Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Gold, Silver, Bronze…and Green? Just how carbon friendly were the 2010 Winter Olympic Games?

The Olympic caldron lighting up the city for 17 days straight has gone out, and the once crowded streets are quiet. The 2010 Vancouver Games are over. Much like the day after Christmas, when we wake up and confront the reality of our expanding waste-lines and dwindling bank accounts, over the next week VANOC should be doing the same, only from a carbon perspective. What was the reality of the games’ carbon impact? Did VANOC meet its goal of carbon neutrality?

There is no doubt that both VANOC and the games’ sponsors put forth great effort to roll out robust energy and waste management initiatives aimed directly at reducing carbon during the development, construction and operations phases of the games. Among many others, some of those efforts included a fleet of hydrogen vehicles transporting guests and participants in and around Whistler, energy efficient facilities powered by the province’s hydroelectric energy, the use of existing facilities rather than building new ones, and a LEED certified Olympic Village.

But alas, one cannot yet be carbon neutral without the purchase of offsets. Knowing this, prior to 2010 VANOC enlisted the David Suzuki Foundation to estimate the carbon footprint of the event. They did so charting the impact at approximately 390,000 tons; the games were directly responsible for 118,000 tons, for the building and operations of the venues, while another 268,000 tons were attributed to sponsors, spectators and partners. VANOC then did the uncharted for an Olympic committee, they purchased offsets from B.C. based projects to offset their 118,000 tons, and set up a fund for participants, sponsors and spectators to contribute to, so that the remaining 268,000 tons would be offset following the games’ conclusion.

Even with this pro-active approach, as we all know events never go as planned, and that ‘never going as planned’ has a carbon impact that should be counted. As it is now famously known, we saw snow trucked or flown into sites like Cypress and Grouse Mountains, just outside the city limits of Vancouver, to compensate for the spring-like weather in the Canadian city. Further, others have posed question to what will happen to so many of the materials and supplies used during the games? Some will be recycled and reused, but others? How is that carbon being attributed? And finally, that fund set up to offset travel and other carbon intensive activities of spectators, sponsors and the athletes? What happened to it? Did the fund meet its goal of offsetting the remaining 268,000 tons? How should we view these activities and circumstances such as these in light of VANOC’s carbon neutrality goal?

The fact is VANOC should be applauded for their efforts in trying to keep the games low carbon. But, just as we hold ourselves accountable after the holiday season, by reconciling our bank accounts and stepping on the scale on January 1st, so too should VANOC. Get back on that carbon scale and see how you did Vancouver. Once you know (and offset any remaining emissions), then it’s time to boast your green medal.