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How Green Are the 2010 Winter Olympics? - Building Priorities Briefing

The 2010 Games are being dubbed the "Sustainable Olympics," but is Vancouver BC setting any world records? In this month's Briefing we examine some lessons from the global spectacle. First we look at the venues that Canada constructed for the upcoming Winter Games, to see if they win any green medals. Seven years after winning the bid, we find Canadians are not entirely happy about the upcoming games. Green business guru Martin Westerman shares his thoughts about how to really make the games green. (podcast)

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  • Ann Duffy, corporate sustainability officer for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.... from an interview we recorded for our May 2009 program.

  • Stephen Lacey, host of the Inside Renewable Energy podcast.

  • David Helliwell, co founder and CEO of Pulse Energy

  • Vaughn Palmer, political columnist for the Vancouver Sun

  • Martin Westerman, author, lecturer and consultant on sustainable business

Vancouver Olympics on EnergyPriorities.com

The Winter Olympics begin February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Program notes & transcripts

Vancouver British Columbia is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. Just as the great games make stars of little-known athletes, they also make stars of cities -- like Torino, Nagano, Lillehammer, and Sarajevo.

The games are an opportunity of a lifetime for worldwide publicity, and nations compete fiercely for the spotlight.

That same global spotlight also illuminates issues that are culturally important at the time, like race, political freedom, or human rights.

The cultural issue of the 21st century is sustainability. The International Olympic Committee has made sustainability a pillar of its mission. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games -- commonly known by its much shorter acronym, VANOC -- has conducted a major campaign to highlight its efforts at making the 2010 games "green."

That campaign quickly led to charges of greenwashing. It's no surprise -- how could they completely mitigate the environmental impact of an event that lasts this long, draws as many spectators, and requires the construction of multiple major facilities specifically for that event.

Weeks of televised competitions in three cities will be responsible for an estimated 300 thousand tons of carbon emissions. Thousands of athletes and trainers, 10,000 media, 14,000 volunteers, and a quarter-million spectators will put pressure on every aspect of the cities' infrastructure, from roads and power to waste management and water treatment.

VANOC ordered those cities to build 9 venues from the ground up, and renovate several existing arenas. All of the new venues will be certified green buildings. VANOC committed to meet or exceed a third-level rating in the Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- LEED Silver.

Part 1: The Green Venues of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics

Interview with the Olympic Committee's Sustainability Officer; Interview with Stephen Lacey, host of "Inside Renewable Energy"

» Transcript

"Vancouver LEED Neighborhood Handed Over to Olympic Organizers"
"Vancouver Plans on More Transit, Less Traffic during 2010 Winter Olympics"
"One Year to Go: Countdown to 2010 Olympics"
"Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village" (October 2008)
"Globe Conference Draws Business and Sustainability Leaders to Vancouver from around the World" (May 2008)
"Beijing Olympic Village Certified Green; Vancouver Seeks Twin Golds for 2010" (2008)

Energy:Minute -- Energy Monitoring

» Transcript

Part 2: Monitor Olympic Venue Energy Consumption in Real Time

Interview with David Helliwell, co-founder of Pulse Energy

» Transcript

Related: "Olympic Venues to Display Energy Consumption in Real Time "

Part 3: Seven Years after Winning the Bid, How Are Canadians Feeling about the Games?

Interview with Vaughn Palmer, political columnist for the Vancouver Sun

» Transcript

Part 4: How To Really Make the Olympics Green

Interview with Martin Westerman, author of "The Business Environmental Handbook" and lecturer at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

» Transcript

Part 5: Lessons from Vancouver

Most cities are unlikely ever to face the unique opportunities and complex challenges posed by hosting the Olympics. But Vancouver's experience offers some valuable lessons.

It's possible to use a high-profile construction project to influence future green building. That can backfire. These particular examples will always be associated with the Olympics, and the Vancouver Olympics are not without controversy. If other issues come up, whether it's doping or security or Canada feeling cheated out of a gold medal in hockey, it could dampen the impact these venues have on future developments.

Transparency and documentation are extremely valuable, in these early days of sustainable business. Doing what you believe is right sometimes brings bad publicity. It's ok to sacrifice publicity for sustainability, but not to sacrifice sustainability for publicity.

Sometimes that might mean questioning whether a green building is still a good thing, when no building would have been better.

And there are lessons from Vancouver about green business.

Any organization that ignores public opinion about the environment proceeds at its own risk. The higher your profile, the higher the expectations.

Carbon neutral is no longer the ideal, it's becoming the baseline. Carbon offsets are indispensible, but ultimately we need to get to where we're not emitting the carbon in the first place -- as Martin Westerman says, focus on not making a mess, rather than on cleaning up afterward.

For almost any green initiative, charges of greenwashing are inevitable. The best defense is a large dose of verifiable measures -- like certified green buildings, or energy efficiency that can be monitored.

Never forget: The world is watching.



Olympics Poll: How would you rank the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics for being green?