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Feb 112010

By Harriet Blake

Snowboarding, skiing and skating will be front and center when the 2010 Winter Olympics open in Vancouver this week. But not far behind is another S-word: Sustainability. Sustainability has generated a lot of momentum, so much so that the Olympic website devotes numerous links to various aspects of the subject.

Pulse’s mobile dashboard image for the Richmond Olympic Oval

Pulse’s mobile dashboard will update every 15 minutes.

There we find out that hydrogen-fueled buses will transport people at some of the venues, several of the buildings are LEED-certified and many of the medals are made from recycled electronics. And, energy provider British Columbia Hydro has teamed with a local software company, Pulse Energy, to monitor energy usage at the games.

John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, says these games will establish a blueprint for Olympics of the future; a benchmark for others to follow.

The objective, he says. is to manage the environmental and economic impact of the Games
to create “lasting benefits, locally and globally.”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has noted that these Olympics will have the greenest venues of any previous games and despite some criticism for the price of the new structures, he believes it has been a good investment.

Helping the Olympic committee track energy consumption at the games is the aforementioned Pulse Energy, a software company that has partnered with utilities company, BC Hydro. Their joint venture, the Venue Energy Tracker Project, will monitor energy and energy management of nine Olympic venues: the Richmond Olympic Oval, UBC Thunderbird Arena, GM Place, Southeast False Creek Community Centre, the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, the Athletes Villages in Vancouver and Whistler, the Whistler Blackcomb Roundhouse Lodge and Snowmaking Facilities.

Pulse co-founder and CEO David Helliwell says the company has installed their energy management technology in each venue, then built a micro site to communicate the project’s objectives, features and results. The project’s mission is to showcase the green features of the Olympic venues and be the first Olympic Games to track its energy, communicating real-time consumption data.

Olympic visitors will be able to view the games’ energy consumption in real time on screens located in several different pavilions as well as at the media centers.

“At Pulse, we’ve developed software to keep track of energy and see where energy is wasted,” says Helliwell. The company has created user-friendly energy intelligence that allows buildings to save up to 25 percent on their energy costs, ranging from light bulbs to heating and cooling systems. Pulse measures a building’s performance and works with a variety of customers including engineering firms and utility companies, such as BP Hydro.

“It seemed like a natural step when the Olympics came to us and asked to help them be more energy efficient,” he says. Based in Vancouver, Pulse employs 40-plus workers. Their work with the Olympic Committee started in full force last September.

Helliwell points out that over the years, the Olympics have made some progress in sustainability, but the Vancouver Olympics will be the first time it’s been measured. And looking to the future, he says, “The 2012 London Olympics may be the biggest one yet.”

Another demonstration of sustainability at work will be the hydrogen fuel cell buses that will transport spectators at the Whistler venue. Developed by the Vancouver company, Ballard, the buses have around since 1991 and are operated by British Columbia Transit.

Fuel cells, says Ballard’s vice president of operations Paul Cass, have no emissions except water vapor because they make electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen without combustion.

“These buses,” Cass said in a recent interview, “tie-in to the sustainability theme of the Games, . . . this is a real, live demonstration of green technology at work.”

The traditional gold, silver and bronze medals will also have a “green” component. The Canadian mining company, Teck Resources, has discovered a way to retrieve the gold, silver, and bronze from the circuit boards of old computers. They then have it melted down and recast into new Olympic medals.

The Vancouver Olympic Committee has a number of sustainability stories detailed on their website. One features an out-of-work man living at the Salvation Army who was trained in the CORE (Construction Orientation to Retain Employment) program and eventually became one of the many carpenters who helped build some of the Olympic structures. Another story chronicles an outreach program that partnered with the Aborigines of Canada to establish an official licensed merchandising program to showcase Aboriginal arts, culture and enterprise.

Basketball court at the LEED-built Richmond Olympic Oval

Basketball court at the LEED-built Richmond Olympic Oval

The Olympic Committee also recognizes their “sustainability stars” on the website. The 62 organizations or structures include:

  • BC Hydro and Pulse Energy as well as Canadian Pacific Locomotives which moved game equipment and goods by train.
  • Coca-Cola for its waste diversion program that will recycle 95 percent of waste materials and divert them from landfills.
  • Panasonic for co-sponsoring a youth digital video contest and presenting an eco-ideas exhibit.
  • The Richmond Olympic Oval, a LEED silver- targeted structure which was built by the City of Richmond with help from the Canadian government and is best known for its one-of-a-kind “wave” roof made from pine-beetle salvaged wood.
  • The Whistler Olympic Park, also targeted for silver LEED certification (which can take more than a year to verify), because it is reusing wood waste, issuing contracts to Aboriginal companies, protecting local surface water through high-quality wastewater treatment and creating a sport and recreation legacy.

Meanwhile, as green as these games hope to be in terms of the environment, “green” is not something the Olympic Committee wants to see on the ground. The Winter Olympics typically are a snowy series of events.

But if global warming skeptics need any further proof that climate change is a reality, they need only check out the current forecast for the Vancouver games. A city that regularly gets 48 centimeters of snow annually, has had one of the mildest winters on record. According to Environment Canada’s meteorologists, the average temperature in January was 44.9 degrees, much higher than the average of 37.9 degrees. It should be pointed out that compared to past Winter Olympic host cities (Calgary, Nagano, Salt Lake City, Lake Placid), Vancouver is probably the warmest of all. Currently the forecast is for mild temperatures and rain, not snow.

To combat the lack of snow, a massive snow-lift operation has been put in place. Canadian Air-Crane is using helicopters to dump between 13,000 to 15,000 pounds of snow from higher elevations into the Cypress Mountain bowl, the site of the snow boarding and free-style ski competitions.

Thanks to the snow-lift operation, Tim Gayda, vice president of sport for the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, says, “I am 100% confident that the events will take place and we’ll have enough snow to get the job done.”

The two weeks of winter sport competitions will end Feb. 28. The population of Vancouver will go from 3.3 million back to its usual 2.2 million. And what happens to the Olympic villages and venues?

Perhaps the most important element of the Vancouver Olympics is the legacy component, says Helliwell. “These buildings will be utilized 50 years into the future,” he says. Oftentimes, venues that were built specifically for the Olympics, remain empty following the games, he says. “Beijing [the site of the 2008 Olympics] has a lot of empty stadiums.”

Which brings us back to that S-word: sustainability. It’s what the green movement is all about.

Copyright © 2010 | Distributed by GRN Network