Events that draw in thousands of people from around the globe can be seen as significant sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Global events such as the Olympics accumulate spectators, operations and construction—all in one general area. Through the promotion of low-carbon technologies and sustainable practices, emissions from events such as these can not only be lowered, but become a catalyst for change in the built environment as well.

This idea exists to incorporate best practices, and recognize mitigation programs and how they should be implemented in conjunction with efforts to minimize the event’s footprint, such as increasing energy efficiency of venues. Some companies are already leading the way with initiatives like these.

“When Dow started to become a sponsor of the Olympic Games in 2010 we were very much focused on delivering solutions for the infrastructure of the games for the stadium,” said Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi, the Global Technology and Sustainability Director for Dow Olympic and Sports Solutions. “And then we very quickly realized that we could do more. That's really where we started our sustainability journey and became a big part of the Sochi and the Rio games. And now the official carbon partner of the IOC.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Dow Chemical Company are looking to help the transition to a more sustainable society. To help achieve this goal, Dow will develop and implement up to 10 projects in various countries in areas such as infrastructure, transportation, packaging and industrial efficiency. They’re looking to engage with leading companies such as façade manufacturers and insulation producers, as well as architects and engineers to define where the best locations are for these projects.

“We collaborated with Dow to combine their expertise with the power of the Olympic brand to develop carbon reduction projects in different sectors,” said Michelle Lemaitre, Head of Sustainability for the IOC. “Rather than just buying carbon offset on the market. In the building sector projects to be developed include better insulation of buildings. This answers a growing demand for highly energy-efficient building from cities and municipalities around the world.”

According to the manufacturer, this includes insulation solutions that reduce energy for heating and cooling, and facilitate a lower embedded carbon footprint and higher durability of structures, preserving food and facilitating safe goods transportation while advancing a circular economy, engineering solutions for more lightweight, fuel-efficient vehicles and creating innovative smart chemistry solutions.

“We also worked with the value chain to increase understanding and dialogue in a number of events and sessions, but we also put a program in place where we looked at educating children on science and climate change,” Piccolrovazzi said. “In Russia we did a program around spray foam insulation and we distributed 100,000 cans of polyurethane-based insulating sealant to window installers to increase energy efficiency in the installation process.”

At the same time, companies must also accompany this technology with some information for installers as well. Sustainability efforts aren’t universal yet. Properly educating homeowners around energy efficiency to make them understand how science and this effort together could reduce emissions is an important component in getting more countries on board. Behavioral change along with building knowledge in the market place is also very important for the success of programs such as these.

It’s a well-known fact that nearly 40 percent of GHG emissions are contributed by buildings. Implementing energy-efficiency measures in the construction sector alone could reduce society’s energy consumption as a whole. Our biggest challenge is time. Early action will benefit the construction sector in the long-run. Delaying action will only create bigger challenges. Yet it’s still an uphill battle for some countries to get on board with these sustainability initiatives and ideas.

“When we first went to Russia to talk about reducing CO2 emissions in industries and infrastructure for the Sochi games, this was a very new concept,” said Piccolrovazzi. “We have this requirement for the projects to be beyond ‘business as usual.’ And so in this case it meant adopting these knowledges in advance of regulation. This was new and we worked with our customers to reformulate a spray foam polyurethane-based product to make sure that it had a lower embodied carbon impact going to the market.”


Adopting a New Way of Thinking

Of course, in some cases, it's technologies that exist in the markets, but they have a very low adoption rate. What manufacturers and companies want to do is increase adoption of that type of technology to get overall better performance.

And the results are already in. For the first time ever, the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games mitigated the direct carbon footprint of the Games—including emissions associated with the travel and accommodation of athletes, staff and volunteers, and the operation of the sports venues during the times of the games. This innovative approach contributed to the reduction of 3.1 million tons of CO2 from Olympic Games Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016.

The program is set to run through 2020, but climate benefits will be monitored through 2026 and verified by third-party experts. For architects, engineers or builders, investing and participating in programs such as these is a great opportunity to contribute to the fight against climate change and to join the effort of the Olympic Movement to build a better and more sustainable world with a construction project that goes beyond standard construction codes.

“This is just the start,” Piccolrovazzi said. “We are in the process of engaging with leaders in the value chain and various architects. We realize that this is, of course, just one program, a lot more needs to happen in terms of CO2 emission reductions in the built environment. However, the built environment does offer a lot of opportunities for economically valuable CO2 reductions, and so I think it's a great first step and we look forward to seeing the results once we have finished the implementation of this program.”