The 2010 Olympics: A Case Study in Carbon Management

By Kayla Van Egdom

On Valentine’s Day, Carbon Talks held its fourth Brown Bag Dialogue.  In recognition of the one year anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, we asked Ann Duffy, the Sustainability spokesperson for VANOC and Christopher Hakes of Offsetters to take us through the carbon management plan for the Olympics.

The 2010 Olympics was a massive enterprise, exceeding previous games in terms of spectators, participants and Facebook/Twitter followers. Creating a green, socially inclusive and innovative Games was core to the branding of the Vancouver Olympics, and cultivating environmental sustainability was one of the six primary aims of VANOC.

Carbon management at the Games was achieved through four main steps, which Duffy outlined as:

1. Know

Perpetual advances in science and technology helped the VANOC committee make carbon forecasts and measure carbon emissions.

VANOC took into account the seven-year cycle of the Olympics (from initial planning to the follow-up of the Games) and distinguished between the direct and indirect carbon footprints of the games.  VANOC focused on direct carbon footprints – the operations, facilities, air travel and accommodations of the athletes, their coaches and the staff of the Olympics.  Where possible, VANOC tried to address through education and influence, the indirect carbon footprints, which included the air travel and accommodations of spectators.

2. Reduce

Wherever possible, VANOC first adopted a reduction approach to carbon emissions. Reduced use of fuels, clean technologies and LEED venue designs all helped to reduce the carbon footprint of the Games. In addition, the 2010 Olympic Games featured a carbon neutral Torch Relay, with Bombardier ensuring that the torch itself was carbon neutral.  Where reductions were not enough to reach carbon neutrality, VANOC offsets were purchased.

3. Offset

Christopher Hakes, the manager of Client Engagement at Offsetters, covered the design and delivery of the Olympic offset program. Founded in 2005, Offsetters has been the largest supplier of carbon offsets for the Canadian government as well as the official supplier of offsets for the 2010 games.

In addition to offsetting the direct footprint of the Vancouver Olympics, Offsetters partnered with 2010 Legacies to create a portfolio that would offset the Olympics’ indirect carbon footprint. They also played a key role in the education and enabling program – the fourth step in the Olympic carbon management program.

4. Enable/Inspire

As Ann Duffy emphasized, the Olympic Games presented a once in a lifetime opportunity, to reach a wide audience and impact behavioural change. VANOC targeted athletes, partners, sponsors, media and spectators with their sustainability messaging. Through its Sustainability Star program, VANOC awarded partners like the Hydrogen Highway and Richmond’s Olympic Oval for their green innovations.

A catchy video produced by Offsetters and shown at events, was a key tool in delivering sustainability messages to captive spectators.   The Bobwheeling campaign – a fun climate change educational initiative earned global media attention and accolades for its humorous street level public engagement approach. (Check out some of the Bobwheeling and Carbon Neutral Games videos online at the Offsetter’s Youtube channel).


Ann Duffy and Christopher Hake presentation brought home the idea that even the largest and most elaborate events can be successful in reducing and managing carbon. With commitment from the leadership of VANOC, a clear set of principles, a well-developed strategy and creative, multi-media approaches to public participation, VANOC presented a case-study for carbon management worthy of emulation.


Innovator Profile: Larry Beasley

By Kayla Van Egdom

Carbon Talks is proud to launch a new blog series: Innovator Profiles featuring individuals and technologies that are helping Canada shift to a low carbon economy.

#1: Larry Beasley

Larry Beasley is an innovator in the urban planning sector. His vision and talents have played a vital role in the development of Vancouver City. In addition to the work that helped produce the livable and desirable “Vancouverism” of our city, Larry Beasley plays the role of city planning advisor to many other urban areas – his expertise spans internationally from cities across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

According to Beasley, every urban planner must act as the designer of the city. He has learned that applying the underlying principles of planning (density, diversity and citizen engagement) is only the first step in city design. Every city has its own culture, and this culture will drive the necessary modifications of the basic principles.

