Last but not least in our series on the Vancouver 2010 Carbon Neutral Olympics, join Climate Mama as we sit down with Chris Kantowicz to discuss Project Blue Sky. Project Blue Sky is a project of the Center for Sustainability and Social Innovation at the University of British Columbia, where Chris is the Director of Digital Strategy, and the Project Lead.
Chris told us that while the big push to promote Project Blue Sky was in September 2009, it had its real roots as a 3-week student project, developed in March 2009. The initial project involved a widget and a website, developed to inspire carbon reductions in a person’s everyday life through walking, cycling or riding public transportation. With some seed money from the Provincial Government and through a connection with Dave Calder, a Canadian Olympic medalist, the project then took on a life of its own. In conjunction with Olympic athletes and Offsetters, the official Offset Company of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic games, Project Blue Sky’s goal was to “inspire individuals who care about climate change to contribute 1 billion kilometers of carbon reducing activities from their daily lives.” Recognizing that 190,000 tons of indirect emissions were identified and needed to be offset to meet the carbon neutral goal of the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC), Project Blue Sky became an important partner for reaching out to Olympic spectators and athletes. The Project will end with the closing Ceremonies for the Paralympic Games on March 21, 2010.
According to Chris, the big challenge was how to engage “regular people” through a grassroots movement and a low budget around the idea of carbon reduction. How do you get people excited and committed through a social media tool to take personal action to reduce their carbon footprint through carbon free transportation, in this case, centered at and around the Olympic Games? Should the web tool take on the look and feel of a video game; would people get excited about challenging their favorite Olympic athlete to a competition; and how can the connection be made between spectator and athlete, to motivate people and get them on board? With not a lot of time or money, a lot of energy and great ideas did go into the development of Project Blue Sky. As we discussed last week in our interview with Keri Grist of Offsetters, individual engagement is often the hardest part of carbon management programs, even at an event with a lot of publicity, like the Olympic games.
Chris tells us that much has been learned through Project Blue Sky on the use of social media tools, public engagement and how to motivate individuals around the goals of carbon reduction through an event like the Olympic games. Project Blue Sky will be “dissected” following the games with the positives and what ifs, documented. Who joined, who stayed active, how did they find the site, what worked, what didn’t? The hope is that Project Blue Sky will serve as a building block and possible model for similar projects at future Olympic games, or other big “events.”
As we at Climate Mama close our book on this first ever Climate Neutral Games we have a few take aways to share. Low budgets but big commitments by dedicated individuals can have an exponential effect by sowing the seeds for a real commitment to sustainability and caring for the earth, particularly at big international events. When the world is captivated by peaceful international events, like the Olympics,
the media should be engaged to play a role in promoting sustainability by “stepping up” and reporting on the highlight and the positives of actions and programs taking place, and to help promote the building blocks established. We hope that the world media targets the sustainability efforts of the Olympic organizing committees at upcoming games and highlights sponsor, spectator and participant programs. Our planet is telling us in so many ways that we are doing lasting and significant damage to it. If we want to bring planet Earth back to health, we all need to be on board the same train, advocating and promoting change and to taking up the challenges that are put before us to develop and maintain sustainable habits and practices.