james tansey

Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing

Sustainable Sports: Making history with the first carbon neutral Olympic Winter Games

Make the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games the first in history to be carbon neutral.

For most of us, it would be a challenge of, well, Olympian proportions. For James Tansey, it’s a pretty typical day at the office.

As executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation & Impact Investing at the Sauder School of Business, he guides a passionate and vibrant team who are helping the business community address global issues and fostering the next generation of green entrepreneurs.

“In a nutshell, it’s about generating new ideas, models and ventures for social, cultural, economic, political and environmental change,” Tansey says of the Centre’s focus on inspiring, initiating and incubating social innovation and sustainability.

“We like to get our hands dirty. We get directly involved in the projects — and we get things done.”

When the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) asked Tansey to develop a plan for measuring and offsetting carbon emissions for the 2010 Winter Games, he embraced the challenge. In a joint effort with Offsetters, his spinoff company, Tansey and his team of MBA students from the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the Sauder School verified results from the numerous projects, sponsors and partners involved that were worthy of the podium — a 15 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions — and raised the bar for environmental performance in sport and event planning.

“Sustainability is about solving problems and new outcomes. Ultimately our ability to do anything about these problems requires building strong teams and developing good, solid business plans.”

MBA students and graduate fellows make up the core team at ISIS, while researchers from across UBC and other universities often participate on specific projects with partners that include individuals, groups and organizations from the for-profit, nonprofit and public sectors.

Through internships, graduate fellowships and community learning initiatives, team members have explored and added value to such areas as renewable energy options for First Nations communities, green jobs, food systems and security, sustainable transportation, social enterprises as models of employment for marginalized populations, neglected diseases and affordable housing.

“Universities have a crucial role to play in addressing the global challenges we face,” says Tansey. “By building social enterprises and translating our research, we can be a global leader of excellence and have a huge impact.”

ISIS was first conceptualized by Tansey, former Sauder Dean Daniel Muzyka, and Phil Swift, an MBA (’75) grad, member of the School’s Faculty Advisory Board and co-chairman of ARC Financial Group. A founding gift from the Swift Family Foundation enabled the research phase required to develop the Centre in 2007, while a generous gift from the Lalji Family enabled the full ISIS launch in 2009.

With these founders’ leadership and continued involvement as advisors, the Centre will focus its strategic efforts through 2012 on the low carbon economy, First Nations enterprise and social finance.