Going for Gold and Green at the Vancouver Winter Olympics

When I found out the 2010 Winter Olympics were going to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.), I was eager to see how the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) was going to infuse the province’s environmentally-conscious mindset and innovative design style into the various venues.

From the beginning there were a number of aspects of the VANOC plans that impressed me, but what stuck with me – and something developers and corporate executives should pay close attention to – is how everything, from the materials for the speed skating rink’s roof to the compost bins in the cafeterias, was designed to maximize visual impact, while reducing the negative impact on the environment.

All you have to do is go to the official Vancouver 2010 site and you’ll immediately see that VANOC has a laundry list of information on the eco-initiatives for the 2010 Winter Games. This site includes helpful resources such as interactive sustainability videos (in English and French, of course), links to government and third-party energy assessments, and even a carbon offset calculator you can use to see how you can reduce your carbon footprint at the games or at home.

Perhaps the best example of the VANOC sustainability program however, can be seen at the Richmond Olympic Oval. The venue was one of the largest and most-complex structures to be built in accordance with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building ratings system, which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998. Situated on the edge of the Frasier River, this massive building houses the tracks for various speed skating events and is, in my mind the epitome of sustainable construction and management.

Here are some interesting eco-friendly features of the venue:

  1. Eye-Catching Rainwater Capture and Reuse System: Through a highly-innovative water capture/reuse system, designed by Musqueam Nation artist Susan Point, all the rain that falls on the Oval’s expansive roof runs through an intricate maze of pipes and back into the building where’s it’s used in the utility systems (i.e. washrooms and general water systems). In addition, the water that isn’t used within the building is stored in a pond at the entrance to the venue, where it’s used to irrigate the surrounding landscaping and trees.
  2. Waste-Heat Reuse Program: The waste-heat produced from making ice for the speed skating tracks is captured through the ventilation system and reused for other purposes in the facility, including heating water and moderating the cooling/heating systems. It’s also important to note that the Oval is the rough equivalent of six hockey rinks, so the heat energy recovered is substantial and helps save a significant amount of energy through this system.
  3. Reclaimed BC Pine-Beetle Wood Roof: The vast ceiling for the Oval was built from salvaged B.C. lumber previously damaged by a pine-beetle infestation – a growing problem for the region’s forrests. Without this construction project, these materials would have been discarded, but VANOC used this opportunity to put them to use and avoid having to fell healthy trees to complete the structure.

Though this is just one example, it’s clear that VANOC really did go above and beyond expectations to create what they’re calling a “lasting legacy” of green. Best of all, these energy-efficient buildings will remain well after the last spectators leave the stands, providing new state-of-the-art facilities for the general public to enjoy.

Of course, it’s important to point out that there have been some hiccups and mechanic errors as a result of VANOC’s efforts to be “green,” take the malfunctioning electric Zambois for instance.  That being said, it’s hard to deny that these “greener” approaches and VANOC’s exceptional efforts to reduce the game’s impact on the environment will help set the standard for sustainable development. The question is: will the next host nation tread as lightly in 2014?  Only time will tell.

- Contributed by Gretchen Doores. Follow her @canadiangal84