First Ever Winter Youth Olympic Games Keeping Green, part 2

This past Saturday, I spent the day at the luge and bobsled tracks with all the athletes training (70 athletes from 21 countries between the ages of 17 and 18).  I took the opportunity to chat with Peter Knaudseder, Track Chief for the Bobsled and Luge venue.

I asked Peter what the facility had done to be sustainable.  He told me that last August a new cooling system for the track was installed. The old system was still operating from the Olympic Games in 1976, and during that time there was no concern for energy consumption. The new machinery was expensive – 1.4 million euro – but it saves approximately 20% in energy consumption each year.  I asked how long it would take to cover the initial costs, and his response really pleased me.  He said it will take about 20 years to amortize the cost of this equipment, but the investment was not just for financial savings, it was more for the environmental future.  Besides reducing energy consumption, the new system improved the cooling for the machinery itself and now uses 50% less water.

For next year, they will install even more sun shades on the track, and this means they don’t need to use so much energy to keep the track cool and iced. (Imagine if your refrigerator had no door and the sun was shining into it!)

In our conversation I of course had to ask what they did during construction to be sensitive to the environment, since we’re on the side of an Alp. And I learned that in Tirol, this particular region of Austria, they have a very strict environmental law that requires you to plant three trees for every tree that you cut.  I thought that was great.  Not just an eye for an eye, but a good triple effect!!

I mentioned that I was off to the Opening Ceremonies the other day, and of course most people may know that is when the Olympic Flame is lit.  Normally, the flame is lit at the Opening Ceremony and remains lit as a symbol of the Games throughout the whole period of events.  The Youth Olympic Games, and Innsbruck as the host, decided that within one hour after the flame was lit, which was huge and overlooked the whole city (very beautiful I have to say), they extinguished it. The plan is to have only a small representative flame by the Medals Plaza in the center of the city where the medals are presented nightly to the winning athletes of the day.  This saves a lot of energy, and I was pleasantly surprised by this decision, as this flame is an integral part of Olympic Games history. I thought it was an excellent sign that the International Committee was allowing event organizers of these Youth Games to start a new precedent for environmental sensitivity. I hope it continues into the future!

*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.