Carbon-neutral Pelicans
by Risto Pakarinen|10 MAR 2021
The Lahti Pelicans of the Finnish Liiga go green and in the direction of being carbon-neutral – also on their jersey.
photo: Tomi Natri
In a way, it’s fitting that the club that’s leading the way to a carbon-neutral future is nicknamed Pelicans since several subspecies of their avian namesakes are fighting against extinction.

But the reason for the Lahti Pelicans, a Finnish Liiga team to take the decision to become carbon-neutral has more to do with the fact that Lahti, their hometown, is the European Green Capital in 2021. 

“We partnered with the City of Lahti in 2019 when they put in their bid to become the Green Capital. The city’s goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2025, we aim to hit that target by the end of 2021,” says Lauri Poyhonen, Pelicans CEO.

A University of Lappeenranta-Lahti student had calculated the carbon footprint of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in 2015 – as they, in turn, aim to be the world’s first low-carbon orchestra – and when it came to calculate Pelicans carbon footprint, they turned to the same university to get the data.

The study concluded that the fans coming to the games had the biggest carbon footprint effect, followed by the arena electricity, and the players’ and club staff’s transportation to the arena. Those were easily turned into a to-do list for the club.

What helped Pelicans get closer to its goal was the fact that the company running the arena had already made some changes to its energy portfolio, and has turned away from coal, which had decreased its carbon dioxide emissions from 700 tonnes to 200 tonnes. And taking a step toward renewable energy sources will drop them to 50 tonnes.
“Our biggest challenge is to change the behaviour of the fans who mostly drive to the rink,” says Poyhonen.

Ninety percent of Lahti’s population lives within five kilometres from the city centre, so the thought is that leaving their cars at home wouldn’t be a big sacrifice for the fans, even if a five-kilometre walk or a bike ride in an early February night can be chilly.

“We’ve worked with the city so that some of the bus schedules work better with the games,” Poyhonen says.

The team no longer flies to away games, and their bus now runs on biodiesel. While the rinks of many opponents can be reached with a bus journey of one to four hours, the trip to Oulu in the north takes about seven hours.

The players drive cars that run on biogas, which is made out of household and industry biodegradable waste and community sewage sludge. Of course, that’s when they’re not riding their bikes to the rink.

To get the fans involved - and to raise money for their own environmental work – the Pelicans offers fans the possibility to offset their carbon emissions in the price of an admission. Paper tickets have already mostly given way to digital ones.

“The ticket is our biggest paper product and that’s almost gone. I don’t think paper will be used the same way in five years,” he says. 

While regular Finnish sausages will still be available at the concessions stands, they, as all food, will be served in non-plastic containers. There will also be more plant-based options, says Poyhonen. “And locally produced food,” he adds.
These are important values for both the organization and the fans. We know we won’t save the world by ourselves, but we want to set an example and show everybody that it is possible to become carbon-neutral.
Lauri Poyhonen
CEO Lahti Pelicans
Even if the Pelicans have already taken major steps in the right direction, it’s difficult to be completely emission-free. And that’s why the organization will offset the remaining emissions using the Helsinki-based Compensate, a non-profit organization combating climate change 

“It’s been an eye-opening process for us and we’ve identified things that we haven’t been doing in the best possible way. And, while we want to be environmentally friendly, we do acknowledge the fact that this also gives us the opportunity to become more efficient and find savings in our operations,” Poyhonen says. 

Other clubs have also shown interest in the Pelicans’ work.

“We’ve been contacted by others, and in Finland, even the league has now got involved with carbon-neutral work,” Poyhonen says. 

The Finnish Liiga has done an assessment of greenhouse gases of its own and has drafted an environmental program which “promotes sustainable development with the aim of saving our winter sports and stopping climate change.”

The Pelicans are confident about meeting their goal by the end of the year. And then?

“You can go even further than carbon-neutral. We can also help others to get there and even become carbon-negative via emissions trading,” Poyhonen says.

Click here to find out more about sustainability initiatives of the IIHF as well as in the newest edition of the Ice Times.