Olympic Games Raise Sustainability Bar

At the Olympic Winter Games, sustainability is much more than a marketing campaign.  Winter sports, dependent on snow and ice, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Rising snow levels, receding glaciers and variable weather conditions threaten the playing field for our beloved snowboarders, bobsled riders and slalom skiers. Simultaneously, large sporting events like the Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games use energy to make snow, freeze ice sheets and sliding tracks, heat buildings, run power equipment, and transport people and goods. These actions generate greenhouse gases, or carbon emissions, and contribute to the climate change problem.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games (VANOC) has focused on minimizing the carbon impact of the Games and using the event to inspire broader awareness and action on climate-change solutions. The games carbons strategy is four-pronged: Know (how much carbon is emitted, publicly track and report on it), Reduce (emissions wherever possible), Offset (direct emissions that cannot be reduced or eliminated), Enable & Inspire Further Action (to increase awareness and participation in emerging solutions to climate change.) VANOC is the first Olympic Organizing Committee to track and report its carbon emissions from the day of winning the big until the closing of the games, over a duration of seven years instead of the 27 day Games period.

The Games started with a preliminary estimate of its carbon footprint based on operations plans, prepared by the David Suzuki Foundation and reviewed by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Next, the Committee worked with the Centre of Sustainability and Social Innovation at UBC Sauder School of Business to develop its 2009 Carbon Forecast. To outline the emissions of such a complex multi-sport event, the Committee used the GHG Protocol Initiative, a widely accepted corporate standard. The Forecast predicts that since winning the bid in 2003, the Games will generate a total of 270,000 tons of carbon emissions – 120,000 direct emissions from controlled activities such as venue construction, operations, transportation and waste management, and 150,000 indirect emissions largely from air travel and accommodation of spectators, sponsors and partners which are outside VANOC’s control. The torch relay alone generates 3,000 tons of carbon from vehicle emissions, celebrations, accommodations and the actual fuel required to keep the torch lit. VANOC has managed to reduce this footprint by two thirds through operational improvements and integrated transportation planning such as vehicle sharing.

The focus of the Games has been to reduce carbon emissions by not emitting them in the first place through transportation planning, efficient office operations, green venue design and construction, fleet vehicle management and power planning .   Although participants have worked to reduce carbon use, holding the Olympics will still generate significant emissions. To take responsibility for its direct footprint, VANOC secured the first carbon offset sponsor of the Games. Offsetters, a Canadian-based carbon asset management company and supplier, will offset direct emissions from the Games with clean technology projects that remove of avoid an equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere.  Games spectators and audiences are also encourage to calculate and voluntarily offset emissions from their travel to and from the region. The Olympics this year act as an example for large sporting events and gatherings around the world to follow.

Photo Credit: thelastminute