A key element to Beasley’s widely successful urban planning is to see the inhabitants of the city not as mere stakeholders, but as consumers of the city. As is true of any product with an end consumer, Beasley’s city designs have unique value propositions for each group of citizens. He employs what he calls experiential planning: fostering dialogue between citizens and planners in order to understand the desired living conditions of a city.

Beasley’s use of experiential planning has helped him understand the culture-specific needs of cities around the world. In Abu Dhabi, Beasley recognized the local population’s needs for privacy and preservation of their culture. By recognizing these needs, he realized that courtyard style houses and relatively spacious living arrangements (compared to the dense arrangements in Vancouver’s inner city, for example) were necessary to make Abu Dhabi livable for its citizens. Through citizen engagement and the desire to understand local culture, Beasley is able to achieve both livability and sustainability for cities.

When asked about the current state of Vancouver, Beasley points out that there are both structural and infrastructural aspects of sustainability. Structurally, Vancouver has made great strides, particularly in terms of the density and diversity of its housing and the transportation system in the city’s core. However, in terms of infrastructure, Vancouver has a long way to go. Although the use of renewable hydro energy is a step in the right direction, our overall waste and water handling, energy use and transportation methods are all very unsustainable. His suggestions for sustainable infrastructure are to rethink utility systems, layer Vancouver’s public transit system to make it more effective and accessible and develop office buildings and housing more strategically (rather than building office parks in unpopulated areas and continually subdividing for single families).

Beasley sees the transformations and challenges in Vancouver mirrored across the country. Cities throughout Canada are seeing a shift towards sustainable city cores.  They also face the challenges of unsustainable suburbs that account for two-thirds of overall housing.

Beasley has proven that his visions are definitely attainable. False Creek’s urban area (which Beasley played a vital role in designing) boasts a 90% citizen satisfaction rate and a reduced rate of car ownership. In Beasley’s ideal city, everything of importance (grocery stores, schools and places of employment) is within the citizen’s walking distance. This will not only address sustainability issues related to over reliance on cars, but also address some of our population’s current health problems as exercise-centric alternatives to driving such as bike riding and walking are healthy on an environmental and personal scale.

Through citizen involvement and a consumer-based view of cities, Larry Beasley believes that every city can become a livable and sustainable one. He sees Canada as having a responsibility to lead by example (as cities all over the world look to the West for inspiration) and to observe and replicate sustainable practices that are being carried out in other locations.

Tourism: Maximizing Experiences, Minimizing Carbon Footprints

By Kayla Van Egdom

Today’s Brown Bag dialogue featured Dr. Joe Kelly, a professor at Capilano University and one of the founding partners at Gobi Carbon Management Solutions. His presentation featured eye-opening information on the detrimental effects of climate change, the tourism industry’s part in affecting climate change as well as steps that the tourism industry can take to shift to a low carbon economy.

Tourism is one of the major sectors contributing to climate change. If the tourism industry was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, emitting somewhere between 4-5 percent of total emissions. In addition to contributing to climate change, Dr. Kelly highlighted four climate change-related risks the tourism industry faces: physical changes to our landscapes will detract from the scenic beauty of nature (which can be seen in the case of Vancouver’s pine beetle infestation), new regulations such as BC’s Carbon Tax will increase costs for tourist operators, markets are shifting and consumers or looking for greener tourism options and companies that do not address these market shifts will have to address increased competition and potential brand and reputational risks.

Dr. Kelly believes there is not only a chance, but a profitable opportunity for the tourism industry to re-brand itself.  He suggests that rather than being a commodity, tourism is about experiences. By maximizing experiences and minimizing GHG emissions, the tourism industry will help slow the effects of climate change.

Dr. Kelly identified six steps to a “low-carbon tourism” industry in B.C.1) conserve; 2) improve efficiency; 3) use renewable energy; 4) purchase offsets for GHG emissions that can’t be reduced through other measures; 5) adapt to the climate changes; 6) share your successes with others.

