Ken Belson and The New York Times #CoverGreenSports

About a month ago, GreenSportsBlog launched a new hashtag, #CoverGreenSports. Its goal is to encourage the mainstream media, from sports to green to news, to cover the sports greening movement. Last week, the US “paper of record,” The New York Times and lead NFL writer Ken Belsonstepped up to the #CoverGreenSports plate in a big way, with “Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture”

 

The fourth week in May should be a quiet time for the lead NFL reporter at The New York TimesThe draft, which took place in April, is already old news and training camps don’t open until late July. You would think this time of year is when NFL writers should be on vacation.

But last week was a busy one for Ken Belson, proving that there is no such thing as a quiet period for the NFL.

 

Ken Belson NYT

Ken Belson of The New York Times (Photo credit: The New York Times)

 

In fact Belson, working at breakneck pace, had three stories in The Times over a 48 hour period:

  1. “The NFL and Nike Make Room for Fanatics,” detailed how the League expects revenue from merchandise sales to increase by 50 percent by 2030 through a new deal with Fanatics.
  2. In “NFL Anthem Policy Bound to Please Only the NFL,” Belson opined about the NFL’s controversial, just-announced national anthem policy. It was instituted in response to protests by some NFL players in 2016 and 2017, most notably ex-49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the playing of the national anthem. They did so to draw attention to police brutality and other social injustice against African-Americans. But many NFL fans, including President Trump, feel that the kneeling players disrespect the flag. The new policy requires players to stand for the playing of the anthem or stay in the locker room during that time. There was no player input on this decision. Belson’s take: “It’s hard to envision the N.F.L. crafting a policy that satisfies everyone. But one that is likely to satisfy only the 32 owners hardly seems like an enlightened solution.”

But it was his third story that interested me most — and made me smile.

In Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture,” Belson gave Times readers a terrific Green-Sports tutorial. 

He kicked off with Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the city’s NFL and MLS teams and the world’s first LEED Platinum certified stadium. Belson’s main insight is in sync with GreenSportsBlog’s overall ethos: “Green stadiums are shining a light on the complex and critical issue of climate change. Fans disinclined to care about the issue are exposed to things like highly efficient LED lighting or low-flush toilets, and can see that going green is not a hardship, but a choice.”

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the first to win LEED Platinum certification. (Photo credit: Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)

 

Belson then took readers on a brief trip across the pond — “many of the innovations [in green stadiums-arenas] are being developed in Europe, where laws and regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions are stricter,” — before pivoting back to North America and the National Hockey League.

He lauded the NHL as a green leader among sports leagues for understanding the existential threat the sport faces from climate change and for taking steps to combat it: “The number of ponds that freeze over in winter has fallen dramatically in recent years, making the sport less accessible in countries like Canada, where many children first start playing the game outdoors. Going green is a way to address a long-term threat, not just save money.”

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

GreenSportsBlog readers are likely familiar with much of this. And the folks quoted in Belson’s piece likely ring a bell.

You probably recognize Scott Jenkins, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s general manager and the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance, as an “evangelist of all things green.” 

 

 

LEED Platinum Certification Event - from right - Rich McKay, Scott Jenkins, Arthur Blank

Scott Jenkins (c), General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, flanked by Rich McKay (l), President of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Blank, at the LEED Platinum announcement event (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

And you probably know of Allen Herskhowitz, ex-President of the Alliance and a founder of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), which promotes low-carbon strategies for sports teams, leagues and association. He told Belson, “Any single sporting event doesn’t really have a giant ecological footprint, whether it’s a football game or even a season for a team. But the cultural and social platform of sports is almost unparalleled in terms of its ability to reach people.”

Yes, you may recognize Scott and Allen and the many other Green-Sports luminaries who have been featured in our posts these past five years, but the thing is, most humans have no idea who they are and are unaware of the important work they are doing. 

So it is very important that The (NOT failing) New York Times, with its massive reach and prestige, has decided to #CoverGreenSports with Belson’s piece.

Does this foreshadow a trend? 

