When Andrew Ference, the former NHL player, was in Boston recently, it wasn't just for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It went beyond that, beyond speaking on a panel entitled, "Green is Good: The Role of Sustainability in Sports," because Ference's mission is beyond talking about sustainability. It's about action.
That action started much earlier, more than a decade ago when Ference started small, in his own house, recycling and composting. It got bigger when he began to apply it to his job, to the NHL, helping in 2007 to create a carbon neutral practice that counterbalanced the emissions of his teammates and League-mates in their travel. It moved to the NHL and Green Week, and from there the idea is for it to spread further, to partners and fans, casual viewers and rabid consumers, with Ference and others as influencers.
It has changed now. Ference, 37, has moved into the venture capital world, a world where sustainability is important, but so too is marrying that with good business practices, finding the sweet spot where companies can survive and thrive and make money all while using and creating the right technologies.
"Now the impact is just so much grander than just sitting in your house and doing a good job yourself," said Ference, a defenseman who played 16 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers. "I'm really intrigued by some of the financial side of this, the investment side of putting together strategies for some of these big funds. That can have an incredible impact on rewarding good businesses and business with good sustainability practices."
It wasn't exactly the world he thought he would find himself in after his hockey career ended following the 2015-16 season because of a hip injury. But it's one that both fascinates and excites him.
This impact is certainly not the only one he has had. Ference was instrumental in getting NHL Green started, said Omar Mitchell, vice president for corporate social responsibility at the NHL. That is something that will always be part of his legacy in the League.
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"He's tremendously important as an ambassador because of the fact that he genuinely believes it," Mitchell said. "If you talk to him, what you'll hear him say is he does this because it's all about respect -- respect for yourself, for your family, for your local communities in which you play.
"When you boil it down to that, it's hard for people not to want to engage. It's hard to argue with that."
It's something Ference has always believed.
"It's kind of like if you see somebody throw trash out the window of a moving car," he said. "That's a really visual example of, what the [heck]? It makes you mad. It's disrespect for your roads, especially if it's in your neighborhood. Can you imagine somebody doing that on your lawn? Or somebody who doesn't pick up their dog poop?"
It's something that is easy to understand, something to which it is easy to relate. And it's ingrained in what Ference has done in his own life, what he'd like to do for other people, other teammates, other companies.
That's why he has turned to the venture capital arena. That was his secondary purpose in Boston, other than revisiting his former home, other than being a part of the Sloan conference.
"I was out scouting potential investments for our venture capital. It's all going to be in that world of clean tech, looking at solutions to things like treating industrial waste water, lessening hotels' use of laundry detergent or water use," Ference said. "There's technologies like that out there in these startups that are doing some pretty incredible things."
The idea is to find these businesses that are viable financially, and which also have a social or environmental impact, that can do some good in the world of sustainability. The technology has arrived that has allowed sustainability to equal good business practices, as Ference said, which would have been a harder sell 10 years ago.
"It's a really fun space to be in because it's a marriage of where sustainability's going," Ference said. "You have the business argument and that space of venture capital and looking at new technology like that. It presents new investors with a great opportunity. It's high-risk stuff, but a great opportunity to make a bunch of money, but to make it while doing something that is fundamentally changing the way something [works] and saving resources and being more efficient and helping solve issues, like how are we going to feed nine billion people.
"Those are the big issues that we're going to tackle with technology like this. It's a great, very fun, environment to be in."