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Olympism’s Third Pillar: Environment

The Olympic movement, with one of the most recognizable brands on the globe, has the power to make a significant impact – an impact that reaches beyond sport into other aspects of our lives. The two central pillars of Olympism have traditionally been “sport” and “culture.” In the 1990s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), officially added “environment” as the third pillar of Olympism. The IOC objective is “not only to see to it that the staging of the Games does not have a negative impact on the environment, but also to help improve the environment and leave a green legacy.” Although the Olympic Games are primarily about sport and athletes, the IOC recognizes that “the Games can also be used to provide sustainable environmental legacies, such as rehabilitated and revitalized sites, increased environmental awareness, and improved environmental policies and practices.”

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralymic Winter Games (VANOC) embraced this challenge by expanding beyond the environmental impacts and benefits of the Games to also include the social and economic dimensions of sustainability. The seeds for VANOC’s integrated approach to sustainability were sown prior to 2003, in Vancouver’s bid to host the Games.

Vancouver’s Bid: Sustainability Commitment

Determined to win the right to host the Games and demonstrate its commitment to a greener future, the City of Vancouver positioned itself as a sustainability trailblazer in its Olympic bid. Sustainability was written directly into many of the Bid commitments and, ultimately, once the Bid was awarded, into the vision for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games: “A stronger Canada whose spirit is raised by its passion for sport, culture and sustainability.”

Sustainability in Action: VANOC

According to VANOC, sustainability means:

“Managing the social, economic and environmental impacts and opportunities of our Games to produce lasting benefits, locally and globally.”

VANOC has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to sustainability. Sustainability is integrated across all aspects of the organization, and performance is tracked, measured and reported upon in annual sustainability reports. VANOC’s commitment to social and economic sustainability is demonstrated through its official partnership with the Four Host First Nations and its effort to make the Games accessible. VANOC has implemented programs aimed at creating economic opportunities for inner-city businesses and residents. In addition, VANOC has instituted a sustainable purchasing program called Buy Smart, which aims to create value through Games-related spending. A final example of VANOC’s proactive approach to sustainability is its commitment to green design and construction for all new venues, as demonstrated at Vancouver’s Olympic Village.

This illustrates VANOC's comprehensive approach to embracing the three 'legs' of sustainability.  Vancouver's Olympic bid book, VANOC, 2006enlarge

This illustrates VANOC's comprehensive approach to embracing the three 'legs' of sustainability. Vancouver's Olympic bid book, VANOC, 2006

Green Legacy: Vancouver’s Olympic Village

In preparing its bid to host the Games, the Vancouver Bid Corporation (VBC) needed to identify a location for Vancouver’s Olympic Village. One option was to build a temporary village that would be erected and deconstructed for roughly $30 million. As an alternative, the VBC explored the possibility of directing the available funds toward constructing a permanent village that would constitute a real and lasting development project. The village would remain as a legacy following the Games, offering permanent housing. The City of Vancouver saw an opportunity to use the allocated funds toward developing the first phase of SEFC. The City’s offer of the SEFC lands for the village was ultimately accepted and included in the bid.

“… The Vancouver Olympic Village will overlook the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean and
the urban heart of one of the world’s most livable cities…. Locating the Olympic Village here will contribute significantly to revitalizing this underdeveloped part of the city, and will serve as a catalyst for this sustainable community development.”
–Excerpt from Vancouver’s Olympic Bid Book


An artist’s rendering of Vancouver's Olympic Village with its spectacular view looking north to downtown and beyond the city's limits to the North Shore mountains. VANOC, 2006enlarge

An artist’s rendering of Vancouver


80 Nations, 2,800 Athletes, One Home

Olympic villages are places where athletes and their delegations come together to meet, celebrate and enjoy a unique international experience. The Vancouver village, with its spectacular setting, will be an area of energy and excitement in 2010. It will house some 2,800 athletes, representing 80 national teams. During their stay at the village, athletes will have access to a full range of amenities and essential services. They will eat together in a dining hall, relax and mingle in the Salt Building and attend celebrations on the waterfront.

Through an agreement with the City of Vancouver, VANOC retains the right to control the Olympic Village site for six months in 2009-2010, during what is termed the “exclusive use” period. In addition to its requiring bed spaces for athletes, VANOC will use the site to accommodate a host of activities and uses required by the IOC and International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

By way of a collaborative management structure, VANOC took part in the design process for the Olympic Village to ensure that the IOC and IPC requirements could be accommodated. For example, accessibility modifications required for Paralympic athletes were achieved, the process made simpler by the adaptable housing design standards required by the City of Vancouver. The Olympic Village site plan provides an overview of IOC and IPC operational requirements.


SEFC Olympic Village programmatic overlay during the Olympic Games. Letterbox Design Group, 2009.enlarge

SEFC Olympic Village programmatic overlay during the Olympic Games. Letterbox Design Group, 2009.

The ground floor commercial spaces of the residential buildings will be used as meeting rooms, recreation and games rooms, Internet “cafés””, a fitness facility and a full-service primary care medical centre, designed and constructed by VANOC as tenant improvements to the base building.

An ‘operational zone’ accommodates logistical requirements such as housekeeping, security and waste collection.

The ‘international zone’ located in and adjacent to the community centre includes small retail, banking, a salon, post office, ticket office and first aid. The village amphitheatre performance and celebration space is located here, as is the site of the team welcome ceremonies.

The Salt Building will offer space to socialize, with a games room, stage and “bar” area (the village is a drug and alcohol-free zone).


An artist’s rendering of Vancouver’s Olympic Village with its spectacular view looking north to downtown and
beyond the city’s limits to the North Shore mountains.  VANOC, 2006