The upcoming Sochi 2014 Olympics will be the first in history to achieve carbon neutrality, according to a recent announcement by The Dow Chemical Company, the Official Carbon Partner for the Games. This includes carbon footprints associated with the travel of athletes, spectators and media from all over the world traveling to Russia for the Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games, between February and March 2014 — amounting to roughly 160,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The company says its “Sustainable Future” program will implement energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies in the areas of infrastructure, industry and agriculture throughout the Russian Federation to mitigate Sochi 2014’s direct carbon footprint — which already includes the estimated footprint related to air travel and accommodations for athletes, volunteers and the staff of the Organizing Committee.
“One of our main inspirations is to take a significant step forward to help increase environmental awareness and inspire others to do the same in Russia,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. “Thanks to Dow’s strong leadership and partnership, expertise and unmatched capabilities, we are delivering on our commitment to host Games with minimal impact on climate and achieving an invaluable positive impact for our country and for the Olympic Movement.”
Dows says the spectator and media travel footprint will be compensated through a portfolio of offset projects that focuses on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the protection and restoration of ecosystems. The portfolio includes offset projects in Russia (a forest conservation project in Vladivostok to protect the Amur tiger and snow leopard), as well as in Brazil and South Korea — countries that will host the next two Olympic Games.
Dow says it will generate a portion of its own offsets through a methane recycling project in the U.S. state of Georgia, where one of its plants utilized gas from the Dalton Whitfield County landfill to partially power its operations. By tapping into landfill gas as an energy source, this project significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the landfill, and it offsets carbon dioxide emissions by avoiding the use of fossil fuels.
“The legacy of sustainability and the engagement of all stakeholders involved in future Games are as important as the mitigation of the Sochi 2014 direct carbon footprint itself. That’s why Dow… is engaging other members of the Olympic Family to join the initiative and offset their own travel footprint,” said George Hamilton, VP of Dow Olympic Operations. “We also wanted to make sure spectators and media would have their travel footprints covered, as they play a key role to make the Olympic Games one of the most important events in the world.”
Sustainability has been a highly publicized, yet largely elusive, element of the last several Olympic Games. While the 2010 winter games in Vancouver aimed for carbon neutrality and ultimately fell short, the 2012 summer games in London began with the same goal but soon amended it, aiming instead for zero waste to landfill, which the Commission for a Sustainable London reports was achieved.
While Sochi 2014 may prove to be the most eco-friendly Olympics yet, it may not be as socially progressive. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that prohibits the promotion of “nontraditional” sexual relationships to minors, which effectively outlaws gay pride parades and empowers police to arrest openly gay citizens and tourists alike. Given that this policy seems to violate the humanist spirit of the Games, many have called for a boycott.