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Exploring sustainability at the 2014 Olympics

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Millions of people around the world are tuning into the 2014 Olympic Games from Sochi Russia. The spectacle of sport captures the imagination in a myriad of ways from elation and pride to defeat and disappointment. However, it is probably safe to say that, while watching the events, most viewers are probably not giving a second thought to whether there is a presence of sustainability at the games.

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Protecting the environment is an official priority of the IOC (International Olympic Committee). In 1996 it was added to the dimensions of Olympism, the others being sport and culture.

Dow Chemical has been the official chemical company of the Olympic Games since 2010. They are an official carbon partner of Sochi 2014 and are responsible for the Sustainable Future initiative. This program was created to mitigate direct carbon emissions of the games and also to introduce sustainable business practices in certain Russian businesses. These business fall into three main categories: sustainable farming, weatherizing homes and improve infrastructure.

Dow claims that these are the "first Olympic Games in history to mitigate the entire direct carbon footprint of its Organizing Committee prior to the opening ceremony". They also say that they delivered emissions reductions amounting to the equivalent of more than 500,000 tons of Co2 which has been verified by ERM, located right here in Austin. Dow purchased voluntary carbon credits to completely offset spectator and media travel for the first time in Olympic history.

As with most things in Russia, there are two sides to every story. What is publicly presented may be a facade and it is possible that this is the case with sustainability at these Olympics.

Russian environmental organizations have pointed to the disturbance and destruction of distinct flora and fauna populations that occurred during the building of the mountain venues, including the disruption of bear migratory routes.

The Moscow Times reports that construction debris has been dumped in illegal landfills in villages outside of Sochi. This area is in the middle of a water protection area which forbids the dumping of industrial waste and may possibly affect the sustainability of this water source. It has also been reported that wells in some villages dried up as a result of an Olympic related road project.

Last spring, President Putin removed provisions for 'green' efforts such as construction of a recycling facility in Sochi from the national plan thus leaving it up to the city. At that point in time the city of Sochi had one small recycling plant that only processes around 150 tons per year.

It will probably take some time after the conclusion of the 2014 Olympic Games to determine how successful the sustainability efforts were, if they were at all.

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