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James Tansey leads the Centre for Sustainability and Social Innovation. The centre is tracking the carbon footprint of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics - photo by Martin Dee
James Tansey leads the Centre for Sustainability and Social Innovation. The centre is tracking the carbon footprint of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 55 | No. 6 | June 4, 2009

Centre tracks Olympic carbon footprint

By Derek Moscato

On the surface, it might strike some as, well, an Olympian challenge: Tracking and forecasting the carbon footprint of the upcoming Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.

But that’s what a pair of recent MBA graduates from UBC – working with the university’s Centre for Sustainability and Social Innovation (CSSI) – have been tasked to do.

Over the past year, the centre, which is hosted at the Sauder School of Business and led by associate professor James Tansey, has been helping the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) develop a credible methodology for measuring its carbon footprint.

The project is being conducted by MBA grads Jessica Langelaan and Kristina Welch, both of whom now work for the CSSI as graduate fellows.

According to Langelaan, who recently completed her MBA at UBC in strategic management, the scope of such an undertaking is unprecedented for an Olympic Winter Games.

“This is the first Olympic Games to look at its footprint from the bid’s inception in 2003 through the wrap-up of the Games,” she said. In comparison, the carbon footprint measurement of Torino’s Winter Olympics only took into account the 17 days of the event itself.

But the scope of this undertaking is also significant for other reasons.

Welch, who completed her UBC MBA with a specialization in sustainability, notes that most traditional corporations, for example, have had the benefit of starting such an emissions inventory program on a smaller scale, and then ramping up efforts incrementally over time. “But this is a one-shot deal,” she says.

In developing a methodology to measure carbon emissions, Welch looked at other sporting events with a comparable scale of size and impact – notably the most recent FIFA World Cup hosted in Germany.

It provided her with a perspective on what worked – and what could be improved upon. The World Cup’s carbon measurement program took into account emission activities taking place within Germany only. By contrast, the 2010 calculation is global, and factors in Games-connected carbon emissions that happen in Canada and internationally.

“They had to make assumptions that were right for the time, but now we are able to make a different set of assumptions,” said Welch.

There are a myriad of carbon emitting activities that are being measured for the 2010 Winter Games – including the travel of athletes and IOC members, energy used to put on the athletic competitions, and the impact of spectators themselves.

There’s also the carbon output associated with the journey of the Olympic Torch – whether it’s from the caravan of vehicles travelling with it on the road, or the passenger ferries that will whisk it across bodies of water en route to Vancouver.

“Anything that is core to the Games is measured,” said Langelaan.

So what will the 2010 Winter Games’ carbon footprint be?

At the World Conference on Sport and the Environment in March, VANOC announced an estimate of 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the Games. And in fall 2009, thanks to the forecasting work of Langelaan and Welch, VANOC will release an updated forecast of its carbon emissions.

“VANOC’s comprehensive approach demonstrates they are taking their carbon responsibility seriously,” said CSSI director James Tansey.

It is expected the 2009 estimate of the Games’ carbon footprint will be lower than an estimate made in 2007 by the David Suzuki Foundation, because of ongoing efforts by VANOC to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions. These include expanding public transit, replacing diesel generators with cleaner hydro power, and tapping into renewable energy sources.

“A key piece of this undertaking is that you understand what the footprint looks like, and then you reduce that footprint,” said Langelaan.

For more information visit www.sauder.ubc.ca/cssi

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Last reviewed 02-Jun-2009

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