The Canadian Olympic team goes green to London for Summer Olympics

By Michael V’Inkin Lee, reposted from The Vancouver Sun

The Canadian Olympic team and support staff will generate a carbon footprint equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 300 mid-sized vehicles when they travel to and from the Summer Olympics in London this summer.

But they plan to offset that 1,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions with carbon credits — the first Olympic team so far opting to be carbon-neutral for the London 2012 Games.

“Not only is this building on Vancouver’s legacy of sustainability, it’s also complementing the London 2012 organizers’ [desire] to have sustainable games,” Canadian Olympic Committee CEO and secretary-general Christopher Overholt said in Vancouver Tuesday.

The Olympic Committee will be partnering with Offsetters Clean Technology Inc., a local carbon offset company, to cover the round trip.

Carbon credits are purchased from companies with investments in offset projects. The projects are greenhouse gas reduction ventures that focus on sustainable practices like renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Emission reductions from the projects translate into credits that are bought by other organizations by the tonne to offset their own emissions. Buying credits is one way to lower emissions by paying somebody else to do it for you.

The credits will be given to the Canadian Olympic Committee without charge, said Offsetters CEO James Tansey, noting the carbon credits retail for $20 per tonne based on Offsetters’ prices.

The company intends to set aside four sites from its portfolio of offset projects to generate enough reductions in greenhouse gases to cover the Olympic team’s emissions. Tansey said the earmarked projects are two landfill gas ventures in Canada, a bio-gas project in Thailand, and a wind farm in Turkey.

Tansey, whose company also worked with Vancouver 2010 organizers as the official carbon offset supplier, praised the Games as an important platform for raising awareness about the impacts of, and potential solutions to, climate change.

“It provides opportunities to showcase global leadership in clean technology,” he said. “That’s a tradition we’ve really embraced here in Vancouver.”

But critics of the carbon offset credit system liken it to the medieval European practice of buying papal indulgences to absolve sins — a comparison rejected by the David Suzuki Foundation. The foundation’s Purchasing Carbon Offsets guide says trade in carbon credits can result in real reductions in greenhouse gases through the “polluter pays” principle.

“It would be impractical for most [companies] to finance their own wind farm or landfill methane capture projects,” said Ryan Kadowaki, a senior coordinator at the foundation.

“Carbon offsets allow them to co-finance these projects [by purchasing offsets] and receive a share of the credit. The papal indulgence analogy doesn’t really fit because the money is resulting in environmental benefits.”

The 16-day Summer Olympics in the U.K. are expected to generate 315,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The number, a 20-per-cent decrease from an earlier assessment of 400,000 tonnes, is based on the London Organizing Committee’s projection, and factors in London’s sustainability measures for the Games.

By comparison, Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games produced an estimated 268,000 tonnes, according to the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

Michael V’Inkin Lee: mvinkinlee@vancouversun.com