Thursday, 25 February 2010

Green Buildings: Olympic Event Legacy

Richmond Olympic Oval

Ever wonder if people read and respond to those comments you leave on blogs? Well, I found out today they do!

About a week ago I left a comment on Tourism Vancouver's Olympic blog, asking for some insight about 'greening' the Games. Lo and behold they actually responded with a post about The Green Games! The post includes a brief video profiling some of the green buildings and neighbourhoods developed for the event. Thanks, TVan!

I've written about about some of the operational issues with the Games: sponsorship, waste management, transportation, and aboriginal engagement. But what about how the Games have impacted the built environment?

Events, in this rare case can be seen as a catalyst for ensuring sustainable design elements are included in the built environment. Unfortunately most events deal with the cards they are dealt when it comes to infrastructure in a host destination...they can't create their own deck of new facilities like the Olympics can. The Olympics, however, is a different story.

To its credit the Vancouver 2010 Games has made good use of re-purposing existing facilities, including the Opening Ceremonies, hockey, and speed and figure skating venues. New facilities, as is evidenced in the video, have been built with a goal of achieving LEED certification. Great examples include the new Vancouver Convention Center expansion, Athlete's Village and Richmond Oval.

This extends to Whistler where it is estimated the population pressure on this small resort town has increased by seven times to accommodate athletes and visitors for the Games. The resort is featuring a new composting facility to handle organic waste, including sewage. Indeed there may be some athlete DNA sticking around in Whistler vegetation for many years to come.

Monday, 22 February 2010

(More Than a) Word from our Sponsor

Thanks to Nancy Wilson for the inspiration for today's post. She commented the other day about the visibility of bottled water at the various press conferences being aired from Vancouver 2010. As is often the case with Nancy, her comment got me thinking ...

Turns out, I guess that's what happens when you hand the keys to the city over to Olympic organizers.

I will be the first to confess I have a strong emotional reaction to what seems like corporate sponsorship overriding the democratically expressed preference of a city's citizens to ban bottled water. That's right, in April 2009 Vancouver City Council voted to ban bottled water at city-run facilities, some of which are being used as Olympic venues. Turns out that because the City's contractual arrangements with VANOC, the organising commitee of the games, pre-date the decision of the current council, the new mandate for eliminating bottled water does not apply in this case. Cooperation by sponsors and contracted suppliers for the Games is voluntary.

With Coca-Cola anticipated to sell 7.5 million beverages - including bottled Dasani water - at the Games, it appears doubtful any voluntary educational program by the City of Vancouver to inform them of preferences for no bottled water will be heeded.

Regardless of the waste issue, what I realize is resonating with me is the ability of corporate event sponsorships to interfere with community living, and democratically expressed preferences.

And Coca-Cola is not the only target, in my mind. Friday I went to my local market to pick up some groceries. It's a great public market...every weekend for 10 years I've stopped in at the baker, soupmeister and fishmonger to get locally made brunch goodies for the weekend. Last Friday the owners had to tell me "I'm sorry, we're only taking Visa until the end of the Games". They looked apologetic, obviously having gotten used to the surprise or perhaps irate reaction of regular customers used to paying other ways. It wasn't inconvenient enough I had to find a way to pay for my Games tickets using the only credit card I don't own, now I can't get groceries without a one?

As a planner I'm fully aware of the need for sponsors to enable events, particularly of the scale of the Olympics. I expect that when I participate in the Games that by proxy I'll have to honour official sponsor protocols and all that come with it. However, as a resident of a community affected by a large-scale event I'm questioning the ethics of enabling corporations as part of their sponsorship arrangement to control how I engage in my community beyond the event, as well as their power to override local government.

Would welcome perspectives on both sides.

For more reading on related topics:
Vancouver's Push to Ban Plastic Bottles Won't Hold for the Olympics
Council of Canadian's Blog: Coca-Cola's Plant Bottle
The Top Dogs of Olympic Sponsorship
Dispatches from Vancouver: The Curious Case of GM Place
Marketers Play Olympic Cat and Mouse Game

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Olympic Recycling Follow-up

Many thanks to Zero Waste Blog for providing some more insight on Vancouver 2010 Games recycling. Comments on this post contain an important lesson for all event managers when it comes to destination selection and interpreting what is meant by 'diversion' from landfill.

I recently had a conversation with a conference center manager about their diversion rate. Their initial response: "We divert 95% of materials."

"To where?"

"Well, about 20% goes into our kitchen composting program that is picked up by a local pig farmer. 10% is recycled paper, cardboard and beverage containers. About 4% is landscaping compost. We have about 61% that is waste to energy. 5% is construction and debris which we landfill."

"Waste to energy?"

"We have an incineration facility that burns it as a power source."

