Vol. 20  No. 2  Feb. 9, 2007  Next Issue: Mar. 2, 2007
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Green Olympics easier said than done
Construction on Whistler's sliding centre
Construction of Olympic venues, such as Whistler's bobsled and luge run, must take long-term environmental effects into consideration.
OTTAWA | A giant clock outside the Vancouver Art Gallery should remind passersby that the Winter Olympics, to be held in Vancouver and Whistler Feb.12-28, 2010, are coming closer every day. From Feb. 12, the clock will count down the "days, hours, minutes and seconds" until the Games’ opening ceremonies.

Every city that bids to host the Olympics "has some storyline about how unique they are," says Elvin Wyly, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia's geography department.

He is involved with the Impact on Community Coalition, an independent group that tries to get the public involved in planning the Games. Vancouver's main storyline, he says, was sustainability.

Yet some 2010 environmental sustainability plans are already falling short. Critics also say the massive construction required to mount an Olympic-sized event can never be environmentally friendly.

Highway hits the brakes

One plan that has run into problems is the "Hydrogen Highway." Originally billed as a chance to showcase hydrogen fuel-cell technology, the plan was to have fuel-cell vehicles provide public transportation to Games sites. Canada's Ballard Power Systems and several government organizations were involved.

As time has passed, that plan has run up against reality, says David Chernushenko, deputy leader of the federal Green Party who advised the Vancouver Olympic committee back in the bid stage. "The supply of hydrogen and the cars that would run it are not yet available," he says.

David Chernushenko, deputy leader of the Green Party,  at work in his office
David Chernushenko says the Sea-to-Sky Highway could cause problems for organizers.

Representatives of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) were unavailable for comment.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway, the main road between Vancouver and Whistler, could also give Games organizers environmental headaches. Protestors have questioned Games-related highway expansion plans that eat away at rare ecosystems.

Also, mudslides make sections of the route quite dangerous. One blocked the route for hours in early February.

Setting up water ferries to bypass dangerous sections and connecting the ferries to public transit could help, Chernushenko says. However, that would likely require environmental assessments to consider potential problems, which means the ferry plan's future is uncertain. "That's still up in the air," Chernushenko says.

Constructing a greener Games

The venues where Olympians will skate, ski, curl is one area where the organizing committee hopes to help the environment. It plans to construct all the new buildings, such as the curling centre, with energy-efficient materials and systems that meet the LEED Silver sustainability standard.

It's a notable effort, but almost common sense for large buildings these days.

"LEED Silver almost gets a shrug," says Chernushenko. "Who wouldn't build to that standard, with today's energy prices?"

All the new construction for the Olympics also consumes large amounts of both resources and land. That means trying to have a green Olympics is a question of "developing these rather grandiose schemes and doing it in a relatively intelligent, forward-thinking fashion," says Brad Kasselman, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

'They're very good at trying to do the right thing, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.'

The committee is definitely choosing green options, he says. "They’re very good at trying to do the right thing, and they deserve a lot of credit for that."

Yet why does Whistler need a bobsled and luge run, Kasselman asks? Calgary’s, built for the 1988 Olympics, is a short plane ride away. After the Olympics, the Whistler track will be an unnecessary extra, he says.

"Until they really get serious about…reexamining the business model," he says, any green Olympic plans are "not going to mean all that much."

Having a lasting impact

Chernushenko says the committee has been trying to create a lasting legacy for the region, one that goes beyond large sports facilities.

One example is the Vancouver athletes' village, to be built on downtown industrial land cleaned up for the Games. Post-Games, about one fifth of the homes will be sold as subsidized housing – down from a planned one-third due to reduced government funding, says Wyly, the British Columbia geography professor.

Sustainability by host city

Learn how other host cities have tried to create greener Olympic Games.

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There has not been enough consultation on Olympic legacies, Wyly says. "There’s not a broad-based, public discussion of what does this particular event mean."

Dr. Rob VanWynsberghe, an assistant professor in the university's School of Human Kinetics and Department of Educational Studies, heads the Coalition that includes Wyly.

The organizing committee is not doing all it can to turn its sustainable plans into reality, VanWynsberghe says. "I don’t think they’re pushing themselves," he says. "We’ve got to push them."

"You cannot wait until the weekend before," he says. "The legacies have to be hammered out now."

Related Links

Opens in a new window Canada 2010

Opens in a new window Sustainability Corner

Opens in a new window AWARE Whistler

Opens in a new window Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games

Opens in a new window International Olympic Committee – Sustainable Development
The third pillar
of the Olympic movement

The organizers of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway recognized major sports events can negatively impact the surrounding environment. They set out to make the Lillehammer Olympics the first "green" Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) added environmental protection to the Olympic Charter in 1994 as the third pillar of the Olympic movement, alongside sport and culture. Within the Charter, the IOC commits to hold the Olympics in conditions "which demonstrate a responsible concern for environmental issues."

In 1999, the IOC adopted Agenda 21: Sport for Sustainable Development. It recognizes how sport and the Olympics can help ensure the well-being of the world's diverse people and environments. It suggests host cities of the Olympics and anyone else involved in the Olympic movement should work to improve socio-economic conditions and the lives of the disadvantaged. It also encourages the conservation of natural resources and the environment.

Source: Vancouver 2010


The money trail

Staging the Olympic Games in Vancouver has required major investments from the federal and provincial governments.

The federal government will contribute $552 million. This includes $255 million for the capital costs of sport and event venues and $187 million for security, immigration and other services.

British Columbia committed $600 million to venue construction, endowments and legacies. The province matched the federal government's investment of $255 million for capital costs of sport and event venues.

Sources: Canada 2010 and BC Olympic Games Secretariat



Fuel cells: a planet-friendly alternative to fossil-fuel engines. Using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, the cells' only byproducts are water and heat. While still under development and therefore quite expensive, fuel cells have the potential to power all sorts of devices.

LEED: a standard for building design that stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED Buildings are rated against five environmental criteria: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality and materials and resources. An innovation and design category addresses sustainable building expertise and design measures not covered in the five environmental criteria. Based on how they measure up in each category, buildings are rated as silver, gold or platinum.

Sources: Fuel Cells 2000, Vancouver 2010 and Canada and Green Building Council


An inclusive Games

After consulting with partners, sponsors and other key stakeholders, VANOC identified several objectives for the 2010 Games in addition to protecting the environment.

Aboriginal participation is one of these goals. VANOC is working with the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, on whose traditional lands the Games will take place, to plan and host the games. The committee is encouraging Aboriginal people from across Canada to participate in the Games as athletes, volunteers, employees, artists and performers, spectators and cultural ambassadors.

VANOC is also working to include inner-city commitments as part of its goal of social inclusion and accessibility. For example, it plans to make affordable tickets available to Vancouver’s low-income residents, especially at-risk youth and children.

Source: Vancouver 2010

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