A Greener Olympics?

I live in suburban Vancouver, BC. This week the 2010 Winter Olympic Games will open in my region, and people are excited. The Torch is making its way through local communities, people are wearing their Team Canada gear, and dozens of cultural events are kicking off. The city is ready to celebrate and capitalize on the international attention that we are receiving. As someone who has lived in this region my whole life I am proud of the show we are about to put on.

At the same time, we cannot forget that a major event such as the Olympics comes at a cost. There is the direct financial cost of building venues and shoring up transportation, but equally significant is the environmental cost. Athletes, officials and spectators are flying into Vancouver from all over the world. Olympic organizers are working overtime to make snow and keep the things cold that need to be cold, as we have had an unusually mild winter this year. All of this effort and energy consumes resources and emits carbon.

The Vancouver Olympic Committee has implemented a carbon management program for the Games. Local government has also contributed to the effort. Here are the highlights:

  • Publicly track and report the amount of carbon that is being emitted, directly and indirectly.
  • Take steps to reduce emissions, including a no-idling policy on vehicles and incorporating LEED standards into venue construction.
  • New public transportation systems, including a rapid-transit connection to the airport, in advance of the games.
  • Offset direct carbon emissions that can’t be eliminated.
  • Provide tools for individuals to calculate their carbon footprint connected with the games.
  • These efforts are commendable, and represent a shift in the right direction. However, the truth is that any event on the scale of the Olympics will have a significant environmental impact. The organizers argue that by raising awareness and enhancing local infrastructure we can create a positive impact that lasts long after the Olympic flame is extinguished. Maybe so. Or maybe it’s all only so much greenwashing, helping us to feel better about what we’re doing.

    Personally, I am very excited that the Games are coming to my backyard. When the flame passes within a few blocks of my home in the early morning on February 11 I plan to get my kids out of bed to cheer it on. My 5-year-old daughter Hannah and I have tickets to the Closing Ceremonies, and I am sure that it will be an event that we will both remember for a lifetime. If there’s a party of this size in my city I do not want to miss it, even though the environmental impact does give me pause.

    I wonder what you think. Do you think that events such as the Winter Olympics can be a positive force for change? Or do you think that the environmental impact is just too great to be justified?

    You can catch up with Amber, and her own personal Olympic adventure, at Strocel.com.

    2 Responses to A Greener Olympics?
    1. Amy Whitley
      February 11, 2010 | 11:24 am

      Honestly, I have to say I think it’s justified. The Olympics are such a positive force, an encouragement to humankind, and I’d hate to see that stifled. But then again, I’m a huge fan (and can’t wait to watch). I’m jealous of you having it so close to home!

    2. Jen
      March 2, 2010 | 11:20 pm

      I think events like the Olympics are an excellent opportunity to showcase new green technologies to the world.