Hottest in Green: 2010 Winter Olympics

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Throw on your U.S. Curling Team sweatshirt, get out the tissues for those emotional figure skating routines and don’t forget that Leno is moving back to the 11:35 time slot.

Starting on Feb. 12, a projected 5,550 athletes from more than 80 countries will participate during the 17 days of the 2010 Winter Olympic Game events, drawing 3 billion television viewers worldwide. In anticipation of the event, has been keeping an eye on the latest eco initiatives that will be implemented in Vancouver. Here’s a snapshot of the coolest things we can expect to see.

The Stories We Love

The Vancouver 2010 Sustainability Stars program, set in place by the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), celebrates leading innovations in sustainability made by Games sponsors, partners and organizers. More than 60 sustainability stars have been awarded, but here are a couple of our faves:

Olympic Torch Relay Footprint Reduction – Racing a lit torch and its accompanying volunteers and staff around the world can be pretty straining on resources. The Vancouver 2010 relay reduced the emissions and waste footprints associated with this trek in some simple ways, including taking advantage of smarter transportation options and using recyclable materials.

Coca Cola’s Waste Diversion Program – A worldwide partner for the Games, Coca-Cola, is ensuring that 95 percent of waste generated during the Games will be diverted from landfills. Recyclables like shrink wrap and cardboard trays will be taken to Richmond, British Columbia recycling center. The company will also reduce its carbon emissions and purchase Gold Standard carbon offsets (as recommended by WWF-Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation).

Panasonic Video Contest: Offsetting and Eco-Ideas Exhibit – Panasonic’s contribution to the Games will be three-fold: The electronics giant will be co-sponsoring a youth digital video contest, offsetting its 2010 Winter Games carbon footprint (an estimated 416 tons of carbon emissions) and creating an “Eco-Ideas” exhibit for sustainability initiatives. Panasonic was our winner for the most standout company at this year’s Consumer Electronics Convention.

Accommodations to Knock Your Woolly Socks Off

For Athletes Only – More than 3,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes will call the Millennium Water development in Vancouver their home for two weeks in February. The athletes’ village has been constructed to meet LEED Gold certification by the Canada Green Building Council, as well as the new LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot program.

The village will be the first phase of a model sustainability community project, which will transform a former brownfield site into a sustainable living showcase. According to Planet Forward, innovative developments include a “district energy system” that will will use residual heat from the city’s sewer pipes to warm the water that feeds into the village’s heating system. Also, hidden drains will siphon rainwater to be used on rooftop gardens in the summer and will be enough water to flush the toilets in the fall and winter.

But We Didn’t Forget About You – Listed as one of our top winter eco destinations, the Listel Hotel in downtown Vancouver is one of the city’s most eco-friendly hotels, awarded four keys by the Hotel Association of Canada’s Green Key Eco-Rating Program. The hotel utilizes unique geothermal heat capture technology along with solar panels for hot water heating, dramatically minimizing its natural gas consumption. The hotel also purchases power from a wind and low-impact hydro power energy company and composts all post-consumer food products, including meat.

Want to know what the environmental cost is for attending the Games yourself? Calculate and offset your trip before you go. Here’s a quick sample of what you can expect: Round-trip air travel from New York City to Vancouver, a seven-night stay in a hotel and attendance to five events round out at 1.3362 tons of carbon, which costs about $30 to offset.

The Coolest Medals We’ve Ever Seen

After a two-year-long design competition, the 2010 Winter Olympic medals were chosen last October. But design isn’t the only cool part. Weighing in at a record 500-576 grams, the medals are made from recycled electronics.

Canadian Aboriginal designer and artist Corinne Hunt, along with designers from the Royal Canadian Mint, Teck Resources Limited and VANOC, collaborated on the project resulting in some of the heaviest medals in Olympic and Paralympic history.

After shredding, separating and heating end-of-life electronic components, the byproducts are combined with other metals to create the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Medals.

Each medal was hand-cropped, ensuring no two are alike, which is a first in Games history. The unique medals feature wavy forms evoking scenes of British Columbia’s mountains, sea and snow.

Teck Resources, a Vancouver-based diversified metals company, supplied the materials for the medals, much of it coming from end-of-life electronics.

“Our employees worldwide are honored to supply the metals for the medals that will be cherished by the world’s best winter athletes in 2010,” said Teck’s President and CEO Don Lindsay. “We’re also excited that these medals will contain recycled metal recovered from end-of-life electronics, consistent with the sustainability philosophy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The Most Efficient Venue in History

According to the Vancouver 2010 Sustainability Report, previous Games have relied on about 600 portable diesel generators to provide backup and additional power in order to service the unique needs of the Winter Games.

“Many of these generators were running continuously or idling, ready to kick in at a moment’s notice,” the report says. “They were burning fuel, creating noise and releasing greenhouse gases. Definitely not the kind of power solution [Paul Toom, VANOC’s director of energy] envisions for the 2010 Winter Games.”

Toom describes the ideal power source for the 2010 games as “quiet, no odor – just the sounds and smells of nature. That’s the experience we want to provide for spectators and Games participants. It’s all achievable through making the right choices.”

And the right choices have resulted in a reduced need of portable generators. Supplied by BC Hydro, the solution is two separate underground power lines combined with an automatic switching system, meaning that if the power is lost in one feed, it will transfer the power to the second feed.

The result? A whopping 90 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as compared to previous games, saving millions of dollars.

But the new energy system is just the tip of the iceberg. Vancouver’s Sustainability Report is 32 pages filled with eco initiatives – and that’s just the “snapshot.”

Lori Brown contributed to this article.

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