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Feature 2 - Green games origins

Lillehammer the first with Green Games



The Olympic motto has always been Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger), but until 1994 there were only two "pillars" to the Olympic Movement: sport and culture.

That changed with Lillehammer, Norway, host of the 1994 Winter Olympics, the first "green" Games.

"As we enter the Third Millennium it is the IOC’s chief duty to respect the environment," former International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch said at the Lillehammer Games.

In June of 1994 the IOC signed an agreement with the United Nations Environmental Program. Through this agreement the IOC and UNEP pledged to "jointly undertake specific international actions" to help make sports events environmentally friendly.

In August 1995 the grandly named Congress of the 100-year Celebrations of the Olympic Movement in Paris recommended amendments to the Olympic Charter to accommodate environment as the third pillar of the Games. Rule 2, paragraph 10 of the Olympic Charter states: "…the IOC sees that the Olympic Games are held in conditions which demonstrate a responsible concern for environmental issues and encourages the Olympic Movement to demonstrate a responsible concern for environmental issues, takes measures to reflect such concern in its activities and educates all those connected with the Olympic Movement as to the importance of sustainable development."

One of the first sport governing bodies connected to the Olympic Movement to adopt the environmental pillar was the International Ski Federation (FIS), which pledged at its 1994 congress to conduct its sport in an environmentally friendly way. However, the FIS became involved in an environmental controversy when it was proposed the 1998 Olympic downhill be started in a Japanese national park. Environmental concerns won out and the downhill was shortened.

There have been three Olympic Games since Lillehammer, Atlanta in 1996, Nagano in 1998 and Sydney in 2000. Each has made efforts to be environmentally responsible, with Sydney being the most acclaimed. But the environmental movement within the Olympic Movement really began in Norway.

Norwegians by their nature and by their history have strong ties to their environment. A poll conducted prior the 1994 Games showed that 67 per cent of Lillehammer’s population considered the environment to be their highest priority, ahead of employment, better roads and Norwegian gold medals.

But as Olav Myrholt described in a 1996 article for UNEP’s Our Planet magazine: "The organizers at Lillehammer did not ‘go green’ painlessly, nor did the area escape from the Games unscarred. Hosting such a big sports event inevitably brings environmental damage. Natural recreational areas are changed into sportscapes and roads are enlarged. Massive resources, space and energy are used for an event lasting just two weeks. The facts and figures show that biological resources and green space were lost at Lillehammer. The Games were certainly not ecologically sustainable."

Myrholt was project manager in the Environment Department of Olympia Utvikling, Lillehammer’s post-Olympic development company, and now is an environmental consultant to the IOC. He has been involved in the Sydney Olympics and in next month’s Games in Salt Lake City. But it was how he and others became involved in the Lillehammer Olympics that was perhaps the most critical step in the environment becoming part of the Olympic Movement.

"An initial environmental policy and an action plan were hammered out based on a proposal from Friends of the Earth in Norway and the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee," Myrholt wrote. "The partners found common goals among widely different purposes and enlarged the environmental common ground. This precipitated a process, starting from grassroots, which set managers, politicians and environmental volunteers on a steep learning curve and turned the Games into a project-based ‘environmental showcase.’ Each of the 130 or so clearly defined projects was set to have a lasting effect beyond the 16 days of February."

"What made the Lillehammer Olympics so unique was not only their ‘greenness,’ but also the fact that LOOC was able to include the environmental groups in the day-to-day planning process," Hilde Elin Haaland wrote in a 1995 case study for Trade and Environment Database, an academic group based in Washington, D.C.

"However, this did not happen overnight," Elin Haaland continued. "In fact, the environmentalists were fundamentally against the Olympic Games being in Lillehammer in any shape or form."

Myrholt was a member of the Norwegian Society for Conservation of Nature when the Olympics were awarded to Lillehammer. The society, among others, was fiercely opposed to the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee’s original plans to build the speed skating hall within an internationally recognized bird sanctuary.

As Thorbjørn Berntsen, Norway’s Minister of the Environment, said in a 1996 address: "Environmental pressure groups in Norway made their views on the Winter Games known early on, and a number of controversial issues made headline news. Progress was only made as conflict was replaced by co-operation between the parties involved. It was in a sense this ‘compromise’ between environmentalists and authorities that in the end gave substance and credibility to the ‘green’ image of the Lillehammer Games."

