This was one of the main messages to come out of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) 2014 sustainability report, the first document of its kind produced by a major sports league in North America.

Water is essential to the sport, as much of it is played on frozen rivers, ponds and lakes. In addition, the ice-making and resurfacing process used within the NHL is a highly water-intensive operation, so arenas that use water efficiently can reduce costs through lower fees, lower wastewater volumes and reductions in energy and chemical use.

“Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates,” notes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the report. “Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors.”

The NHL estimates that the total annual water use of the clubs operating within its league is just over 321 million gallons. In terms of indoor operations, facility managers are improving water systems to increase overall utility efficiency.

For instance, additional metering installed on water systems provides the ability to monitor and digest data at a more granular level, offering managers insights that inform water-reduction strategies and projects.

Within NHL arenas, reducing indoor potable water consumption is also a priority. Building upgrades, such as water-efficient fixtures, flow restrictors on existing fixtures, and electronic sensors all contribute to decreasing water use. Some facilities have advanced their efforts by installing waterless urinals, which also reduces water discharge and maintenance costs.

As an example the Florida Panthers club has substantially reduced water consumption within its arena by retrofitting more than 400 hand sinks in public restrooms. By installing a water-conserving insert in each restroom sink, this has reduced restroom sink water consumption by close to 75%.

Outdoor operations meanwhile rely on cooling towers, which are typically responsible for significant water consumption in NHL arenas, especially when considering the colder in-arena temperatures the league stipulates for game-play conditions.

According to the report, nearly three-quarters of NHL arenas that have cooling towers have implemented a water management plan that identifies potential opportunities for reducing uncontrolled water losses. A few NHL arenas are now contemplating recycled wastewater and rainwater harvesting systems as part of their overall water conservation strategies.

Since 2011, the NHL says it has worked with outside organisations to restore more than 20 million gallons of water to streams and rivers in the Northwest of America, directly aiding in the recovery of the economic, recreational and ecological viability of waterways.

The report also discloses the NHL’s carbon footprint – approximately 530,000 metric tonnes of GHG emissions per year. This figure accounts for league and club business activities and travel for over 182 game days, 1,230 regular-season games, over 60 playoff contests and nearly two million miles of team air travel per season.

By way of comparison, the annual emissions from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tonnes.

Maxine Perella

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