It should, especially since the millennial and GenZ readers that The Times — and for that matter, almost all media outlets — is desperate to engage, care more deeply about the environment, sustainability and climate change than do their predecessor generational cohorts. 

But it is, methinks, too early to tell. 

One potential brake on an increase in Green-Sports coverage from mainstream media outlets is that the topic crosses many areas — sports, green/environment, business, and politics, to name a few.  That means that no one department claims natural ownership of Green-Sports and so no editor will assign a beat writer to cover it. What is more likely is that the hodgepodge we see now — a rare story by a sports reporter here and another one-off story from a business reporter there — will continue.

Until, that is, a department editor — I don’t care which department — says strongly “Green-Sports is MINE!”

With that in mind, we invite any visionary Green-Sports-minded editors to go through GreenSportsBlog’s archives to find a few hundred compelling story ideas to bring to their readers.

You will be glad you did!


 

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RinkWatch: Citizens Track Climate Change By Measuring Ice in Backyard Rinks

Ice plays a crucial role in the measurement of climate change. From the decline of Arctic sea ice to using ancient ice cores to help determine CO₂ content in the atmosphere from many millennia ago, a good chunk of the climate change story is told through frozen water.

Did you know that the climate change “ice-story” is being tracked, in part, by regular folks with ice rinks in their backyards? They are doing double duty as hockey parents and as climate researchers in Canada and the northern U.S. via an innovative program, supported by the NHL, called RinkWatch.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Dr. Robert McLeman, an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, and one of the founders of RinkWatch, about how citizens, spurred on by their love of hockey, are helping to add to the body of scientific knowledge about climate change.

 

“I’m a middle aged parent and an environmental scientist focused on the impact of climate change on humans, communities, and other species.”

Dr. Robert McLeman’s self-description shows why he is exceptionally well-suited to have co-founded and help lead RinkWatch, a program that encourages people with backyard ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. to become citizen climate scientists by recording data about their ice.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. McLeman is a Canadian — and an Ontarian — through and through. “Growing up in Cambridge, Ontario and a fan of the two teams in the province — the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — spent many a winter day playing shinny (i.e. outdoor) hockey on frozen ponds.” He did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Ontario, got his PhD in Ontario at the University of Guelph, and works today as an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in, you guessed it, Ontario.

 

mcleman winter1

Dr. Robert McLeman, one of the co-founders of RinkWatch and Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 

Awareness of the conditions surrounding climate refugees, has been and continues to be a major focus of Dr. McLeman’s research: “I am very interested in making the issue of climate refugees, and climate change broadly speaking, more accessible for the general public.

 

CANADIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT TWO THINGS: HOCKEY AND THE WEATHER

But accessibility wasn’t the only thing Dr. McLeman and Wilfrid Laurier University colleague Dr. Colin Robertson had in mind in 2013 when they began to talk about collaborating. “We really wanted to answer the question, ‘How do we make individuals and families more interested in the environment, interested in climate change, to the point where they take positive action?’,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “We kept coming back to two things Canadians love to talk about: hockey and the weather.”

 

Colin Robertson Geographers w-out borders

Dr. Colin Robertson, co-founder of RinkWatch (Photo credit: Geographers Without Borders)

 

That realization led McLeman and Robertson to the high tech world of makeshift, backyard hockey rinks. “It started with a simple thought,” shared Dr. McLeman. “Maybe we could create a project in which we would ask regular folks who happen to have backyard ice rinks to track weather-related conditions.”

The January 2013 launch of what would become RinkWatch was a no-budget operation.

“We had zero funding to start,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “So we built a simple website than can compile data like location of the rink, quality of ice, first date ice is playable, etc. We also had a form that showed people how to build a rink. The university put out a press release and the Montreal Gazettethe main English language paper there, picked it up. That really was the catalyst as the story made its way through radio and print media throughout Canada, and really took on a life of its own!”

By the end of their first month, a couple hundred RinkWatchers had signed up. Five years on, 1,500 rinks have participated in RinkWatch. The lions’ share are in Canada, with 20 percent coming from the U.S., along with a handful in China, Estonia and elsewhere.

