Vancouver’s Green Olympics

The first Winter Olympic Games was held in Chamonix, France in 1924. The rise of television as a global advertising medium has greatly enhanced the scale and extent of the Games .The 2002 Winter Olympic Games held at Salt Lake City, Utah had a Carbon footprint of 248,000 tons over the 17day duration of the event bearing testimony to the massive amount of energy these Games require.

Sustainability was introduced as the one of the three pillars of the Olympic movement in 1994. Since then several measures have been taken to make the Games energy-efficient with each edition of the games having lesser Carbon footprint than the previous edition. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) has promoted Vancouver 2010 as the “Greenest Olympics ever”.

VANOC is the first Olympic Committee to account for its Carbon footprint from the day of winning the bid to the closing of the Games. VANOC worked with the Centre of Sustainability and Social Innovation at University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business to prepare a detailed Carbon footprint. This Carbon Forecast predicted that since winning the bid in 2003, the Games would generate about 270,000 tons of Carbon emissions, 150,000 tons from direct emissions and 120,000 tons from indirect emissions(from air travel and accommodation of spectators, sponsors and partners which are outside VANOC control). This can be favorably compared to the 160,000 tons of Carbon dioxide emissions by 2006 edition of the Games at Turin during the 17 day period of the Games alone.

Several measures were taken by VANOC to reduce the overall Carbon footprint of the games:

  1. Strategic selection of venues with compact clusters of games villages and venues in Vancouver and Whistler built to minimize energy and travel requirements
  2. Athlete’s villages and eight venues built to qualify for the United States Green Building Councils “silver” level of energy efficient design
  3. Expanding public transit during the duration of the Games to reduce fuel usage and Carbon emissions
  4. Creation of community energy systems to increase amount of renewable energy to meet local demand for the duration of the Games
  5. Hiring “Offsetters” a Canadian based Carbon asset management company and supplier to offset unavoidable direct Carbon emissions by purchasing Carbon credits from clean technology projects.

In addition the Winter Games at Vancouver saw the introduction of live monitoring of energy consumption of key venues. Local company Pulse Energy, working with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), developed the Venue Energy Tracker to show real-time energy use and savings. The David Suzuki foundation, a prominent Canadian environmental organization has awarded the Winter Olympics a symbolic bronze medal for its green achievements.

VANOC’s efforts to conduct a Green Olympics have however had its fair share of problems and been subject to criticism The unusually sunny weather in the weeks running up to the Games has required the transport of snow from further north by trucks and helicopters to Cypress mountain where major events will be held. However the Organizers have maintainedthat transporting snow would have a negligible impact on the projected Carbon emissions. VANOC has also been criticized for its decision to offset only direct Carbon emissions while ignoring the indirect Carbon emissions of 150,000 tons produced by sponsors, spectators and partners. Many environmentalists believe that a high speed train network could have been built to link Vancouver and Whistler instead of widening the existing highway.In addition, many Vancouver residents have been encouraged by VANOC to use Red and White lights to decorate their houses for the duration of the event consuming more electricity. There has also been no accounting for Carbon emissions millions of souvenirs made around the world and transported to Vancouver to be consumed by the spectators.
Major sporting events have impacts on the environment and regional development long after they are held. Modern energy efficient technologies and integrating renewable energy into the Winter Olympic Games will ensure that these events conform to the principles of environmental protection and resource management. The topic of energy conservation and climate change has taken on more significance over the last few years. The Vancouver Olympics indicate that an attempt can be made to hold major sporting events in harmony with the environment if holistic steps are taken.
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