EcoMeme: Judging the Winter Olympics

olympic village vancouver

Vancouver will no longer be known as the affordable shooting location for TV shows from Airwolf to The X-Files. Judging by blogs, Twitter and social media trends, people are now watching the city for its environmental leadership.

Friday marks the start of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games hosted in Vancouver, marketed as the “greenest” ever Olympics by Ann Duffy, corporate sustainability officer for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC).

Of course, she faced a huge challenge in trying to minimize the footprint and waste generated by facilities and operations to accommodate: 7,000 athletes, 10,000 media professionals, and some one million people who will buy about 1.85 million event tickets (according to estimates by MacLeans’ sports section).

But for many environmentalists, what her organizing committee has done isn’t nearly enough to warrant a green-gold medal. And the sponsors of the “greenest ever” games, basking in her green halo’s glow, are suffering scrutiny, too.

Coca Cola aspires to win a green rep through recycling efforts in Vancouver. Panasonic has pledged to offset its carbon footprint. And Teck – a mining company based in Vancouver – donated the bronze, silver and gold for the official medals, which it thankfully “mined” out of electronics waste materials, and not sensitive habitat.

Do some, none or all of the above deserve the love of ecogeeks? Put yourself in an informed position to judge, with the links and resources below.

Basic reading:

Short descriptions of green initiatives at the Winter Olympics by writer Amanda Wills

“Canadians have also made it clear that celebrating winter sports shouldn’t come at the expense of a healthy planet. Thousands of people signed a petition in support of making the games climate conscious. All these voices made a difference. The 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver have raised the bar for climate action, including energy efficient venues, the use of clean energy sources, and by promoting the use of public transit. Of course, there is, still, lots of room for improvement”¦” – A report entitled 2010 Winter Olympics: What’s the score on climate change? from the David Suzuki Foundation

-¦Unchecked global warming jeopardizes the future of all winter sports. Frenzied reports have been coming in for weeks about the snow situation in Vancouver, which by all accounts is not good. Snow is being saved under tarps, according to some of those reports. More snow is being trucked in from surrounding areas. And even these efforts are expected to fall short, so the snow will likely have to be “enhanced” by sand and hay underneath…So far this year, at least six events have been canceled [due to poor snow conditions].” – A Change.Org post by environmental activist Mike Gaworecki

A Vancouver-based blogger, Leah Karpus, considers everything from made-in-China souvenir mittens to local snow conditions as part of her personal assessment on the Winter Olympics green marketing campaign

Further Resources:

The Reports & Resources area of the official Vancouver 2010 Olympics website, including Environmental Assessments and Sustainability Reports

A slideshow on Mother Nature Network profiling 12 Olympic athletes who “want to save the planet.”

A story about the forthcoming London Summer Olympics from Sustain Magazine that asks: Is “Sustainable Olympics” is an oxymoron?

A WWF-World Wildlife Fund report about the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, which they say are failing to meet proper environmental standards

An activist blog post that criticizes the Olympics for claiming to be green, but taking money from industrial developers as sponsors, and using too much non-renewable energy

This is the latest installment of EcoMeme, a column featuring environmental news, trends and tech highlights by Lora Kolodny.

Image: Roland