Vancouver olympics going for the green



As is normally the case for top city officials during the Olympics, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has a car and driver assigned to shepherd him through the whirl of the Winter Games.

But the 45-year-old former organic farmer, who earlier ran the Happy Planet juice company, has shown up for most Olympic events as he always does: on his battered but serviceable mountain bike, suit pants tucked into his socks.

Since he became mayor in December 2008, Robertson has doubled Vancouver's bicycle infrastructure budget, set landmark electric-vehicle-charging standards for new buildings, and expanded the city's 'car-free' days.

It was probably a foregone conclusion that any city with Robertson at the handlebars was not only going to host a green Olympics, but would try for the gold.

The 2010 Winter Games, the Vancouver Organizing Committee announced, will generate fewer greenhouse gases during the seven years it took to organize and put on than what was emitted in only a few weeks in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.

The 2010 Games also will be the first in history to achieve a 'carbon neutral' status for not only the Games, but also the travel of the 7,000 athletes, coaches and officials.

To do it, the city is relying on renewable hydropower for 90% of its electricity and the most ambitious set of green building standards ever achieved at Olympic venues, along with a fleet of hydrogen-powered SUVs and buses, heat from a curling rink's refrigeration plant to warm an aquatics pool and heavy dependence on mass transit -- there is no spectator parking at venues.

The Olympic torch is 90% recyclable and emits minimal greenhouse gases, and medals are made from recycled electronic waste. The Olympic athletes' village this month received the highest environmental certification in the world, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, 'platinum.' Powered by its own neighborhood energy utility that converts sewage to power, the residential complex for about 2,700 competitors features a 'net zero' building that produces as much energy as it consumes.

'We feel like we've raised the bar,' Robertson said. 'Some of these technologies will be a legacy for generations to come that will benefit cities all over the world.'

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