Sauder Prof helps 2012 Canadian Olympic team go carbon neutral

James Tansey

As the 2012 Olympics swing into action, the world’s attention turns to athletes striving for medals, but what many overlook is the event’s long term impact on the environment.

According to UBC Sauder Associate Professor James Tansey, the more than 200 countries competing at the London Games and the associated travel, construction and operations, are expected to generate more than two million tons of carbon dioxide. Tansey is the Executive Director of Sauder’s ISIS Research Centre, which works to advance social innovation and sustainability through research, incubation and application.

Tansey is working on reducing the impact of the Games through his spinoff carbon management company, Offsetters, by offsetting the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team’s travel to London. The team is offsetting around 1,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equal to the approximate volume of 300 Olympic-size pools.

“This is an issue that means a lot to athletes,” said two-time Olympic snowboarder Justin Lamoureux. “We fly all over the world for training camps and competitions and we want to do everything we can to minimize our effect on the environment.”

For Tansey, this experience with the Canadian Olympic Team builds on his previous work with the organizing committee of Vancouver 2010 to make those Olympic Games the first to be carbon neutral.

About his latest endeavor he says, “Offsetters is proud to partner with the Canadian Olympic Committee to send a carbon neutral team to London. By supporting the athletes, we hope to educate, engage and inspire Canadians to take action on climate change.”

Tansey says education is key to tackling global sustainability. When the revamped MBA at Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School kicks off this fall, Tansey will lead a course titled Innovation and Sustainability. “I intend to use the carbon footprints calculated for the Vancouver and London Games to show students how to create greenhouse gas audits and do lifecycle assessment work,” he explains.

His material showcases the work of MBA alumni like Jessica Langelaan who interned with ISIS, measuring the footprint of the 2010 Winter Games from bid to end. Says Tansey, "It shows how a student project can have a major impact by demonstrating best practice for such a flagship event."

Jessica Langelaan is still linked with Prof. Tansey and ISIS, and now works as Director of Advisory Services at Offsetters, where her MBA training in strategic management has proved invaluable in helping her engage companies and their stakeholders around environmental issues.

"At Offsetters, we help organizations understand, reduce and offset their emissions to mitigate their impact on the environment,” says Langelaan. "We take a technical subject (like greenhouse gas emissions) and communicate it in a way that is meaningful to the world."

According to Tansey, the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team’s gas emissions are being offset by carbon credits invested in four organizations; two landfill gas ventures in Canada, a bio-gas project in Thailand, and a wind farm in Turkey.

While Prof. Tansey isn’t responsible for measuring the carbon footprint of the entire London Games, he hopes his work on the 2010 Vancouver Games has been influential in the London Olympics’ sustainability efforts. "While they haven’t made the 2012 Games carbon neutral, they have still done an incredible job at reducing emissions from the buildings and infrastructure, continuing to build a legacy that will be used in the future."