VANOC shows its commitment to sustainability 

Plan is to make organization sustainable then use Games to tell the world it’s doable

It may cost more to make the 2010 Olympics green but it will be worth it in the long run.

That’s the word from Linda Coady, the top official with the Vancouver Organizing Committee in charge of making the Games sustainable.

"We have to say, ‘yeah, it costs a bit more to invest in energy efficiency attributes at a venue'," she said. "'But here is the payback, the operating costs will be lower'.

"On that basis investments in the energy efficiency, the water efficiencies of venues, will pay back the communities and the groups that are running them afterwards. So it is a false economy to think if you cut back on that you are saving money. You are not."

Coady was part of a Tuesday panel discussion organized by VANOC and the Resort Municipality of Whistler to look at how the Olympic and Paralympic movement can help take sustainability mainstream.

Also on the panel was Ugo Pretato, head of environmental programs for the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, Salla Koivusalo, environmental director of the IAAF Games in Helsinki in 2005, and moderator Brenda Metropolit, the director of sustainability for Environment Canada.

The panel will discuss the same topic at this week’s Globe 2006 conference on business and the environment in Vancouver.

Coady explained that VANOC’s sustainability program is defined by six goals:

• unprecedented aboriginal participation;

• environmental innovation and footprint reduction;

• social inclusion and accessibility;

• economic value added through sustainability and Aboriginal participation;

• accountability though a sustainability management and reporting system; and

• a legacy portfolio of sustainability stories and learning.

But adopting a strong policy on sustainability does not mean going over budget said Coady.

"We cannot burst through our funding envelopes, that is not on," she said.

And it is not just the venues that have to be green. The incentives and bonus packages for employees and management at VANOC will be based in part on performance on sustainable issues.

That was one of the key lessons from the Torino 2006 Games, said Pretato.

He also urged VANOC to weave sustainability in on the ground floor of planning.

"Sustainability of big events is achieved in the planning phase so it is important to work it in at the beginning," he said at the Whistler presentation.

He pointed out that the increased focus on sustainability by the Olympics was raising questions within the movement about continually building new venues for sports such as bobsleigh/luge and ski jumping.

"I think in the future these things will change… it is not sustainable," he said.

Pretato pointed to a just released report on the Torino Games by the UN Environment Program, which called for host nations to upgrade existing facilities rather than build new ones.

The release states: " In respect of some events like bobsleigh, future organizing committees might consider re-using and upgrading existing tracks and stadia rather than building new ones if such facilities are convenient or nearby.

"The next Winter Olympic Games is scheduled to be staged in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010.

"The International Olympic Committee could for instance consider upgrading the bobsleigh facilities built for the 1988 Games held in Calgary."

Pretato offered five main pieces of advice to VANOC. He urged the organization to get sustainability plans in place as early as possible.

He also suggested that VANOC work hard to form alliances with public authorities and local governments.

In Torino the organizing committee worked with local agencies to implement an environmental management system. The local authorities, said Pretato, had planned to do it anyway but with a partnership the system was put in place far faster.

The criteria used in the system are now part of the on-going operations of local authorities and are used for such things as sustainable procurement.

Non-government agencies should also be brought into planning, said Pretato.

In some cases these environmental NGOs will not support many of the Olympic plans as some feel the impact of the Games outweighs its benefits. But, said Pretato, even if the NGOs criticize the organizing committee dialogue has been started and that is the only way change will happen.

In TOROC’s case meetings with NGOs were held every two months from 2002 onward.

Pretato also said sustainability has to be part of every department in the organization if it is to truly impact the hosting of the Games.

For example, the design and procurement departments must both think in sustainable terms, he said, if venues are to be the best they can be.

And very importantly, organizing committees should not keep all the work a secret. A strong communication message must be part of the plan if the general population is to understand that sustainability is doable.

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