The speed skating hall was moved and redesigned and an independent watchdog group, Project Environment-Friendly Olympics, was established. But it was the decision by LOOC and the Norwegian government to include environmentalists in the planning process that made the Games what they were, and set the standard for future Olympics.

There were four principles that formed the cornerstone of Lillehammer’s "green plan."

1. The LOOC established environment as one of the criteria by which the success of the Games would be measured. Policy documents set specific environmental requirements for energy consumption, waste disposal, procurement, building materials, recycling and other aspects of development.

2. Environment was seen as an integral part of all activities, rather than as a separate program in the hands of one sector. This meant that decision-makers in every field could potentially be held responsible for neglect of the environment.

3. Legal requirements with regard to regional and land use planning were met in a consistent way; waivers and exemptions were avoided. Advisory boards on environment and architecture also provided guidelines for construction and development.

4. The organizational infrastructure was established with participation from the public sector, the LOOC and non-governmental organizations. NGOs like Project Environment-Friendly Olympics were part of the "official team." The various committees and working groups were to promote innovative environmental solutions and to address environmental challenges up front, before conflict arose.

"We like to think of the Lillehammer Games as a turning point," Berntsen said in his 1996 address at the Lillehammer Conference. "Special efforts were made to reverse trends and to limit the extent of damages inflicted upon nature. We feel in a sense that we have made an environmental ‘investment’ into the Olympic Movement. The (1994) co-operation agreement between IOC and UNEP gives us confidence that our ‘investment’ is in safe hands."

In the three Games since Lillehammer, the biggest environmental effort has put forth by organizers of the Sydney Olympics. Indeed, the environmental commitments made by Sydney organizers were one of the reasons the Australian city won the right to host the 2000 Games.

Following Lillehammer’s lead, Greenpeace consultants were hired by organizers of the Sydney Games and involved in the planning. The athletes village was solar powered and half of all water used was reclaimed rainwater. Suppliers and sponsors made commitments to improve their practices, such as Coca-Cola’s promise to phase out the use of environmentally unfriendly refrigerants.

However, Greenpeace only gave the Sydney Olympics a C— rating overall. Plans for a solar thermal power station were abandoned and air conditioning and refrigeration systems used ozone-depleting gases, contrary to original plans. As well, the clean up of the Homebush Bay area, site of several Olympic events and previously a dumping ground for toxic industrial waste, was only partially completed.

But like Lillehammer, Sydney’s greatest environmental legacy may be mental rather than physical. The use of recycled materials and designing for energy conservation brought a new base of knowledge to many key players in Sydney’s construction industry and in government. Sponsors and suppliers were also convinced of the virtues of "going green."

Salt Lake City’s environmental campaign is more modest than Sydney’s or Lillehammer’s, although many facilities for the Salt Lake Games were already in place before the Games were awarded.

There are three primary components to Salt Lake’s environmental campaign: a zero net emissions goal, an urban forestry project and an urban heat island project called Cool Spaces 2002.

Cool Spaces is an attempt to reduce air temperature and pollution in the Salt Lake area. NASA conducted an overflight of the Salt Lake Valley and Olympic venues during the summer of 1998, photographing the area with infrared cameras. The effort produced a "heat map." Tree planting in the areas of greatest heat will attempt to reduce the air temperature and summer air pollution.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee says ground level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant, is produced partly by heat. Studies have shown that if urban tree cover can be increased by 5 per cent the production of ozone can be decreased by 10 per cent.

Plant it Green! is an Internet-based international program that advocates the importance of urban forestry and encourages tree planting. According to the Salt Lake 2002 Web site: "Anyone anywhere in the world can plant a tree in their community in honor of the Olympics and register it on www.saltlake2002.com. SLOC will provide each Olympic tree planter a certificate recognizing his or her role in enhancing the environment."

SLOC’s zero net emissions goal is based on an efficiency-for-emissions swap. The Cleaner and Greener program encourages energy users to reduce their energy consumption and, by doing so, counterbalance any emissions increase related to hosting the Games.

SLOC has partnered with the Leonardo Academy to calculate the total energy use and air emissions created by hosting the Games. "By gathering donations of emission reductions from sponsors, schools, and businesses, these Games could be the first in Olympic history with zero net air emissions," SLOC says.