Will climate change put hockey on thin ice?

Could climate change result in less talented hockey players? It might not be the biggest threat presented by rising temperatures, but it is one the US National Hockey League admitted it is being forced to consider this week as part of its latest sustainability report.

Writing in the foreword to the report, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman warned that climate change and water pollution could have a direct impact on ice hockey and the world-leading NHL.

"The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world," he wrote. "But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates. 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 new report this week offered an insight into the host of environmental initiatives being undertaken by the NHL and its teams under the auspices of its NHL Green initiative.

Specifically, the report reveals how the NHL has invested in energy efficiency measures at its arenas, installed new refrigeration technologies and deployed onsite renewables at five arenas, including solar arrays, biogas-fueled fuel cell technology, deep-lake water cooling, hydroelectricity, and cogeneration and geothermal systems.

It also detailed how "nearly a third of NHL venues currently participate in a demand response program, voluntarily reducing electricity demand in response to an electricity-grid peak event. ... This helps prevent blackouts and alleviates grid vulnerability."

In addition, the report includes detailed information on the NHL's environmental performance, including confirmation greenhouse gas emissions fell from just over 528,000 tons in the 2011-2012 season to over 380,000 tons in 2012-2013, albeit partly as a result of a labor dispute that saw the league shut down for a number of weeks.

The NHL also confirmed that in 2012 and 2013 it purchased renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to cover 17,236 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, comparable to taking over 3,500 cars off the roads.

Bettman said there was a compelling business case for the league's continued investment in clean technology. "We believe that this effort is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but is also a core strategy for the long-term success of our league," he said. "We have a vested interest in this cause. 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. Moreover, to continue to stage world-class outdoor hockey events like the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic or NHL Stadium Series, we need winter weather."

The report was welcomed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which assisted with its development.

"The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league," said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist and head of NRDC's Green Sports program. "The report's focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation."

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen. Top image by Shooter Bob Square Lenses via Shutterstock