Greening the Olympics
describes how the environment has become the third
pillar of the Olympic Movement in its centenary year
For 16 days in
February 1994 the little town of Lillehammer, Norway, hosted the 17th
Olympic Winter Games and firmly placed environment on the sporting world's
agenda. For the first time, ambitious environmental action was planned and
carried out at a major sports event. This represented the start of an
important, still continuing, process. Environment has become the third
dimension of the Olympics, besides sport and culture.
It is no surprise that environment featured so strongly at the Lillehammer
Olympics. Norwegians have a strong culture of affiliation to nature -
steeped in historical traditions - brought into sports and recreational
activities. They also have a powerful environmental lobby backed by
public opinion. A poll during the preparation of the Games showed that 67
per cent of Lillehammer's population considered the environment to be
their highest priority, far outdistancing employment, better roads and
Norwegian Gold Medals.
The organizers at Lillehammer did not 'go green' painlessly, nor did the
area escape from the Games unscarred. Hosting such a big sports event
inevitably brings environmental damage. Natural recreational areas are
changed into sportscapes and roads are enlarged. Massive resources, space
and energy are used for an event lasting just two weeks. The facts and
figures show that biological resources and green space were lost at
Lillehammer. The Games were certainly not ecologically sustainable.
But there has been a positive long-term effect in the town itself, as well
as in the sporting world as a whole. Lillehammer now seems greener than it
was before. The city beautification, including tree planting and the
architecture of Olympic facilities, is still being looked after with
pride. Memories of the Games boost further environmental efforts: there is
currently an attempt to stop oil companies putting up neon-lit billboards
and day-glo hoardings at local petrol stations. The municipal authorities
and the post-Olympic development company Olympia Utvikling Ltd. are
attempting to set the various initiatives and municipal environmental
responsibilities into the framework of Agenda 21. Moreover, Lillehammer
embarked on a process which still benefits and inspires host communities
and organizers of sports events elsewhere.
The greening efforts of the Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games were possible
only through shared visions, cooperation, and the pooling of money and
resources. There were, essentially, three main partners: the environmental
authorities, the organizers (including the private sector) and the
volunteer environmental organizations. Their priorities and methods
differed, but they had a mutual respect and understanding of each others'
roles, forming the basis for a constructive atmosphere of intense
cooperation - the key to what became the success story of Lillehammer.
An initial environmental policy and an action plan were hammered out based
on a proposal from Friends of the Earth in Norway and the Lillehammer
Olympic Organizing Committee. The partners found common goals among widely
different purposes and enlarged the environmental common ground. This
precipitated a process, starting from grassroots, which set managers,
politicians and environmental volunteers on a steep learning curve and
turned the games into a project-based 'environmental showcase'. Each of
the 130 or so clearly defined projects was set to have a lasting effect
beyond the 16 days of February.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which stages the Games, quickly
recognized the importance of Lillehammer's moves. They had, in the past,
been pestered by bad publicity over environmental damage caused by the
Olympics to pristine sites and fragile mountain slopes. Several remain in
a state of ruin.
Key members of the IOC showed keen interest and endorsed the inclusion of
an active environment agenda. It became a factor in selecting Sydney as
the host city for the first Olympiad of the third millennium. In August
1995, the Congress of the 100-year Celebrations of the Olympic Movement in
Paris recommended amendments to the Olympic Charter to accommodate
environment as the third dimension to the Games. Environment was
henceforth to be seen as a third pillar, part of the very foundations of
the Olympic Movement. As a result, the Sport and Environment Commission
was established in March this year, drawing a global membership
encompassing environmental experts and athletes, sports administrators and
IOC members, to address environmental issues within the Olympic Movement.
Not long after the Lillehammer Games, the IOC and UNEP signed a
cooperation agreement, underlining the fundamental common goals of the two
organizations and calling for action over sport and the environment. This
set the agenda for the formalization of an environment policy, developing
evaluation criteria, guidelines, conferences and other joint activities.
The IOC is now addressing the need for environmental protection and
stewardship in the selection of the Olympic host cities, and using
stringent procedures to find the best facilities for the world's best
athletes in environment-friendly venues.
- To be sure that the host city will respect the natural environment.
- To ensure that a positive environmental message emerges.
- To ensure that all actions are carried out in accordance with
- To encourage organizers to go beyond minimum public requirements.
- To explore the candidate city's maximum environmental potential.
The bidding process involves candidate cities creating and presenting an
environment programme. Impact analyses have to be carried out, and nature
protection areas and important habitats have to be avoided. Re-using
facilities; restoring derelict areas; avoiding destructive land use; and
minimizing pollution, the consumption of non-renewable resources and the
need for transport are all encouraged.
This year, the 11 cities bidding for the 2004 Summer Olympics are striving
to create a winning environment programme. A well-made, realistic
programme addresses pertinent environmental challenges as well as the
needs of athletes and the local community. The environment declaration
issued by the winning city becomes a binding document and progress is
monitored by the IOC Coordination Commission, while even those who fail to
win this particular gold medal are at least left with an excellent
Some international sports federations have created their own environmental
policies - such as the International Ski Federation's Mainau Manifesto,
which strongly states the need for skiing to take the preservation of
nature and landscape into account. This policy is now being put to the
test: the organizers of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998 want to
keep their alpine downhill skiing course outside a national park, in
opposition to the Federation. Extending it into the park would add some 20
seconds to the racing time.
