The United Nations’ Sports for Climate Action Framework calls on sports organizations to play a bigger role in the fight against climate change, which experts say could help send a message to fans about the importance of that issue. However, professional sports organizations in Calgary have shown a mixed response to that framework and have yet to sign this call to action.

The framework asks sports organizations to adhere to five different principles.

These principles are: undertaking systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility, reducing their overall climate impact, educating for climate action, promoting sustainable and responsible consumption and advocating for climate action through communication.

In a press release announcing the framework, UN Climate Change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa called on sports organizations to “use their significant global leadership position to help us address the greatest challenge of our time: climate change.”

Espinosa was also quoted as saying those organizations should do that because “you’ve built significant global trust and moral leadership, and because sports touches on every cross-section of society, you can drive positive change throughout the world.”

Joe Vipond, co-chair of Calgary Climate Hub, agrees sports organizations can have an important role in the climate discussion.

“The sad reality of it is that the environmental community is so much smaller than the sports community,” says Vipond.

“Right now we have very few people working very hard on this. But we need a lot more people working very hard on this. This is just another aspect of society that’s being woken and can help share the work and the message,” he says.

Since the framework was announced in December 2018, a total of 91 organizations and teams have signed the framework, including two NHL teams: the L.A. Kings, and the Minnesota Wild.

Jim Ibister, vice president of facility administration for the Wild, says it wasn’t one big action but many small changes that led to the team signing the framework.

“One of the things that is really important to us is incremental change, the power of doing a lot of the little things, and getting really good at them,” explains Ibister, who says the Wild’s sustainability efforts started in 2009.

Saeed Kaddoura, a clean energy analyst at the environmental think tank the Pembina Institute, also sees the benefits of small changes.

“There is always the lowest hanging fruit in what you can do,” says Kaddoura.

“What we’ve been seeing is usually people start small and they just then build on top of that momentum and it leads to really cool leadership.”

Among the initiatives the Wild undertook during the last 10 years was reducing its waste by 50 per cent, increasing its recycling rate and purchasing most of its electricity from either wind or solar energy sources.

Ibister says it has changed the way team and facility employees think.

“One of our senior vice presidents said, ‘Now I go to these other buildings, and I’m looking for the compost bin or I’m wondering why they have all those lights on, and I didn’t even realize I’m thinking that.’ But that’s just part of our culture.”

Like the Wild, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the Flames, Stampeders, Hitmen, and Roughnecks, has also taken some steps to reduce their environmental impact.

Since 2015 the corporation has recycled 220 tons of cardboard, decreased its energy consumption by 328,000 kWh and reduced water consumption by almost three million gallons per year. However, unlike the Wild, Calgary Sports and Entertainment has yet to sign onto the UN’s Framework.

Calgary Journal asked via email if the organization would consider signing onto the framework. Even though we received answers to the other questions we posed, that particular one remained unanswered.

Vipond says it would be game changing for an organization such as the Flames to sign onto the framework.

“The messenger is such an important part of this discussion. And [they] are that unexpected voice. People value the Flames. People value those opinions, and I think it would be very powerful,” Vipond says.

Kaddoura says having a trusted voice in Calgary such as the Flames sign the framework would send an important signal “to a group of people interested in sports who are either athletes, just fans, or people who buy the products.”

It would tell them sports organizations “feel that [climate change] is important and this is why, as a person who is interested in sports, you should be looking at this.’”

Ibister explains that when the Wild first started their sustainability efforts they got a lot of mixed reactions from fans. But those reactions have improved over time.

“We got quite a bit of feedback that said, ‘Thanks so much, but focus on hockey.’  [Now] we get a lot of responses like, ‘I didn’t do much at home, but I can see what you’re doing and it makes me think about what I can do.’”

Ibister says signing onto the framework was the next big step for the team.

“Looking at [it] we said, ‘We got most of these principles, we’re already well on our way. There’s going to be a few things that are difficult for us to do, but we really think we have a leadership role to play.’ And it should step out of our arena and our convention centre,” he says.

“We’re really excited to step into it and start building the roadmap.”

Other Organizations in Calgary

Calgary Journal also asked several other organizations and venues in Calgary about their climate policies and if they would consider signing onto the UN’s framework. These organizations were Spruce Meadows (which also owns the professional soccer club Cavalry FC), the Olympic Oval, McMahon Stadium Society and Winsport.

Ian Allison, senior vice president of Spruce Meadows, says they would have to find out what would be involved in being part of the framework. But he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of the organization signing it.

“The devil is in the details,” he says. “If the measures in the framework are realistic and attainable I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to taking it under advisement.”

Spruce Meadows, whose multi-purpose sport facility hosts equestrian events, currently focuses much of their sustainability efforts on water reuse. That includes reusing stable water for course irrigation and snow capture for their recirculating ponds. They have also planted 2,000 trees on the property since it opened in 1975.

As for the Olympic Oval, the facility is part of the University of Calgary’s utility reduction program which after being refitted with new lighting 1.2 million kWh per year since 2016. The facility also has a waste diversion rate of 34 per cent. However, those in charge of the facility, were unavailable for comment about whether they would sign the framework. 

Meanwhile, Scott Chesniak, stadium manager of McMahon Stadium, says that, as a non-profit, the facility operates at a breakeven basis.

“To take a more proactive and robust approach to climate change would require a significant infusion of revenue to retrofit a 60-year-old stadium,” says Chesniak.

Kaddoura says, “This is a prime example of why we need to advocate for progressive energy and environmental policy, not everyone can afford to make changes in the energy transition and only by supporting them can we make sure we meet our climate targets.”

Chesniak, who replied via email, did not make himself available for an interview. Like Calgary Sports and Entertainment, he didn’t respond to the question about whether McMahon would join the framework.

Winsport did not respond to our request for comment by the time of publication.

Editor: Brian Wells | bwells@cjournal.ca