NEW YORK -- What began as Andrew Ference's personal project quickly spread to players throughout the NHL, and eventually to the League itself. The Edmonton Oilers captain said his parents grew up on farms, and though they were not environmentalists they did things a certain way.
It's that upbringing that has made Ference conscious of how his actions affect the planet. On Thursday, a day after Earth Day, Ference spoke with a group of children at the NHL Powered by Reebok Store about a variety of topics, from his work with the NHL Green Initiative to things they can do in their everyday lives to make a difference.
"Kids get it. The way they see the world is more black and white," Ference said. "It's just, this makes sense, this doesn't. That's what a lot of this is.
"Being an environmentalist, or whatever you call it, a lot of stuff now, especially with the technology, it's common sense stuff. Do you want to waste a lot of stuff, or do you not want to, and do the exact same thing?"
One child asked Ference what she could do to help the environment. Ference explained a system that he uses with his family to make sure they turn off all their lights.
"At our house, if somebody leaves the light on and you bust them, they have to put a quarter in the vacation jar," said Ference, who also recommended setting up compost piles at home and at school.
Ference first started meshing his environmental philosophies with his hockey life when he was playing for the Calgary Flames. It was there where he met one of his childhood idols, David Suzuki, who hosted a CBC Television science program, "The Nature of Things."
"I just chatted him up about these things I was doing at home, and trying to do my part," Ference said. "You're trying to impress the famous environmentalist, scientist guy, and he really said, 'Well look at the opportunity you have. You're playing in Canada; use your voice for something good. You have a great position, and every athlete does. It's their choice of how they use that.'"
Ference and Suzuki set something up through Suzuki's foundation where players could go carbon neutral for the year to offset the air travel any NHL player has to undertake. Ference said at its peak about 500 players were participating.
Then in 2010, the NHL announced an initiative in alliance with the Natural Resources Defense Council called the NHL Green Initiative, to promote sustainable living and business practices.
"Obviously you want to engage the big players, and the NHL is the big player," Ference said. "The impact that the League can have, and the stadiums can have, is massive. I'm so proud that the NHL … from doing that pretty humbly to what the NHL is doing now is incredible."
Ference was cited in the League's release announcing the Green Initiative as an example of a player who has prioritized going green. When speaking to the group of children Thursday, Ference mentioned other ways they could make their lives a little greener, from using small solar panels to charge cell phones and iPads, to riding their bikes instead of using cars.
Ference said it was only a matter of time before this way of life clicked on a League-wide level.
"A lot of this stuff is just changing old habits that don't make sense," he said. "Then you scale that up to an arena size, and if one arena is doing all these great things, and then the rival comes in and starts looking around and you're saving money, that's how things work.
"It's just human nature to change old habits."