Friday, January 22, 2010

Green Olympics?

Last week my bloggy friend Ron, From Destination: Where the F is Ron? asked "I'm here covering the Olympic torch relay as it makes its way to Vancouver and I keep hearing that it will be the "greenest" games in history. I'd like to pick your brain: Do you think it's feasible to have a green Olympics--or is it just a slogan or gimmick to make people believe it's green? Would love to hear your thoughts."

It's an interesting question and got me wondering ... can any gathering, such as fairs, festivals, concerts or sporting events, ever be "green"? After all ... any time there is a large gathering of people, there are environmental issues ... things like energy and water consumption, land use, waste, transportation options and levels, accommodations ... even noise pollution. Often, buildings and structures are erected for these events ... and just as often, they are torn down after the event creating more waste.

My personal feeling is that no, if we're thinking strictly about an event's carbon footprint, I don't think they are "green". That being said, most of these events have other beneficial qualities ... the Olympics encourage civic pride and promote health and athleticism. They also give their host city an economic boost. Fairs and festivals encourage unity ... on a small scale, they are often family-friendly and encourage "wholesome" activities ... on a large scale, they have often been used to bring people together in support of others (the Live Aid concert was held in support of people in Ethiopia ... there are currently concerts being planned to help in the Haiti relief efforts). So ... it becomes a balance between their environmental impact and their social benefits.

There is another side to consider ... will these events be discontinued if they are deemed less than environmentally friendly ... or will they occur anyway? I'm reasonably sure they will occur anyway.

Do I think "green" Olympics are a gimmick? No ... not at all. Once we get beyond the fact that any gathering is going to have environmental concerns, we can focus on efforts to make them as green as possible. The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Committee has put a few things in place. They are advertising and promoting green games ... this actually gets people thinking about their environmental footprint and plants the seed in attendees' minds to look for Eco-friendly opportunities at the event (like using recycle bins and reusable drink containers). Venues were chosen based on minimizing the environmental impact of travel, accommodations and land use. LEED principals were incorporated in building construction. One of the planning committee's most impressive moves is their Buy Smart program. This program includes specific criteria when choosing suppliers ... things like their environmental programs and sustainability efforts, whether they are Aboriginal-owned or employ Aboriginal people, etc.

I have often said that living a green life takes balance. In a perfect world, none of our actions would distress the environment in any way. But, this isn't a perfect world. So, we make the best choices possible and we do what we can. The Olympics will have an environmental impact but, they are also doing their best to minimize that impact.

Doing our best ... isn't that all we can ask?

As always ... I would love to hear from you!