Critics question Vancouver's green credentials

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Sites for Vancouver’s Winter Olympics boast low-flow toilets that use rainwater to flush, energy efficient grass-clad roofs and separate bins for compostable waste, setting them on course to meet ambitious environmental targets, Organizers said on Wednesday.

Italy's Armin Zoeggeler speeds down the track during a training run for the men's singles luge in preparation for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, February 10, 2010. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

But critics are giving the Games a bronze medal at best, and that was before the officials started airlifting snow to a rained-out ski- and snowboard hill just outside a snowless Vancouver.

“We think it’s very symbolic in terms of the impact of climate change,” Paul Lingl, a campaigner with Canadian environmental group the David Suzuki Foundation, said of the snow lift. “It’s a bit of a wake-up call.”

The use of trucks and helicopters to ship now-slushy snow to Cypress Mountain has become one of the symbols of the run-up to the Games, focusing attention on how lush and green Vancouver looks compared to previous snow-covered host cities.

But Linda Coady, vice-president of sustainability at the VANOC organizing committee, said the helicopter shuttles would boost the Games carbon footprint by less than one percent, even if the choppers flew for eight hours a day right through to the Feb 28 closing ceremonies.


“Within our carbon forecast, we do have contingency for variability of this nature,” she told a news conference.

“We’re standing by our 118 thousand tonnes (of greenhouse gas emissions).”

Organizers say that forecast -- a figure that includes greenhouse gas emissions during the seven-year construction bonanza that preceded the Games -- is lower than that from previous Winter Games.

Turin amassed an estimated 160 thousand tonnes of carbon over the days of the Games alone, and the figure for Salt Lake City was twice the Vancouver target, Coady said.

But Lingl noted that Vancouver had certain advantages out of the starting gate, given that rain-soaked British Columbia is fueled mostly by renewable hydroelectric power.

“It’s 90 percent hydro here. Much better than the coal-fired they had in Salt Lake City,” he said.

The Suzuki Foundation gave the Vancouver Games a bronze medal in a report released last week, complaining about difficulty in getting the environmental message across and a lack of long-term transportation benefits.

A sparkling new Canada Line monorail whisks passengers from Vancouver Airport to downtown in a matter of minutes, but Organizers opted to double to the size of the Sea to Sky highway linking Vancouver with the Alpine center at Whistler rather than trying to build a train.

“We looked very carefully at the option of a rail line,” said Dan Doyle, executive vice president in charge of construction at VANOC. “It was cost-prohibitive.”

Another environmental group, including Native Canadian representatives, said they remained worried about the environmental impact of the games, and about environmental policies of various sponsors and of the Canadian and BC governments.

“Green games are really a greenwash,” the groups said in a release.

Editing by MIles Evans