[Editor’s Note: This is a great example of how, when the media decides to #CoverGreenSports, things can change in a positive fashion.]

 

THE NHL BUYS IN TO RINKWATCH

RinkWatch soon caught the eye of the NHL, the most proactive professional sports league sustainability-wise in North America, if not the world.

“The NHL started checking in with us, through Omar Mitchell and NHL Green,” said Dr. McLeman. “He had seen articles about RinkWatch in places like National GeographicThe league saw that what we were doing reflected the sustainability vision and commitment of Commissioner Gary Bettman, which is to say that hockey improves lives and communities and we want to do what we can to ensure it is around for the next 100 years.”

Next thing Drs. McLeman and Robertson knew, the NHL started tweeting about RinkWatch, asked them to contribute to the NHL Green website and invited them to speak, as part of the league’s centennial celebration, at a December 2016 event on the long term future of the sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “We became a bit of hit,” offered Dr. McLeman, a bit sheepishly.

 

McLeman Hockey HOF

Dr. McLeman, speaking at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

A formal relationship with the NHL began in 2017, with the league providing funding to help improve the look and functionality of the web site, allow for a broader range data to be included in the future, and to help in the building and dissemination of learning modules for teachers to use with their students. According to Dr. McLeman, the NHL and the academics share two overlapping goals: “1. Get more kids to get more parents to build outdoor rinks, and 2. Get those kids interested in studying environmental science.”

 

RINKWATCH LEADS TO PEER REVIEWED ACADEMIC STUDIES

Drs. McLeman and Robertson are also using RinkWatch data to advance the body of peer reviewed, climate change research.

“We have been able to publish our results in two scholarly journals,” reported Dr. McLeman. “In The Canadian Geographer, we reported results of a study in which we took RinkWatch observations from a number of Canadian cities, identified the key temperatures need to have a skate-able ice surface (the low 20s Fahrenheit) and put these into a climate model to forecast future skating conditions out to the end of the century.” The study showed that if carbon emissions continue on their current course, the outdoor skating season will be significantly shorter. Calgary’s season will be curtailed by about 20 percent. Outdoor skating in Toronto and Montreal is expected to be 30 to 40 percent shorter.

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

In another study, this one for the journal Leisure/Loisir, the duo reported on findings from a survey they conducted of RinkWatch participants to find out what motivates people to build rinks. According to Dr. McLeman, “an overarching response is that people see backyard rinks as community assets, shared with neighbors and friends, with the goal of getting kids outside, exercising and having fun in the middle of winter.”

That their work has been peer reviewed is a very big deal. “The importance of crossing the peer reviewed threshold cannot be overstated,” concurs Dr. McLeman. “Other environmental scientists like the idea that we’re legitimately, with accepted rigor, connecting sports to climate and ordinary citizens with science. They realize that the urgency and importance of climate change is very difficult to communicate and they see that our work makes it more relatable.”

As for what’s next, the Wilfrid Laurier University colleagues will look to reconstruct the temperature and ice conditions in Canada going back to 1950 so they will have a 150-year (1950-2100) data record. There is a practical aspect to this,” said Dr. McLeman: “Our data can help municipalities determine whether to invest in outdoor rinks or put their resources into indoor facilities.”

While that 150-year horizon is actually a nano-second in a field like climate science, Dr. McLeman finds it easy to see the real-time importance of his and Dr. Robertson’s work with RinkWatch.

“My daughter Anna is now 13. When she was 8, we built an outdoor rink with our community association on top of a tennis court — man, it was hard to spray water with a hose in my hand — it was COLD! In those five years, we’ve had one and a half good winters for skating, the rest were awful. I know this is one awfully small sample size, but it is this type of experience that, we hope, will lead to more and more collective positive environmental action.”

 

McLeman ANNA on Backyard Rink

Young RinkWatcher Anna McLeman takes to the ice in the outdoor rink she, her dad Robert and their community built (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 


 

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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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