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Alberta Winter Games takes sustainability to the next level

It may be a first for a major sporting event, but it fits perfectly with the values of the Bow Valley. The 2014 Alberta Winter Games are expected to be carbon neutral as a result of the hard work the event’s sustainability committee has undertaken.

It may be a first for a major sporting event, but it fits perfectly with the values of the Bow Valley.

The 2014 Alberta Winter Games are expected to be carbon neutral as a result of the hard work the event’s sustainability committee has undertaken.

From carbon offsets, to almost 40 Towards Zero Waste stations, solar panels installed on Banff Community High School and having no single serve bottles of water for sale, the provincial sporting event will be one of the greenest yet.

As 2,500 athletes and coaches descend on the valley, along with family and friends, they will encounter a sporting event focused on minimizing its environmental impact and setting an example for future events.

Joey O’Brien, AWG co-director of the sustainability advisory committee, said work began on crafting a green plan for the games soon after it was announced that Canmore and Banff would host.

“There were sustainability efforts at the Stony Plains Winter Games (2012) and they did a decent job, there weren’t any at the Lethbridge Summer Games last year and there weren’t any at the over 55 games – there wasn’t even a committee,” O’Brien said.

“So we wrote our own terms of reference and we wrote our own objectives and goals and we shared them with the overall games committee and we narrowed it down to what are the actual deliverables and from there everybody (on the sustainability committee) sort of grabbed a ball and ran. That was the exciting part, when we suddenly realized stuff was going to happen.”

With the involvement of Bullfrog Power, Banff Community High School has seen a legacy project of 10 kilowatts of solar photovoltaic cells added to its power system. Further involvement from the Bow Valley Waste Management Commission and Towards Zero Waste coordinator Peter Duck have also contributed to the sustainability of the games.

Duck said the commission became involved because the event wanted to provide and promote responsible waste management. With a goal in Alberta of diverting 80 per cent of municipal solid waste, he said the trick is to figure out how to make that happen.

“Our special events program is a way to model responsible behaviour in front of our community of the Bow Valley and this is an opportunity to do that for all of Alberta,” Duck said. “Not only is it consistent with provincial policy, but consistent with member municipalities and our own program.

“Zero waste, a lot of people think of that as mainly garbage and recycling for example, but the zero waste concept and philosophy goes way beyond that.

“It is about energy conservation and efficient use of resources, reducing pollution and the useful lifecycle of products rather than using them once and throwing them away.”

In the past, the biggest events Towards Zero Waste has participated in involved up to six stations – like 24 Hours of Adrenalin and the Canmore Folk Music Festival. With 39 stations set up for the games this weekend, Duck said it was made possible through sponsorships that helped purchase equipment needed, including a large trailer the program will be able to use in the future.

It was also the zero waste philosophy that led the games to target single serving water bottles. In an effort to reduce the amount of disposable water bottles consumed, the Towns of Banff and Canmore are supplying each athlete with a reusable bottle during the games.

O’Brien said the momentum of the sustainability committee’s work drove the efforts once the spark was lit to achieve significant goals to make the games green as possible.

“Instead of me driving this thing it was like me hanging onto the tail of a galloping horse, because once everybody on the committee grabbed one of the pieces and ran, holy mackerel did stuff happen,” he said.

With Walker Environmental Solutions on board as an event sponsor, the committee has been able to calculate the carbon footprint of the games as well as all the family and spectators attending over the weekend.

O’Brien said he could not find another major event other than Sochi that has aimed to calculate the carbon footprint of not just the event, but those attending and offset it. While an estimation, Walker calculated 491 tons of carbon dioxide would be produced as a result of the event, with 72 per cent of that being contributed by those travelling to the Bow Valley as spectators.

“It shocked all of us,” O’Brien said. “All the other activities we are doing were relatively efficient because we are using mass transit and buses.”

Walker also offers carbon offsets from landfill operations it has in Eastern Canada, where they capture methane produced and use it for other purposes. As a result, the company has offered credits to offset the total carbon footprint of the Alberta Winter Games.

“The Banff Canmore 2014 Alberta Winter games have a number of initiatives that are focused on reducing their environmental impact,” said Mike Watt, VP at Walker Environmental Group. “It is always great to work with a group of people that are motivated to demonstrate leadership in sustainability.”

O’Brien said one of the outcomes of the work is going to be a report after the games that any event can then use as a template to implement sustainability initiatives. That means along with the local legacy of the games, the event will set an example for those who attend and those who want to achieve the same standards.

The sustainability committee, he added, has achieved its goals without a budget and has also contributed money towards the overall games through sponsorships brought on board like Walker and the Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation.

The work has been so successful, O’Brien said, the committee is wondering if there is a reason to continue its work after the games.

“To be honest, it is a little bit like pushing a rock down a hill, not up a hill – it seemed too easy as these things were happening,” he said. “It is great – in Banff and Canmore you can sell sustainability easily and the timing is right; the world is shifting into that direction.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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