Promoting sustainable business practices at the NHL

Omar Mitchell parlayed a summer internship with the NHL into a fulltime job. Today he oversees NHL Green, the league’s environmental platform, the NHL Foundation, its philanthropic arm, and the Stanley Cup, the revered trophy in ice hockey. 

Hockey is closely connected to the environment. Climate change and water scarcity could have a big impact on the sport’s future.

Omar Mitchell admits he wasn’t much of an ice hockey fan before arriving at MIT Sloan. Born in Trinidad and raised in Miami, Florida, Omar grew up playing tennis and soccer.

Trained as an architect, Omar developed a keen interest in sustainable real-estate and energy efficiency. Eventually Omar decided to pursue his MBA, and chose MIT Sloan because of its Sustainability Certificate offering.

In his first year at MIT Sloan, Omar took Sustainable Business Lab, a class at the MIT Media Lab called Living Labs, and he got involved with the Sustainability Summit.

All of these activities opened my mind to what sustainability is. It’s more than an environmental issue, it is an issue that every business needs to confront and embed into core business practices.


Then, in the winter of his first year of business school he noticed a job posting on the website of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan: the National Hockey League (NHL) needed a summer intern to help it execute a series of green initiatives. Omar was instantly intrigued. After all, the opportunity to help solve real-world sustainability challenges is one of the things that drew him to MIT Sloan in the first place.

“The joke is that everyone who applied said, ‘Hire me: I love hockey,’ I said: ‘Hire me: I love sustainability,’” he says. “I got the job.”

Omar spent eight weeks touring NHL clubhouses in the U.S. and Canada, investigating the facilities’ energy usage and figuring out ways to make them run more efficiently. He then used the lessons he learned at MIT Sloan to develop a case study of league-wide best sustainable business practices.

“My classes taught me how to think strategically about engaging stakeholders to drive sustainability in an organization,” he says. “I learned how to advance an agenda with a holistic mindset: sustainability is more than a cause. It has value in an organization.”

Omar’s internship was part of the Sustainability Internship Program, made possible by a generous gift from Anna Gabriella C. Antici Carroll ’92 and Joseph D. Carroll ’91 and supported by the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan.

“The NHL formed a relationship with MIT Sloan to bolster our commitment to environmental sustainability, tapping into the expertise and enthusiasm of the school’s talented network,” says Craig Harnett, Senior Executive Vice President and CFO of the organization.

The internship subsidy helped the NHL drive its efforts on sustainability, he adds. “The Sloan internship subsidy…offered our team the ability to add a resource with a fresh, outsider perspective and refined skillset.

“The work started by Omar and other interns – specifically with our arenas – uncovered new areas for us to turn our focus and make further investments, which has proven to be a fruitful endeavor from both an environmental and bottom-line standpoint.”

After graduating, Omar was named the NHL’s first Director of Sustainability. “The league recognized it had an opportunity to take a leadership stance on sustainability because hockey is so closely connected to the environment,” he says. “Climate change and water scarcity could have a big impact on the sport’s future.”

In this role, Omar helped create the NHL’s Sustainability Report—the first such publication for any U.S. professional sports league. The report analyzed the baseline environmental footprint of hosting a hockey game in facilities throughout North America.

“We needed to show our metrics and commit to making operational changes to lessen the environmental impact of the sport,” he says. “The report also helped us promote sustainable business operations and raise environmental awareness among clubs, players, fans, corporate partners, and employees.”

Today Omar oversees the NHL's Public Affairs department, including NHL Green, the environmental platform, the NHL Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the League, and the Stanley Cup, the revered trophy in ice hockey.

Needless to say, his prior indifference to hockey is a thing of the past. “I'm taking ice skating lessons and I have plans to join the office team,” he says.