Our Vancouver 2010 Olympics are being touted, largely by the organizers perhaps, as the greenest Olympics in history.
The Olympics are a series of events featuring the paragon of athleticism, goal-oriented in nature (‘gold-oriented” even), demonstrating excellence in its final and most fully formed manner. After all, it takes years and years of training to get to Olympic levels of competence in any sport. And we as spectators get to see that final result.
And the same is true, I believe, when it comes to reaching Olympic standards of sustainability, as it were. As such, I don’t think we’ve arrived. We have yet to see that final result. We’re still at the training stages.
A lot of good has come out of the Olympics coming to town in terms of green building and sustainability. For one thing, we’ve got the Canada line, which now ferries millions of people from places like the Richmond Oval and Vancouver International Airport while also reducing car traffic and emissions in the downtown area. We’ve re-used pine beetle damaged wood and constructed a sumptuous and highly functional speed skating rink. We’ve gained LEED certificates on Olympic buildings, incorporating the latest in sustainable rain harvesting (a big deal around here), and other green technologies.
But, the “greeness” of the events is not without its critics. This is evident in just walking around the city, seeing single-vehicle usage among VANOC volunteers around Olympic sites. But, it also has been evident in larger controversies, including the large scale transportation of snow to Cypress Mountain (and the burning of fossil fuels included in that process), due to unseasonable warmth in the region at the time of the games. (note: at the time of this writing, it is currently grey and rainy – which is very seasonable for Vancouver …). And of course, there’s the issue of greater emissions due to greater frequency of air travel for fans, and for athletes too.
The drive for tourism and commerce against the commitment to sustainability is a sore point when the issues of a green Olympic Games is raised. Yet, I don’t necessarily think that this is the way it has to stay. I just think we need to become better at striking the balance. We need to train harder. And this isn’t just on the shoulders of host cities, although a great deal of innovation in sustainable technologies certainly need to be maintained, invested in, and progressed by them.
I think, once again, getting closer to an Olympic standard of sustainability rests in a cultural mindset shift too. That means the possibilities for a greener Olympic Games, or indeed any large scale event, will take a shift in expectations on everyone’s part. It will mean expecting, demanding, investing in greater public transit use, alternative fuels, construction codes, innovative product packaging design, domestically produced merchandising, and a great many other aspects that contribute to an event of this scale.
And like the Olympics, we can’t get away with winging it on the day. We’ve got to train for it, to reach the levels we want to reach as a culture when it comes to sustainable living and green building.
For more information about green Olympics, you can peruse the VANOC sustainability report.