through CWF’s Recreation for Conservation program. Sail Canada’s director at the time, Paddy Boyle, said “You know, you could be a good fit at CWF as they are looking to build up interest in water sports and concern for water stewardship amongst Canadians.” And so not long after that, I was working with CWF.

GSB: How do you bring sports and nature together?

DF: Wild About Sports is our program that links the two. It’s an integral part of our wildlife education efforts. We create workshops that include conservation and nature education as well as what it means to be outdoors and provide them to sailing, paddling and other water sports teachers. Conversely, we bring primary and secondary school kids out into nature and provide core curriculum out there.

wild-about-sports

Wild About Sports connects Canadian kids to water. (Image credit: Canadian Wildlife Foundation)

 

GSB: How does that work?

DF: I like to say “we take math outdoors.” And kids will always learn better when they’re outdoors; the data are staggering. It’s crucial that we get them out there. Inner city, suburban. Also, it’s very important to get kids with ADHD and autism outdoors. But back to the methodology. Let’s take sailing, for example. We use the prism of sailing to teach history, math, geography and more. Wild About Sports is just one of many CWF programs—including Wild Migrations, Leadership and others. In addition to Sail Canada, we’ve partnered with great organizations like Paddle Canada and Sailors for the Sea, which promotes clean regattas.

GSB: Has CWF developed programs for land-based sports?

DF: Yes. CWF created a “nature connections” program that connects cycling and soccer to nature. And we reached out to Cross Country Ski Canada as well and hope to get something going with them soon.

GSB: How about the National Hockey League, given hockey’s status as the #1…and #2…and #3 sports in Canada and the league’s strong commitment to sustainability?

DF: We need to build a partnership with the NHL—it’s very high on our “to do” list. Also high on our list are our efforts to protect marine mammals like the Blue Whale, Baluga Whale and the Humpbacked Whale from accidents during sailing races.

GSB: That sounds brilliant, important and probably not much is known about your programs outside of the sailing world. What does the marine mammal protection program look like?

DF: CWF assists organizers of sailing races to make sure the race course avoids population centers and provide very detailed maps for this purpose. We also instituted a reporting mechanism by which the racers can report collisions with large marine mammals as, despite the very best of plans, these kind of incidents do happen. So a database has been created with the International Whaling Commission. It’s really our, the sailing community’s, duty to accurately report these incidents.

 

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