Climate Mama News: Climate Neutral Winter Olymics, Say What?

How can an international sporting event strive to be “carbon neutral” and what does this really mean anyway? The 2010 Winter Olympics will be the first major international event to attempt to become “carbon neutral.” We expect to see a lot of new “steps forward” with this initiative but also anticipate a few “steps back” as we examine the blueprint and plans behind this special event.

Lets look at what this all means first, and then consider how and why the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) has chosen to take this on. To become “carbon neutral” you first need to understand and measure your “carbon footprint” so that you can take action to bring this number down, in this case to zero if you are shooting to be “carbon neutral”. The following definition of a “carbon footprint” comes to us via the Union of Concerned Scientists, we think it’s an easy one to follow and puts an individuals footprint into perspective:

shutterstock_12515080Many of our daily activities affect the environment, from our consumption of natural resources to our disposal of household waste. One of the most important is our generation of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that is a significant contributor to climate change. It’s not difficult to lower your emissions, but first you need to know how much you’re producing—your carbon “footprint.” This figure represents both the amount of carbon dioxide you generate each year and the lifestyle choices that contribute the most to your total. The average American’s carbon footprint is 20 tons. To put this in perspective, this is approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted each year by three new cars.

There are many carbon calculators out there for individuals, but how does an event like the Olympic Games find a calculator to measure its footprint? The VANOC has teamed up with the David Suzuki Foundation and the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business to forecast the carbon footprint of the Games, based on its operational plans. According to the VANOC’s 2009 Carbon Forecast, since winning the bid in 2003 the Games will generate a total of 270,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. This “footprint” is broken down into two parts: 1. the direct carbon footprint of the Games, under the control of the VANOC, and 2. the indirect footprint; from things like air travel to and from the games, guests accommodations, etc that are all outside of the VANOC’s control.

The VANOC Fact Sheet: Carbon Management Program for Vancouver 2010 explains that since  it won the right to host the games in 2003, the VANOC has focused on minimizing the carbon impact of the Games with the hope of using the Games to inspire broader awareness and action on climate change solutions. This means that the VANOC isn’t just looking at the footprint of the games for the 27 days that they are underway, but rather over the duration of the 7 years since Vancouver was first awarded the Games.

That was the “WHAT”, now what about the “HOW?” Stay tuned next week to Climate Mama News as we look at how the VANOC will accomplish this!

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