AltUse Find - Vancouver goes for the green and more

Recycled medals, organic bouquets are just a hint of 'sustainability' effort

By Rebecca Agiewich contributor
updated 5:13 p.m. PT, Thurs., Feb. 11, 2010
Most of us will never experience the thrill of Olympic victory. Our decrepit old computers and TVs, on the other hand, might make it to the podium as glittering gold medals — thanks to an innovation from this year's winter Olympics. Read More
The 2010 games will boast the first medals in Olympic history to contain metal recovered from end-of-life electronics that would otherwise go to the landfill.
The innovative “Metals to Medals” project — a partnership between Canadian mining company Teck and the Vancouver Organizing Committee — is one of many initiatives that organizers are touting as part of a broad effort to make these games the most "sustainable" ever.
The multitude of green projects detailed here seems fitting for a city that hopes to become the world’s greenest by 2020. Some of the highlights, according to the Vanouver Organizing Committee, or VANOC:
  • The Olympic and Paralympic Village in the city of Vancouver is scheduled to become a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood after the games and has already won numerous sustainability awards.
  • Unused fuel from the more than 12,000 Olympic torches will be recycled and their cylinders re-used; the torches are also constructed of recyclable materials such as steel and aluminum.
  • A Lost and Found program will do double duty: distributing items left behind at the games to low-income, inner-city residents, while keeping the items out of landfills.
  •   VANOC will offset all carbon emissions related directly to the games, while spectators have been asked to voluntarily offset their own.
A commitment to ‘advanced social inclusion’One unusual feature of these games is that the sustainability effort extends beyond the environmental impacty of the event to include "the social and economic dimensions of sustainability,” according to VANOC's Web site.
This expansion is a point of pride for VANOC. “We’re the first Olympics to make a commitment to advanced social inclusion,” says Ann Duffy, corporate sustainability officer for the committee.
One social inclusion effort involves the victory bouquets that will be presented to athletes. These flowers — besides being organically grown on sustainable farms — are being prepared by women in the Just Beginnings Non-Profit Society, a florist shop and floral design school for women who face barriers to employment.
VANOC has also formed historic partnerships with First Nation groups. The committee’s collaboration with Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (known collectively as the Four Host First Nations), marks the first time an Olympic organizing committee has partnered with indigenous peoples.
Expanding definition of sustainability Denis Du Bois of Seattle, who has been covering sustainability at the Olympic games for Energy Priorities Magazine, raises an eyebrow at this expanded definition of sustainability.
“Social inclusion is an important part of corporate social responsibility, but not necessarily a sustainable practice,” says Du Bois. “Reducing waste that you send to the landfill — that is a sustainable practice. Reducing the energy you use or the number of idling diesel buses you use — that falls into the category of sustainability. Does an aboriginal art exhibit fall under that category? Not for me.”