The Olympic Games are a celebration of sport like no other, and as each event passes, the commitment to a better environment is strengthened and modeled for the future.
This past spring, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took a strong step in signaling that these changes are here to stay. At the 9th IOC Sport and the Environment Congress, held in Qatar from April 30 to May 2, more than 650 delegates and representatives from the sports world met to assess and report on efforts from Olympic cities around the globe, and they drafted the Doha Declaration.
The declaration asserted sports' contribution to sustainable development, stressed the need to engage the youth in campaigns, and appealed for support from governments, local entities and non-government organizations.
"Environmental responsibility and stewardship is directly related to the mission of the International Olympic Committee," IOC President Jacques Rogge said. "As the agenda for this conference suggests, our environmental obligations require that we do much more than reduce the environmental impact of the Olympic Games.
"We must incorporate respect for the environment in all activities related to the world of sport. Our Movement has accepted this challenge."
The 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been cited as a turning point for the Olympic movement, when cities began incorporating environmental issues into their planning, starting with the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games in Norway. With the Earth Summit coming again to Rio in June 2012, it will be a chance for the world to assess just how far the Games have come in the 20 years since.
However, as Rogge said, "While we can be proud of our achievements, we have also learnt that there is no time for complacency. We owe it to future generations to continue to promote our green agenda and ensure environmental sustainability in sport, and I think we have taken a big step towards that with the Doha Declaration."
For the 2012 Summer Olympics, London made sustainability a core of its bid in 2004, but implementing those plans has been more difficult than originally anticipated. In a report sent out this past April, organizers acknowledged this. For example, plans to build a wind turbine that would have provided about 20 percent of the site's post-games energy needs have been scrapped.
"If we were to go back in time and rewrite the bit about an ambitious carbon target in order to address the size of the carbon footprint, we would not say that we were going to use a particular technology," said David Stubbs, the committee's head of sustainability. "It was a mistake, in a way, to getting locked into saying that we would have renewables."
But he added, overall the organizers had achieved far more in terms of cutting carbon emissions than was envisaged at the outset, due to its goal to begin at the planning stages. "I think the environmental benefits from our approach are far greater than if we had stuck to the very letter of the bid commitment and done nothing else."
Until now, no city has attempted to track all the energy embedded in hosting an Olympics, from the construction materials used to build the Olympic venues, to the transport of athletes and spectators.
As the efforts of IOC members and organizers can attest, simply making a greener games a priority from the outset, and seeing that through to all phases of planning, goes a long way towards a better planet.