Will the Environment Medal at the Winter Olympics in South Korea?

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For the Winter Olympics, South Korea is rocking an array of fresh amenities, including several new sports venues, speedy railways and extra ski slopes. Despite outside protest a few years ago seeking to preserve a pristine forest rather than build a skiing facility, organizers state that environmental factors played a key role in their plans, designs and facilities.

“Since we won the bid to host the Games, sustainability and the environment have been at the heart of our plans and procedures,” according to a release quoting the director general of environment for organizers of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

Photo: PyeongChang 2018

With 92 nations participating this year, the dazzling festivities and athletic feats on ice and snow will draw extra worldwide attention to the Asian peninsula. If you regard the environmental aspects equally enthralling, PyeongChang 2018 organizers issued a Sustainability Report.

“The IOC [International Olympics Committee] has identified environment as the third pillar of Olympism, next to sport and culture,” the Sustainability Report says.

New Buildings

Several new venues were built for the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Photo: PyeongChang2018.com

The PyeongChang Winter Olympics are based in a province rich in mountains and forests on the eastern side of South Korea. For the events, six new sports venues were built and some others were refurbished.

“The competition venues that have been newly constructed will accommodate solar and geothermal generation  facilities,” the report states. “Solar power will be used to generate electricity and geothermal heating will help supply heated water. Renewable energy accounts for 12 [percent] of the total energy consumption for each venue, which is a significant contribution to the energy cost savings in venue operations.”

Other features at some of the venues include:

  • rainwater reuse facilities
  • recycling and waste segregation
  • using food waste for fuel or fertilizer

Trees & Protesters

Several years ago, a site selected for alpine skiing events attracted the attention of environmental advocates, who wanted organizers to preserve what they regarded as a precious ancient forest.

Among the efforts was a petition on the online activism website, Avaaz. It states:

“As concerned citizens from across the globe, we call on you to stop the destruction of forest on Mount Gariwang. … We urge the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to ensure that all Olympic Games truly live up to ideals of sustainability and environmental protection.”

The petition pulled in about 1,275,300 signatures, according to the Avaaz website. In 2016, a note was added to the page: “Despite public pressure, Olympic organisers cleared a portion of Mount Gariwang for a ski slope. We are pushing the IOC to commit to upholding principles of sustainability so that this type of devastation never happens in the name of the Olympics again.”

Trees & Organizers

Jeongseon Alpine Centre Photo: PyeongChang 2018

Referencing the debate over the forest, the Sustainability Report says an advisory committee evaluated several alternative venues, but Gariwangsan Mountain was selected because other sites did not meet the international requirements. “The design was adjusted several times to maintain natural environment and geographical features of the mountain and minimise impact,” the report states.

Efforts for minimizing impact included integrating courses for men’s and women’s alpine skiing events. That design, which the report says is a first in Olympics history, preserved 35 trees of note, based on diameter. The organizers also selected 1,272 trees from that site and replanted them nearby, the report states.

For natural areas impacted by Olympics-related projects, organizers stated that trees, plants and forests are being restored, replanted or replaced at about twice the amount that was impacted. Topsoil, plants and seeds were saved for some of the restoration projects, according to the report.

Alternate Transportation

Electric vehicles are used by staff at the Winter Olympics. Photo: PyeongChang Winter Olympics

  • Wonju-Gangneung High-Speed Railway was designed to accommodate bullet trains, including a route that runs from the Incheon International Airport across the peninsula to stations with access to the sites of the Olympics events. “The carbon footprint of a high-speed train is eight times [less] than that of gasoline vehicles,” the Sustainability Report states. “It is expected that 6,654 tonnes of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions can be reduced if 420,000 visitors choose to use Wonju-Gangneung express railroad in lieu of personal vehicles.”
  • There are 150 electric vehicles, 15 hydrogen-fueled vehicles and 24 electric vehicle charging stations on site to be used by staff during the games.

A Look at Past Olympics

As with 2018, organizers of a number of previous Olympics also outlined plans for minimizing the impact of the events. Examples include:

  • The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro used biodiesel from recycled cooking oil.
  • Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics designed its athletes’ residential village with assorted eco-friendly features. For example, residual heat from sewer pipes warmed water feeding into the heating system.
  • In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, surplus gas supply pipes were used to form the top ring of the Olympic Stadium.

Will these be the greenest Games yet? Only time will tell.

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Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.