Environmental guidelines needed
This debate exemplifies the balance of power in sport and environment -
and the prime role of the Olympic Movement. The sports federations -
driven by their sponsors and the media - develop new criteria and
challenges. Outdoor sports are gradually moved indoors, and media-friendly
criteria cause new demands to be put on the landscape, sports venues and
equipment. They set the bottom line. Guidelines are both needed and being
Golf and bobsleigh are both beginning to address the heavy environmental
burdens they carry. The European Golf Association has begun an ambitious
environment programme while the International Bob and Luge Federation has
stopped further construction of new artificially frozen bobsleigh runs and
is revitalizing the use of naturally frozen snow, for example at St.
Several Olympic sponsors have stated a keen interest in the greening
process. Some grasped the opportunity at Lillehammer to present their
greenest products and image. In Sydney, sponsors, suppliers and the
construction industry are eager to be on the list of supporters of the
'greenest Olympics ever'.
There is talk about setting up an environment and sports fund to finance
specific projects. Meanwhile, most of the world's main sports goods
producers have already joined their own 'greening' programme, called
Eco-Wave, chaired by the dynamic Mazato Mizuno of Japan's Mizuno
Sport can bring people and cultures together: nothing, probably, unites
Africa or Latin America more than soccer. It can also act as a focus for
educational, environmental and developmental activities in disadvantaged
communities and thus achieve important social goals. The Mathare Youth
Sports Association's continuing role in developing and cleaning up its
Nairobi slum area, for example, won a well-deserved UNEP Global 500 Award
and is inspiring communities elsewhere.
Sport has perhaps more organizations - everywhere, at all levels and
social strata and for all age groups - than any other mass activity. By
and large these are effective and resourceful. They form a strong network
and are a great resource for social and environmental initiatives. A
meeting in February of the Lillehammer Forum on Sport, Environment and
Development - jointly organized by the Municipality of Lillehammer, the
IOC and UNEP - addressed the value and potential of sport as a catalyst in
improving the environment, creating development initiatives and
The Olympic movement's educational role is even more important than its
direct work in developing sustainable sport. The IOC's main educational
exercise is, of course, running environment-friendly Games. This has
enormous implications and involves many people from presidents to local
citizens. The candidate cities, between them, spend more than a hundred
million dollars in the bidding process. Environmental criteria were laid
down for more than 9,000 different products at the Lillehammer Games. Such
big money creates big interest.
There is now a carefully planned joint education programme with UNEP which
focuses on the need for greater knowledge among sports organizers. After a
successful advisory IOC conference in Lausanne last summer, and an
initiative by the Lillehammer Forum in February, H. E. Pál Schmitt
of Hungary, the IOC Sport and Environment Commission's chairman, recently
announced that a world congress on sport and environment will be held
every two years under the joint sponsorship of the IOC and UNEP. Two
training courses for operational level sports administrators, public
management and key athletes will be held on different continents, by
rotation, each year. This year they are in Asia and Africa. Thus, the
Olympic Movement and UNEP hope to master environmental problems through
inside education. The athletes are all for it.
Sports can affect the environment through:
Change in land use caused by construction, transportation and other
Construction and development in particularly fragile environments.
Emissions to soil, air and water, including acute poisons.
High and wasteful energy consumption.
Local environmental issues, in particular those that affect or cause
uncertainty regarding health, safety, children, the preservation of local
commons and recreational opportunities, scenery and natural resource-based
The contribution to biodiversity and ozone depletion, global warming and
long-distance air pollution.
Mega-events like the Olympic Games do not
necessarily need to harm the environment if:
Environmental requirements are stipulated early in the planning process.
Environmental responsibility is carried by the organizers and felt as a
personal duty by the president and CEO.
The authorities, the organizing committee and environmental volunteer
The goals are practical and visions and assessment are shared with
scientists and environmental volunteer organizations.
By general agreement after the Lillehammer Games, there needs to be a
thorough greening of Olympic budgets, though special government financial
support may be needed for pilot projects.
The Lillehammer organizers suggested that the proof of their success would
lie in the organizers of the next Olympic Games doing a better job. The
organizers of the Sydney Games have incorporated stringent environment
criteria and a partnership model from the very beginning. Environmental
groups have been involved since the bidding process and Sydney has laid
out the most comprehensive programme yet. There is backing from public
authorities at all levels, unique provision for cooperation between
various players and a strong consensus for 'going green'.
Reclaimed industrial wasteland and dump sites will be turned into Olympic
parkland and made suitable for habitation and recreation, and for
protected wildlife and plants. Photovoltaics will be extensively used for
lighting. Storm water runoff will be collected and stored underneath the
stadium for later use, saving scarce water supplies and reducing erosion
and water pollution. Air conditioning will be achieved through oversized
The initial price tag is high, but the environmental features help save
operating costs. The rethinking has brought ingenious, cheaper and better
solutions. Innovative environment-friendly design is setting new standards
for industry, while the in-depth life-cycle analysis used to document the
environmental impact of the construction projects by tenderers is setting
the benchmark for future Olympics. All this will set a permanent mark on
Olympic history. Future organizers should find solutions that adapt to
local management traditions, public attitudes and their own environmental
priorities and needs.
Moving sports events away from the destruction of nature is a huge
challenge. So is giving people tools for a sustainable future by using
sport as a vehicle for development and a better environment. Going
pro-active demands considerable effort by the Olympic Movement and the
host cities, a continuously committed leadership and a strong will to do
things differently. It has been said that 20 per cent of environmental
problems have technological solutions, while the remaining 80 per cent
call for social and organizational solutions - doing things differently.
The road from destruction to restoration is a rugged one, and plenty of
stamina will be needed. But if the sports community continues on the path
now laid down, the Olympics - and sport as a whole - is set to become an
immensely powerful tool for a better environment.
Olav Myrholt is Project Manager in the Environment Department of
Olympia Utvikling, and a member of the IOC Sport and Environment