To Be or Not to Be: The Most Sustainable Olympics

Quebec & 2nd St. Path detour. Jan. 2010.
Quebec and 2nd St. Path Detour. Vancouver, BC Jan. 2010. Security fencing and gates block entrance to Olympic Village. Photo by J. Chong

For any Vancouverite, it is probably not a great idea to ask about whether or not the 2010 Winter Olympics will be financially sustainable.  Local residents already know the ballooning costs for security, the Olympic Athletes’ Village and the list goes on.   After all, such costs are often beyond the direct control of most ordinary citizens.

Instead, it may more useful to see if the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will be the most environmentally sustainable Winter Games. So far, there are mixed messages and results.

In Jan. 2010, we attended one of the monthly public sustainability breakfasts sponsored by Metro Vancouver.  Linda Coady, Vice President for Sustainability at VANOC, summarized their efforts in her presentation “The Vancouver Sustainability Journey”. There was also an accompanying  VANOC videoclip for worldwide viewing, that  illustrated how sustainability best practices were integrated into some Olympic building designs, transportation, landscaping and so forth.  For instance, the videoclip weaves in collection of rainwater from Olympic Speedskating Oval roof and use of  mountain pine beetle damaged wood for its roof.   David Suzuki Foundation, rated VANOC’s environmental sustainability practices and results thus far, a“bronze medal”.

Meanwhile there is pre-Olympic news that   visitors at Vancouver Olympic official venues, will not be able  to bring their own drinking water. Instead visitors will have to buy bottled water  on-site from Coca-Cola, a major sponsor for the Games, which deviates somewhat from the Games’ goal of becoming as carbon-free as possible.

Environmental art themed globes. Near Science World geodesic dome.
Environmental art themed globes. Near Science World geodesic dome, Vancouver BC 2010. Far right is Olympic Village.

One can still enjoy the Olympics, reduce their carbon imprint and save some money. With some planning,  a person can see free events, some venues and use alternative transportation options. It is quite feasible that  this Winter Olympics will  have a high number of cyclists which might be ironically due to little or no snow in Vancouver plus strong encouragement by local transportation authorities.  Unfortunately one wonders just think how much energy  is required for snow-making and snow transport operations at Cypress Mountain and Whistler where the outdoor competition venues have  had unfavourably warm temperatures.

Environmental art globes. Near Science World, Vancouver BC. Feb.  2010. Photos by J. Chong
Environmental art globes. Near Science World, Vancouver BC. Feb. 2010. Photos by J. Chong

 Several months prior and  during the Olympics, are several different free public art installations. One of them is the series of art globes decorated with environmental themes. They are located near several well-used cycling and pedestrian routes as well as the Science World geodesic dome or  temporarily the Sochi, Russian pavilion during the Olympics. Not far from the colourful globes, is the Olympic Village site with its new community centre and its green roof for energy-efficient building heating and ventilation.

And yes, I have noticed so far for the few jurisdictional pavilions that are open now, there is less promotional paper information given to the public. Interactive computer information stations or large flat screen virtual shows are de rigeur –as long as people take time to browse through the virtual information. Come to think of it, the computer-based promotional information would reach a broader audience and perhaps be retained longer in people’s memory, if it was aired on an Olympic dedicated tv channel or through one central web video feed where you could see it in the comfort of your home.

Thankfully with social networking media, many ordinary folks are becoming everyone’s journalist through blogs, Twitter and Facebook. No doubt, Olympic 2010 memory will be sustained in unprecedented volumes of virtual stories and images in the collective Internet archive.

Why not?  The Olympics are not financially feasible for most people  to experience  in person. For those who can experience even a piece of the Games live, now have more environmentally sustainable ways to share the experience.

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