Dispatches from the "Green" Olympics...or perhaps the "GOLD!" Olympics?

When planning the 2010 Olympic games, the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) committed itself to fulfilling a "triple bottom line" - an effort to ensure that the games are not only economically sound but socially and environmentally responsible too. A tremendous amount of media coverage has been dedicated to critiquing VANOCs success in meeting their stated objective. Sure, the lack of snow is the most obvious (and most documented) hiccup but VANOC has received many accolades for sustainable venue construction, commitment to purchase carbon offsets and for creating opportunities for housing and employment for less fortunate communities who may otherwise not benefit from the production of a "mega-event" like the Olympics.

What is less clear after a week of trolling the streets of Vancouver is what VANOC expects of individuals attending the Games. Beyond the well-labeled "recycling" and "organics" containers, what are spectators to do to support the fulfillment of VANOC's stated mandate? And more importantly, do they care?

Naturally, most people I have spoken to are preoccupied with the excitement of the events, their respective countries' medal standing, and where they may possibly find an elusive pair of red maple-leaf mittens. Of course there are subtle reminders of sustainability around every corner, but are they visible to anyone not looking to cite specific examples?

For instance, the signs on the back of bathroom stalls in the Richmond Olympic Oval proclaim, "Non-potable water. DO NOT DRINK," which to most seems preposterous. The fact is most potties around the world are flushed with perfectly drinkable, treated water - quite a waste. This bizarre statement of fact is one reminder that the facility's toilets are charged with rainwater funnelled off its arching roof - just one of the venue's many sustainable features. However, most spectators who have waited 35 minutes just to reach the stall, are less concerned with the statement's intent than with its obvious comic value.

While the lead up to and the marketing of the Games was nothing but "Green, Green, Green," it seems that once the Opening Ceremonies concluded the focus quickly shifted to "Win, Win, Win". While I am writing, charged with the mission of reporting on Vancouver's sustainability mission, I can't help but succumb to the excitment of the Women's Gold Medal Hockey game playing out before me. With my compostable beer cup in hand, I wonder how many other screaming fans are thinking about the long-term impact of their attendance at this event...wait,wait, wait....score, GOLD!

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