Incineration is a highly controversial form of waste diversion from landfill. It is important for meeting professionals who are trying to measure sustainability meaningfully to know the issues related to burning of waste for energy, which include increased emissions, local air pollution and impacts on human health. Granted, recycling and composting have corresponding environmental impacts, there are many who feel reduction, reuse, recycling and composting are a higher order of environmentally responsible action and should be pursued as priority.

Event managers would likely be surprised how many destinations and venues cite incineration as part of their diversion rate. More and more cities, states and provinces are also looking to pursue incineration where allowances are being made to label it 'renewable energy'. These trends make it so important to acquire clear information about this issue from your destination, and determine a position on it. I have opted to not include incineration in event diversion metrics, feeling that - as the commenter has suggested - it provides a skewed perception about event waste and can be construed as greenwashing. So in the example above, I opt to use 34% as the diversion rate, rather than the 95%.

Lesson learned: dig deeper and ask questions about what is meant by diversion. Make sure you understand the issues and reflect your diversion as accurately and transparently as possible.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Recycling, Olympic-style

Recycling centers, Whistler, BC

Waste management for events can be tough for event planners. Destination cities can help by providing recycling and composting programs as standard and tracking recycling rates for the city and major venues.

Anyone who has planned an event recycling program knows that recycling station design a critical success factor. Do you co-mingle recyclables, or sort them? Are stations accessible? Are they visually consistent so they stand out and attendees can spot them easily? Is streaming the same everywhere, or do some stations sort recyclables while some co-mingle? Is signage clear so attendees know how to recycle?

Doing this inside one venue is one thing, but trying to do it across multiple venues and multiple cities for one event is down-right mind-boggling! That is the challenge presently underway in Vancouver as event organizers try to address the increased waste footprint resulting from the Olympics.

In the City of Vancouver 200 temporary recycling stations have been added to the Downtown core, apparently using a co-mingled approach. The City of Vancouver has designated a $500,000 grant to United We Can to employ 70 residents of the Downtown Eastside to collect recyclables from these receptacles at a rate of $10/hour. For a city known for its 'green' image the fact the program is a temporary measure for the Olympics is rather disappointing.
Temporary recycling centers, Downtown Vancouver, BC
Recycling on the left, trash on the right

In the City of North Vancouver, which is a major transportation hub for alpine events, local government has taken a different tactic, using streamed recycling centers that also include composting. Again, recycling in outdoor public spaces is a temporary measure in this case, sadly.
Sorted recycling centers, North Vancouver, BC

In the case of Whistler they have had to do very little work to prepare for onsite waste management for the Olympic Games. For years the resort has had recycling centers, including a special 'bear proof' design (image above).

It is clear from a look into receptacles that despite best efforts on the part of municipalities and organizers that attendees are not recycling or composting correctly.

Contaminated recycling centre, Downtown Vancouver

Recycling streams are contaminated and people clearly have no idea what is compostable or not. In this respect the United We Can program is proving very effective in ensuring at least containers are removed from the stream. You'll notice no containers in the photo above which was recently mined by binners. Paper, on the other hand, is a different story.

In defense of organizers, the best way to deal with this situation is to designate volunteers at recycling centers, however, think of magnitude of such a program! 200 stations, all day, for 16 days at least. That's over 40,000 volunteer hours for Downtown Vancouver alone, not to mention the cost to organize, train and outfit volunteers. And that is not including other municipalities, or inside venues.

Indeed reduction seems the best alternative!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Climate Change Effect on Events...and Contribution from Events: Olympic News

A unprecedented snow-less January has Vancouver Olympic organizers skipping to Plan B and C to ensure at least one venue is 2010 Games-ready. The lack of snow on Cypress Mountain - the site of freestyle and snowboard competitions - is perhaps a sign of global warming, and a huge sustainability issue for event organizers. How do
you host an event relying on snow, when there is none? Solutions have included bringing down snow from higher elevations on the mountain by tractor and helicopter, as well as trucking in snow from as far as 3 hours away from the venue. Is it a case of spending more carbon to manage the impact of more carbon?

Read more:

Poverty Olympics?

Things are heating up in preparation for the Olympics, and it is not just resulting in lack of snow at the venues as reported last week. As the Opening Ceremonies loom so does a sense of tension as protesters of the Games assemble in Vancouver. This weekend an independent journalist was detained and refused entry to Canada allegedly due to connections with protest organizers. With a history of large, vocal, public demonstrations in the city, Games organisers are challenged to enable free speech, while maintaining a positive event experience for participants. Sounds like event sustainability at work!

At issue are many things, but a primary issue is the lending of taxpayer support to the Olympics at the expense of funding to alleviate poverty in Canada's poorest postal code, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Government agencies have created an information center in the neighbourhood (Downtown Eastside Connect) to enable education about this issues, however critics are quick to point out the 'spin' being made by the center. Anyone interested in reading more about this event sustainability issue can check out the following...

Photo: Reuters