The sustainable olympics

Vancouver, Canada (GLOBE-Net) - As over one million visitors, athletes and officials descend on Torino, Italy for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, organizers are working to demonstrate their ‘green games’ to the world. Other cities are also examining the environmental aspects of the event, including planners for the Vancouver 2010 games looking for an opportunity to promote Canadian sustainability solutions.

As with any large event, the Olympics have a potentially huge ecological footprint, so sustainable thinking can help to minimize local impacts and create enduring legacies.

But real and lasting environmental opportunities lie in “showcasing environmental technologies and planning, boosting local industries and providing a platform for the growth of sustainable and green businesses”, according to Linda Coady, Vice President of Sustainability for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games (VANOC).

The environment took on more importance for the Olympic movement in 1994, when the environment and sustainable development were enshrined as the third pillar in the Olympic charter alongside sport and culture. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have since worked together to promote the sustainable connection between sports and the environment.

Others are taking notice, and even the NFL’s Super Bowl is now a ‘carbon-neutral’ event through a tree-planting program started by the league.

Given the tremendous economic investment associated with the games, thinking sustainably can prove to be vital for host cities. The Vancouver 2010 games now have a $580 million capital fund plus a $110 million planned endowment for future management of three legacy venues; the operations funding is estimated at $1.3 billion. Infrastructure that is installed for the games must have a useful life after the event, and making the most of infrastructure investments can help to revitalize a region’s social and environmental health.

Lillehammer, a small community concerned with the event’s impact, experimented with a stadium that was ‘sunk’ into the ground, leaving a smaller footprint and requiring much less energy to maintain. Salt Lake City improved its public transport for the 2002 Winter Games, and its light rail system now boasts high ridership in a city that until recently had no public transit service on Sundays.

The Sydney games, known as the ‘Green Games’ ‘raised the bar’, according to Coady. Sydney officials used environmental performance criteria such as CFC emissions and ozone depletion, and worked with sponsors to minimize negative impacts. As well, significant remediation was undertaken in Homebush Bay, a previously contaminated site.

Athlete’s housing in Sydney was designed with solar photovoltaic panels, and an innovative dual-pipe water system that managed treatment and re-use of sanitary sewer flows. When they went to market, units were snapped up immediately - partly because of the cachet of owning a piece of the Olympics, but also because the environmentally-sound building techniques provided increased long-term value.

Organizers in Italy are taking the environment seriously, working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Commission to have the games’ operations certified under the international ISO 14001 standard and the 761/01 Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) European Regulations.

Torino has also followed Sydney’s lead in using a ‘green’ procurement strategy, and has developed a specific climate change program - HECTOR (HEritage Climate TORino). HECTOR led to local subsidies and incentives for alternative energy, and will have the event’s greenhouse gas emissions audited and compensated through the purchase or earning of carbon emissions credits. Hydrogen fuel-cell technologies will be showcased in the region, and several venues have hydrogen energy systems installed.

As a way of ‘branding environmentalism’, Torino officials have also licensed a 2006 Environment Logo to sponsors that have met green standards, and are encouraging tourist locations to attain the EU ‘EcoLabel’ certification of ecological quality.

Vancouver 2010

In keeping with these practices, VANOC has gone one step further and is embracing the “challenge of incorporating the principles of sustainability in every aspect and decision at each level of our organization, right from the bid through to the games and beyond”, says Linda Coady. She says Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 are the first winter and summer games to use sustainability as a key performance platform for the entire planning process.

“We aspire to have everyone touched by our games come away from them with a better understanding of the choices they can make that can help create a more sustainable future”, says Coady.

A tall order to be sure, but the sustainability push comes strongly from CEO John Furlong and his senior executive team on down, and the pressure is on to use the games to create social, economic and environmental value.

In an Olympic first, VANOC has committed to certifying all of its new venues to at least LEED Silver. The games will accelerate the local market, as municipalities have been trending towards LEED standards in recent years. Apart from showcasing green building techniques to the world, projects such as the athlete’s village in Vancouver’s urban center will increase the visibility of sustainable city planning, from the buildings to the public spaces that surround them.

For transportation, VANOC will emphasize public and mass transit to move the large volume of spectators, media and volunteers during the Games. Olympic Partner GM Canada has signed a deal with VANOC to supply the games’ fleet, which includes a commitment that 30% of those vehicles will run on hybrid or alternative fuel technologies such as biodiesel.

While further transportation initiatives are still in the planning stage, one of the concepts being pursued by private and public interests is the ‘Hydrogen Highway’ infrastructure to be installed from the Vancouver airport to Whistler. The Highway will include availability of hydrogen and other clean fuels at stations in key locations along the route to supply advanced technology vehicles during and after the games.

VANOC is also pursuing a sustainable procurement strategy, and will employ waste-management and recycling to minimize landfill contributions. But perhaps the most unique results from VANOC will come from their indirect activities that are aimed at working with governments, businesses, and individuals to catalyze sustainable opportunities and build capacity in British Columbia.

A BC task force has been established by the provincial government aimed at advancing clean energy, with VANOC as a supportive participant. Sponsors, local businesses and community stakeholders will also be urged to come together to promote sustainability. The rapid transit RAV line, not an Olympic project, is slated for completion before the games.

Encouraging environmental innovation in anticipation of the Olympics can help companies and sectors maximize their exposure at the event and attract interest from investors and clients around the world. The design of a high-performance LEED building that is being showcased to the world does wonders for a firm’s resume, while also presenting the business case for environmental design. Along with the capacity for large-scale sustainable event management, advanced design, transportation, and green products could be strong growth sectors for the Canadian economy.

“In Canada we enjoy a high level of environmental quality,” says John Wiebe, CEO of The GLOBE Foundation. “Our opportunity now is to raise awareness of our city and country as a centre for sustainable development, and create the window for our green industries to enter the global marketplace.”

Can the world’s largest sporting event help take sustainability mainstream? If the key environmental message to emerge from the 2010 Games is that sustainability creates value then maybe so. Translating that showcase into a thriving environmental industry that leads the way for Canada and the rest of the world rests with stakeholders in government, business, and society. The door has been opened, and stepping through it with the proper level of commitment and investment is the challenge that must now be met.

The Olympics will be an important topic at the GLOBE 2006 environmental business conference. Linda Coady and other Olympic officials will share their strategies and experiences in planning a sustainable games and business leaders will examine how companies can get involved. Learn what it takes to produce a sustainable Olympics, and the opportunities available for environmental technology and service providers. Host cities currently in the planning stages and past hosts now transitioning their sites into eco-friendly urban landscapes will also discuss how cities can best take advantage of the Olympic opportunity.

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