07/22/2014 04:38 EDT | Updated 07/22/2014 04:59 EDT

NHL Sustainability Report Warns Of Climate Change's Impact On Hockey

Mitchell Leff via Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The National Hockey League has issued what it calls the first sustainability report ever released by a North American major sports league, and the report warns climate change could affect the future of hockey.

Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote in the report’s introduction. “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 report cited a 2012 study that found a 20- to 30-per-cent decrease in the length of the Canadian skating season over the past 50 years.

“While one specific weather event isn't necessarily a function of climate change, there is now a documented impact being felt in backyard rinks around the world,” former Rangers goalie Mike Richter wrote in the report.

Bettman suggested climate change could ultimately impact the NHL’s bottom line.

“As a business, we rely on freshwater to make our ice, on energy to fuel our operations and on healthy communities for our athletes, employees and fans to live, work and play,” he wrote.

The NHL’s report was written with the help of researchers at the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), a U.S.-based environmental group best known in Canada these days for their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

The report found that the NHL’s activities create 530,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year. While that sounds like a lot, the NRDC’s Allen Hershkowitz points out in the report that the emissions are “relatively small.”

The U.S.’s largest power plant alone generates 23 million metric tons of carbon, Hershkowitz pointed out.

The sustainability report is part of the NHL Green initiative, which the league set up in 2010 to coordinate green business practices across the NHL’s franchises.

The program aims to “reduce the use of natural resources in business operations, to track and measure the environmental impact of the sport and to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship,” the NHL says.

(h/t: Think Progress)

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