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If Sustainability was the Game – Leafs Win the Stanley Cup

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on August 12, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs players celebrating
Canada's five NHL teams are the 'greenest' in the League, according to the NHL's recently released Sustainability Report. The big question then is which of the five is the greenest?

The National Hockey League recently released what is probably the most comprehensive sustainability report ever prepared by a professional sports league. The report has many important insights: Canada is slowly losing the game of hockey as climate change makes fewer outdoor rinks viable[1]. Each hockey game generates about 408 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Hockey fans care more about sustainability and the environment than just about any other sports fan, or non sports-fan.

Dig a little deeper into the report: that’s when things really get interesting. Sooner or later someone will ask: ‘which NHL team is the greenest?’ and Canadian dominance and the age-old Canadiens-Leafs rivalry emerge.

The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report shows there are two significant contributing factors to environmental impact from league activities: the most significant is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with electricity for the arenas (about 80%)[2] and second to that is air travel (about 20%).  So in order to determine the ‘greenest’ team we need to look at the carbon-intensity of the electricity grid for each of the team’s home turf.

Quebec, Manitoba and BC have among the lowest electricity carbon intensities in the world since they are almost exclusively hydro-power (virtually no GHG emissions). Ontario is close behind with generally more than 90% of its electricity from nuclear and hydro on a given day, along with a little wind and solar (backed up by natural gas). Alberta and most of the US states rely heavily on coal and natural gas[3] – with correspondingly much higher carbon emissions.

The Leafs, Canadiens, Canucks, Jets and Senators all have bragging rights for being greener than the other teams. On average GHG emissions from the arenas of these teams are likely more than 80 percent lower than their rivals. The big question then is which of the five is the greenest?

Some tricky ‘shades of grey’ and ‘apples to oranges’ comparisons here: Ontario’s hydro-power (and BC and most of Manitoba) could be argued to be a little greener than Quebec’s as they are mostly run of river generation which does not require large scale dams and reservoirs. Nuclear is on par with hydro for its lack of GHG emissions. On other factors, nuclear vs hydro is a debate that could take up several blogs. Ontario’s nuclear industry generates far more good local and spin off manufacturing jobs, but nuclear waste is difficult to deal with. Quebec’s hydropower on the other hand provides stable, low cost power that buttresses the Province’s economy (lots of construction jobs but far fewer operations jobs in the long term). However more than 12,000 km2 were flooded in Quebec for reservoirs (an area more than twice PEI); bitter disputes with First Nation communities plagued the construction years. So for now, let’s call it a tie: Ontario and Quebec (and even more-so BC and MB) are clear winners with low carbon electricity grids.

We need overtime to declare a winner so let’s look at the second factor cited in the report – transit impacts. Let’s assume the league shares the impact of air travel (to be fair to those teams at geographic disadvantage). But what about the fans’ transit impact (not actually cited in the report)? Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto pull ahead of Ottawa and Winnipeg as far more fans take public transit to the games (thereby further reducing GHG emissions).

Beyond GHG emissions, Toronto and Montreal both get special mention in the NHL sustainability report for their exemplary efforts at waste diversion – with both League-leaders diverting more than 75 percent of arena-generated garbage from landfill or incineration. So let’s move them to the next round for a playoff final.

One way a winner could quickly emerge from these two long term rivals is for their base airport to use biofuels instead of standard fossil-fuel aircraft kerosene. The NHL as a league gets high praise for buying carbon offsets for all its associated air travel (doing the same for all arena electricity might create a bit more Canada-US rivalry). The NHL and its fans might next try to encourage governments to more aggressively address GHG emissions, in the long run helping reduce winter temperatures and keeping a few more of those back-yard rinks in play.

Back to the Leafs and Canadiens – both are leaders, greener than most. But the tie breaker is likely Toronto’s deep-water cooling. Many buildings in Toronto’s downtown are cooled through cooler water from Lake Ontario. This eliminates almost all of the Air Canada Centre’s air conditioning electricity needs. A huge goal: Toronto wins!

The Canadiens, and maybe the Canucks, will likely want a re-match.

[Photo: Jim Rogash / GETTY IMAGES]


[1] "OUR GAME ORIGINATED ON FROZEN PONDS. Many of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations we need winter weather and, as a League, we are uniquely positioned to promote that message." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

[2] See Sustainability Report. The League purchases carbon offsets for its NYC office electricity emissions (coal-based electricity); they do not need to do this for Montreal and Toronto offices, as this electricity has virtually no GHG emissions.

[3] About 40% of US electricity generated from coal and 30% from natural gas and petroleum (US Energy Information Administration).


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