Green Olympics?: Sochi 2014

In 2012, I blogged about the sustainable Olympics in London, featuring environmentally friendly building practices, sustainable construction and recycled uniforms for many countries. There were so many green buildings in London that I even dedicated an entire post to it!

This year, I’m back to discuss the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In the early stages of Sochi development, there was a lot of talk about sustainable building practices, green development and protecting the wilderness around the areas. The United Nations Environment Program issued a statement saying the following:

  • UNEP will provide an independent environmental impact statement before and after the games construction, and
  • UNEP would provide guidance to the International Olympic Committee in the creation of green stadiums and other infrastructure

Also, according to the official Sochi website, green construction has been going on since the beginning in Russia:

Preparation for the 2014 Games in Sochi serves as an impulse for the development of green construction in Russia. Participants in the Olympic project give special attention to issues of environmental protection and the integration of «green» standards. In Russia, green standards are being applied for the first time on a national scale during the construction of Olympic venues and infrastructure.

Iceberg Skating Palace in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics: home to figure skating and short-track speed skating

The website also lists the ways that construction is sustainable: LED lighting, thin-film solar cells (as opposed to non-sustainable roof cover), air purification and decontamination systems, and road surfacing with unirem modification (rubber surfacing as opposed to pavement concrete).

Fisht Stadium of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics: home to opening, closing and victory ceremonies

In addition, as a result of the Rio+20, the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development, the UN prepared environmental strategies for Sochi, including green buildings, games in harmony with nature, climate neutral games, zero waste games, and sustainable development.

However, despite all of these efforts to have a clean, green and environmentally safe Olympics, some have found these efforts haven’t been up to par.

Environmentalists in Russia claim that the construction for the $51 billion games has endangered the Mzymta River Valley by destroying 5,000 acres of forest ecosystem, Aljazeera America reports. They also criticize the Russian government for reversing legislation for development in a Russian National Park, leading to the development of ski resorts. These activists have managed to stop development in some areas as a result of protests by Greenpeace. Many critics believe the blame falls on the Russian government as well as on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). For more information on the impact of the construction and the remediation, click-through to the article.

Rings for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

There have been countless articles about this construction situation, and other issues, popping up with the games only about two weeks away. Climate Progress reports about illegal waste dumping:

Russia’s state-owned rail monopoly is dumping tons of construction waste into illegal landfills. The landfills, just north of Sochi are in an area classified as a water protection zone. The dumping may lead to contamination of the groundwater supply of all of Sochi. This, despite the fact that Russia promised the cleanest games ever, thanks in part to a “Zero Waste” program that pledged not to add to landfills.

Mashable also reports about green building and the dangers of building on wetlands, since the area around Sochi didn’t have that much existing infrastructure. They also claim that even if Russia and the UN did the environmental impact statements, they weren’t released to the public, making it almost impossible to figure out what the actual environmental standards were:

As the games approach, information trickling out of Russia indicates developers have largely disregarded potential environmental consequences of the construction. But no one knows to what extent, because if Russian officials conducted environmental impact studies before they broke ground, those studies haven’t been released to the public. “From a scientific perspective or even a biological perspective there’s a lot of reason to be concerned,” Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., told Mashable. He’s a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, which advises Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association on their environmental policies.

Lastly, there are also wildlife implications along with ecosystem structure damage. A headline from the Mirror says it all: Killer whales cruelly snared by hunters will be put on display at Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics.

So, with the games starting on February 7th, only time will tell if these issues get resolved before the torch arrives in Sochi. Until then, we wait until after the games to find out the more permanent environmental damage as well as if these problems can be remediated in the future.

**For a list of the 2014 Olympic venues, click-through here.

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