With recent environmental and social scandals reported on an international scale, Russia’s reputation as a global power may be harmed more than helped by the Olympics.
It seems like each of the last several Olympics has been touted as the “most sustainable Olympics ever.” With each event, the committees learn lessons, utilize new technologies and strive to meet higher standards spurred by increased regulations, scrutiny and expectations.
London was praised for sustainable building practices – namely for using temporary venues built with recyclable materials to avoid the problem of having huge, unused buildings left behind after the Olympics ended. The London Olympic Games also met all their green goals, according to a report by World Wildlife Fund and BioRegional.
China used the Beijing Olympics as a model for net-zero pollution, green building and sustainable community development. They focused on offsetting the more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide the games expected to generate by planting trees, closing coal mines and enacting driving bans. The main stadium utilized rainwater collection and natural ventilation systems, and several buildings used ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene), a kind of plastic that increases light and heat penetration, cutting energy use.
The Sochi Winter Olympics, which begin today, are being used to promote Russia’s image as a global economic and political power. For most developed countries today, this would include being on the forefront of sustainable energy, green technologies and natural resource preservation, but Sochi has fallen disappointingly short of these standards.
Despite Russia’s promise of net-zero games in the original bid, TIME Magazine reports Sochi organizers have failed to meet any of their green promises. Interviewing a zoologist and environmental activist who was exiled by the Russian government for human rights work in 2012, TIME reports that “the construction process for the Games has been hugely damaging for the region,” with “documented evidence of illegal waste dumping, construction that has blocked the migration routes of animals such as the brown bear, limited access to drinking water for locals and a generally decreased quality of life for many in the city of Sochi.”
If Russia was hoping the Olympics would improve their global image, it looks like they won’t be successful. While they may have shiny new venues, many people will see past that to their sustainability failures and lack of transparency. That’s why it’s so important for countries and companies alike to authentically define their sustainability story.
This is particularly pertinent for the Olympic Games, since Actives, the greenest American consumer segment, over-index for Olympics viewership and care most about sustainability, transparency and corporate reputation. They also happen to be quite affluent, love to shop, travel internationally, and make up 24% of the population. So while they tune in for the figure skating, snowboarding and curling, they will also seek out the Sochi Olympics’ sustainability story – and they’ll likely be disappointed and much less enthusiastic about visiting the region any time soon.