Can the Vancouver Winter Olympics be Carbon Neutral?

Rock Cairn in snow

The modern Olympic Games are a showcase for athletic competition and for the city and country that host them. Vancouver, British Columbia will host the 2010 Winter Olympics and the organizing committee (VANOC) is going all out to present their city at its best. As an extension of the Olympic motto 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' (Faster, Higher, Stronger) VANOC 'has embraced the opportunity — and the responsibility — to take action on climate change by aspiring to be a carbon-neutral games.' The 1.75 Billion dollar (current VANOC budget) question is: Can the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics actually be carbon neutral?

With an estimated 268,000 tonnes of carbon emissions — 118,000 tonnes of direct emissions and 150,000 tonnes from indirect emissions from travel, making the 2010 Olympics carbon neutral is no small task. Much effort has been put into reducing the carbon footprint of the winter games by designing more sustainable game venues, improved energy managment systems, and increased operational efficiency. But, carbon offsets are required to make these Winter Olympics carbon neutral given the event scope, number of competitors and spectators, and of course, the olympic flame.

VANOC has selected as the official Carbon Offsetter for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Offsetters supports renewable and energy efficiency projects in Canada and internationally to create their CO2 offsets. The Offsetters website shows multiple projects that have reduced the carbon footprint of existing businesses and non-profit facilities. While these C02 reductions are valuable, I don't see how this balances out the carbon emissions tied to the Vancouver games. I certainly hope that Offsetters' future projects funded by the 2010 Olympic Games are even more aggressive and effective at carbon emission reduction.

After reading about all VANOC's efforts at producing a carbon-neutral winter olympics I have a modest proposal: Future Winter and Summer Olympics should re-use past Olympic Games venues. By re-using past Olympic venues these facilities will have an extended lifespan and increased value to the local and international community. Re-use of existing competition venues would also reduce (if not eliminate) the need to build new Olympic facilities and the huge CO2 emissions that they embody.

I gather that reusing existing venues is contrary to the current system of Olympic site selection. Maybe so, but it would be a way to make the Olympic Games smarter and greener as well as faster, higher and stronger.

More Info:

Wikipedia - The Olympic Games

VANOC Budget - Sustainability

The Carbon Management Program for Vancouver 2010

Vancouver Sun - Vancouver Olympics push for carbon-neutral status - official carbon offsetter of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games - Atheletes call for a Carbon Neutral 2010 Olympics