Many businesses are already reaping the rewards of reducing their carbon footprints. Dr. Kelly profiled Harbour Air, pointing out that after their shift to carbon-neutrality, they experienced a 12% increase in revenues (which was primarily due to increased market share). This is a case in point: the market is ready for greener tourism experiences. Dr. Kelly is optimistic, believing that a combination of an environmentally conscientious market and sustainable tourism businesses will slow the damaging effects of climate change in today’s world.

Dr. Joe Kelly is a founding partner of Gobi Carbon Management Solutions, and teaches at Capilano University.

Canada could make huge progress in greenhouse gas reduction by retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency. But how would we pay for it?

By Chris Westendorf

With buildings accounting for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada, primarily through end-user energy use (such as people using heat to warm their homes or offices), it makes sound ecological and economic sense to implement a more sustainable building stock. While comprehensive sustainability standards in new construction are the way of the future, the overwhelming majority of standing buildings are not built to green  standards and will not be replaced any time soon. Given this slow turnover of building stock, there is potential to make immense progress in GHG reduction by retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency.

The big problem is how to pay for it. While resources and expertise in terms of the actualities of the retrofit exist in abundance, financing remains a major barrier. Public-sector incentives do help, but usually cover only a portion of significant upfront costs.

Several innovations in retrofit financing that attempt to address this problem have sprung up in recent years. These innovations, which we’ll call “energy-savings financing,” generally involve a structure whereby future borrowing costs are offset by energy savings. The idea is to enable relevant parties to undertake a retrofit without impacting their cash flow. PACE, a model for individual home retrofits in the United States, is a well-publicized version of energy-savings financing.

Unfortunately, a generic retrofit financing model for all building classes is an overly optimistic and impractical dream. Each class of building presents special concerns that may each require a unique energy-savings financing model. The challenges in creating these models lie both in motivating relevant parties through an appropriate cost-benefit structure, and in demonstrating loan security to financial institutions.

Multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) are a class of buildings that make up over 30 per cent of Canada’s national housing stock and over 50 per cent of the housing stock in cities like Vancouver. Creating a successful model for financing MURB retrofits that is replicable on a widespread scale and meets private-sector financing criteria could have a massive impact on both energy efficiency and GHG emissions.

A major barrier in financing MURB retrofits is the complications involved in arranging and securing financing when dealing with multiple unit-owners, particularly unit owners who may not have plans to occupy their unit for the long term. Entry points for improvement do, however, exist. One point of entry with enormous potential is retrofit financing through MURB strata corporations.

Strata corporations offer the advantage of presenting a single face for debt administrators to deal with. They are also large and stable enough to be considered credit-worthy. As City of Vancouver sustainability manager David Ramslie puts it: “Stratas are actually excellent to lend to because they always pay the bills. They never move; you always know where to find them.” With the power to collect financing payments through strata fees (offset by energy savings) and to register liens against the property of owners who are late in their payments, strata corporations are a one-stop shop when it comes to dealing with the complications of multiple unit owners. Under this structure, owners who leave are also free of obligation, with new owners continuing payments under strata fees while benefiting from energy savings.

A problem with this model, however, is that mainstream financial institutions typically demand that this type of debt be secured with assets. Providing debt security is also an essential prerequisite for locking in long-term interest rates that provide stability. While attaching liens to each individual strata member’s mortgage to secure financing is a possibility, this model is complicated and much easier to implement at the new construction stage. What’s needed is third-party aggregators, retrofit-financing broker companies that specialize in evaluating a strata’s ability to pay based on future energy savings and that can guarantee and bundle financing and spread risk over several projects.

Several public bodies in Canada are already making inroads by acting as functioning aggregators. The Toronto Atmospheric Fund, for example, has facilitated multiple retrofit loans to strata corporations and provided financing to new-building developers to build beyond code for energy efficiency. Once the building is occupied, these added financing obligations are passed on to the new strata. Vancouver has plans to enact a pilot project facilitating MURB retrofits through stratas in 2011. Further public-sector incubation and finance tool development is an essential step in demonstrating and publicizing the business case behind MURB retrofits to both stratas and financial institutions.

