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Symko reviews VANOC’s attempts to make Games greenest ever

Carbon offsets, building program, environmental management plans some of the highlights

With a presentation at its monthly meeting last week, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) has completed its study of the impacts the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics had on Mother Earth.

On May 5 AWARE hosted a presentation from Tina Symko, senior manager for environmental management and sustainability with VANOC. She talked about the various ways that VANOC tried to make 2010 the greenest Games ever.

Symko said in an interview the following day that she focused primarily on environmental management and performance to date, as well as key lessons and success factors.

Among successes at the Games she counted its green buildings program, which garnered VANOC awards from the Canadian Green Building Council after building what she called the "biggest group of simultaneous, low-impact facilities in North America."

"There's a quote in the press release from the president of the Canadian Green Building Council, who says from a building perspective, these are the greenest Games ever," she said.

Beyond that she highlighted the work her team did on environmental management plans, which she said were there for every phase of operations, from construction and pre-Games operations all the way to Games time.

"All of our phases of operations were guided by environmental management plans that outlined best practices," she said. "From vegetation disturbance to wildlife management, protecting environmentally sensitive areas, spill prevention and response. So environmental management plans were a pretty important and well-implemented part of our plan."

One of the items Symko was most proud of was the Organizing Committee's devotion to carbon neutrality, the idea that you can offset your greenhouse gas emissions by doing something good for the environment somewhere else.

For this VANOC contracted Offsetters, a Vancouver-based firm that gives carbon credits to people hoping to reduce their impact on the climate. The committee gave money to Offsetters, which then put it into companies such as Sempa Power Ltd., which is developing an "intelligent heating system" for buildings.

Sempa's system automatically switches between fossil fuel and "clean" electricity in order to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions from space heating and water heating. Such systems have been installed in Whistler at the Aspens, the Roundhouse Lodge, the Four Seasons Resort and the Chateau Whistler.

Symko said VANOC has yet to figure out what other projects its money went to, but both the committee and Offsetters estimate that they've worked together to offset 118,000 tonnes of direct emissions produced by the 2010 Games.

AWARE has had a role in ensuring green-ness at the Games from the start. The organization had a representative on VANOC's environmental advisory body, one of 22 groups advising VANOC on sustainability in the five years leading up to the Games.

AWARE President Sara Jennings did not speak on behalf of the organization because its vice-president is the one focusing on the Games.

She did, however, say that AWARE stands by a stance that it put out during the Games: that VANOC had made several attempts to ensure sustainability is a part of the Games but that reforms need to take place at the International Olympic Committee before they can officially be considered "green."

"From the beginning, we've been supportive of VANOC's attempt to be better than the previous Games," Jennings said. "And that was one example of where they were better than previous Games. Overall, there was room for improvement but I think even VANOC will agree with that."