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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Lillehammer Goes Green

Air Date: Week of

Ed Hula reports on the trend towards earth-friendly Olympic Games. From biodegradable plates made from potatoes, to skating rinks carved into mountains, Lillehammer is putting on the green this year more than any Olympic host city before it. Meanwhile, Sydney, Australia is already planning for greener Games in the year 2000. Thanks to a new mandate by the International Olympic Committee, environmental consciousness may become the norm for future host cities.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Millions of spectators and thousands of athletes and journalists are beginning to converge this week on the small Norwegian city of Lillehammer for the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, which begin February 11th. The contests are a noble and thrilling celebration of the human body and spirit, but the sudden and massive influx of traffic, trash, and tourists also poses a serious ecological challenge. But organizers of this year's games have tried to level the playing field for the environment, and the International Olympic Committee promises to do even more in the future. Ed Hula has our report.

HULA: Olympic games can affect the environment in a number of highly-visible ways. Stadiums, arenas, or other sports venues can permanently scar the landscape. Crowds of spectators generate tons of solid waste, and poor transportation planning can lead to air pollution and congestion. Such issues were among the concerns of activists in Norway, who initially had to complain loudly, and frequently, to gain the attention of the organizers of the Lillehammer games. But the complaints produced results, recalls Gerhard Heiberg, the president of the Lillehammer Olympics.

HEIBERG: We sat down with them, there was a big fight. They wanted it their way, we wanted it our way. So I found out, let's listen, let's try to cooperate, let's start working together. That's why I said to them, we join them, and that has been a very fruitful cooperation ever since.

HULA: Among the results of the collaboration: ski runs, originally planned to be cut through virgin forests, were moved instead to stands of cultivated trees. A half a ton of toxic lead bullets fired during the biathlon will be recovered after the event. Thousands of meals will be served with plates, forks, and cups made from potato starch, which will then be used as livestock fodder and fertilizer, rather than tossed into a landfill. And the use of private cars will be restricted. If such green moves are new to the Olympics this year, they may become commonplace in the future. The International Olympic Committee has recently adopted an environmental policy which requires cities bidding for the games to make plans to minimize their environmental impact. IOC member Richard Pound of Canada.

POUND: We think that sport and the Olympic Movement have their own role to play in raising the level of environmental consciousness, and therefore we want to be sure, and our evaluation commissions will look at the environmental aspects of your games.

HULA: The new IOC policy commits the organization to use the Olympic Movement as a force to educate the world about environmental issues, to contribute to efforts for sustainable development, and to integrate environmental considerations into IOC decisions. IOC member Richard Pound says he hopes taking the environment into account in awarding future games will spur aspiring countries and cities to move more quickly to address environmental problems.

POUND: In countries where the law has not yet caught up with the public conscience, if you like, we may help move that along. And I think the mere fact that we're asking this question as part of our process is going to draw countries and cities along in a direction perhaps faster than they might otherwise have gone.

HULA: The first application of the IOC's new environmental policy will come in the 2000 Summer Olympics, awarded in September to Sydney, Australia. With the help of Greenpeace Australia, Sydney Olympic organizers have developed a set of some two dozen environmental guidelines. They include extensive recycling plants, mandatory public transit for game spectators, and some new techniques. Karla Hill is the executive director of Greenpeace Australia.

HILL: In Sydney, we've decided to use artificial wetlands in order to recycle and reuse water, up to 60 to 70%. The guidelines include a lot of other issues, in terms of the non-use of unsustainable timbers.

HULA: But among the games awarded before the new Olympic environmental policy was adopted, Lillehammer remains an exception in its green consciousness. Atlanta, for instance, has yet to declare a formal environmental plan for the summer games to be held there in 1996. Organizers in Atlanta say some environmental measures might just be too expensive. For example, they say it made economic sense to recycle the asphalt ripped from the site of the new Olympic stadium. But the seats for the new stadium might not be made of more expensive recycled plastic. The chairman of the Atlanta Games Environmental Advisory Board says his panel is growing frustrated by the inaction on their suggestions. But he hopes that with two-and-a-half years left before the '96 Games, there's still time for Atlanta to take on more of the green hue coloring Lillehammer and other future Olympic Games. For Living on Earth, I'm Ed Hula in Atlanta.



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