Greening the Olympic Games

Greening the Olympic Games

Will Vancouver win the green medal?

As people around the world watch their favorite athletes skate, ski, sled, and snowboard during the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver, how many will consider the ecological footprint of this massive event? Believe it or not, sustainability is a core tenet of these games; the three pillars of the Olympic Movement are sport, culture, and environment. However, what do these “pillars” mean for the games themselves, and how participants and observers reflect on their environmental impacts?

For the first time, the gold, silver, and bronze medals distributed to Olympic champions contain metal recycled from electronic waste. Although each medal contains only a small fraction of recovered metal (1.52% in each gold medal), this sets a precedent of sustainability and innovation for future Olympics. On Tuesday, the Olympic Village in Vancouver’called Millennium Waters’became the second neighborhood in the world to receive LEED Platinum Certification. During the games, this community houses about 2,600 competitors and coaches; afterward, Millennium Waters will become a “mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood” with both high-end and affordable housing, featuring natural building materials, solar panels, and toilets run with rainwater.

When bidding began for the 2010 Olympic games, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) emphasized achieving “green games” as one major objective’their goal was to host the first carbon-neutral Olympics. Earlier this week, VANOC announced plans to offset 300,000 tons of GHG emissions through “carbon reduction projects.” However, the estimated total emissions of the 2010 games is 330,000 tons, with 220,000 tons resulting from air travel to and from the games. So, even with concerted efforts, VANOC’s offsets still fall short of a neutral carbon footprint.

At this point, it seems that individual citizens’athletes, coaches, spectators, and anyone watching the games from home’should step up to neutralize the remaining 30,000 tons of carbon. If you’re at the games, be especially mindful of your personal carbon footprint: walk or ride your bike around Vancouver. If you’re watching the games from your living room, why not have an all-vegetarian Olympics viewing party? We can’t forget that the Olympics aren’t just about sports’it’s hard to win games if you’re missing a pillar.

Photo courtesy of Tyler Ingram