In order to optimize conditions for private-sector entry into this field, all levels of government must collaborate to ensure a constant, stable, and encouraging regulatory environment. Ambiguities in strata acts that create uncertainty for lenders need to be addressed. Section 112 in Ontario’s Condominium Act, for example, allows newly elected strata boards for new condos to terminate agreements that previous boards have entered into if those agreements go beyond one year. Strata acts across the nation need to be integrated and refined for this model to flourish.

In a world where “sustainable” and “subsidized” often go hand in hand, the stability of strata corporations, coupled with the undeniable economic value of energy savings, offers a rare and shining beacon of potential for widespread market reproduction. It is important for our policies and incentives in this respect to function like mother hens; warming, protecting, and incubating a potentially market-worthy egg.

(Reprinted from The Mark

Cancun – Was it a Success?

By Shauna Sylvester

Last December I attended the Copenhagen COP 15 Conference on Climate Change and blogged daily about it. Like many Canadians, I decided not to attend the Cancun COP 16 Conference because my expectations were extremely low about what could be achieved there.  But after tracking daily blogs and reading some of the reports following the conference, I’m regretting my decision to stay home. It appears that Mexico was more successful than Copenhagen in delivering results.

I’m using the term ‘results’ here in relative terms.  International negotiations move at glacial speed, and most climate scientists would agree that the agreements made in Cancun will not take us nearly far enough or fast enough to address the volatile impacts of climate change, nevertheless it’s important to take a moment to recognize the progress that was made.

Here is my quick assessment of COP 15’s  modest ‘achievements’ albeit from my perch in Vancouver.

1.      The Mexican delegation was successful in keeping the negotiations moving.  They demonstrated their capacities as a global convenor, in ways that might put others to shame.

2.      Civil Society organizations were active, organized and vocal.  Young people and indigenous people were particularly successful in building global networks and communicating their concerns.

3.      The parties agreed to keep temperatures to a global average of under 2 degrees C (450ppm), bringing this target within the official UN process. Although this was a strongly held negotiating position by the European Union in Copenhagen, they had to wait unit Cancun to see it adopted.  Some environmentalists and island states have contended for years that the target is too high and have pushed for a lower threshold (1.5 degrees or 360ppm).

4.      80 countries agreed to mitigation targets and action by 2020, including the largest emitters like the US, the European Union, China, Brazil  and India.  Of course the devil is in the details, but getting agreement by both Annex I and Annex II countries to targets is an important indicator of their recognition of the problem.

5.      The parties agreed to greater transparency in measuring and reporting their emissions.

6.      The parties reinforced their pledges to a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries with mitigation and adaptation strategies. Despite the objections of developing countries, The World Bank was named as the trustee for this fund which is expected to grow to $100 billion annually.

7.      A new REDD plus (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) agreement, which recognizes the importance of protecting tropical forests as carbon sinks, was adopted.  Indigenous Peoples worked hard to ensure that their rights and livelihood as forests dwellers would not be undermined by the REDD plus agreement.  Bolivia stood strongly against the agreement arguing that it was a triumph of capitalism over communities, but despite Bolivia’s rejection, the agreement went through.

8.      Annex I countries committed to providing greater capacity building and technology transfer to developing countries and there was a reaffirmation of the Clean Development Mechanism which enables developed countries to purchase emission offset credits from carbon reduction projects conducted in the developing world.

For those who study international negotiations, the results of Cancun are important.  They reflect progress from Copenhagen in both attitude and commitment.  Cancun was not hamstrung by competing blocs of countries unwilling to move, acrimonious relations between the US and China or countries hammering at the Kyoto Protocol (perhaps Canada might be the exception here).  Instead, it was characterized by adept facilitation and chairing, a willingness by China and the US to make progress and a recognition that the needs of developing countries for support in mitigation and adaptation were essential.  As South Africa becomes the site for COP17 let’s  hope the parties develop a greater sense of urgency and come to the table prepared to take bigger steps to address climate change.

For the most comprehensive and best overview of COP 16 I’ve read so far, see Robert Stavins of the Harvard Climate Project’s article at