First Ever Winter Youth Olympic Games Keeping Green

I arrived yesterday and got settled in the small village of Igls, above the main center of Innsbruck, Austria.  You enter through a valley between the Alps that is truly spectacular, especially as they have just ended two weeks of fog and snow and the mountains are freshly covered in white.

Today, I managed to go down to the city for an hour, between our training sessions on the luge track, and they are setting up for the official opening of the first ever Winter Youth Olympic Games.

This inaugural event is bringing together over 1,000 of the top athletes aged 14 to 18 from over 60 countries to compete in the seven sports of the Winter Olympic Games. In addition to the competition, the young athletes will participate in a cultural exchange program designed to raise participants’ awareness of the “Olympic Values,” including skills development,  healthy living, and social responsibility.

The Congress Hall in the city is serving as the main center, and I stopped by during set up to see what was going on in regards to environmental awareness and sustainable activities. I was really pleasantly surprised by the positive response I got.   

Here are a few notes of what they have been doing to date:

The “Athletes Village,” where all the athletes are securely housed, is an  environmentally friendly complex, built with passive-house technology as a means to approach zero-energy consumption while also being practical, affordable, comfortable and sustainable. It's the largest of its kind in the European Union.

Inside the Village, there are posters on the walls encouraging athletes to “Save Water, Save Energy and Recycle Waste.”

When I was chatting with the assistants at the Congress center, I asked what they were doing to try to encourage young athletes to behave sustainably, and how they were engaging them. They have a great, fun contest going on; they are asking each set of athletes within each apartment to save energy. The apartment that has the most savings at the end of the Games will be awarded new cell phones for each of its inhabitants. I won’t be staying until the end of the Games, but I’ll try to find out who wins and how much energy they saved (also how they measured this) – but I thought it sounded fun and who doesn’t want the latest cell phone!!

I also chatted with people at a booth that was being set up by the United Nations Environmental Programme, which partners with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to monitor and encourage sustainability in large sporting events. The man there was a wealth of information and was very excited and encouraged about our Billion Acts of Green program.  I will go back and get more information about their interface with the Youth Olympics in the next few days when they are officially “open for business”.

Lookout for more updates in the coming days.

*Claire Del Negro is a former Olympian and has worked with the Olympic Games for over 30 years. She is also vice president of the International Luge Federation and an organizer for Earth Day Network’s Athletes for the Earth program.