Russia’s Winter Olympic Games: Stepping up to the sustainability challenge

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Global sports events like the Winter Olympics can and must contribute to mitigating environmental damage, writes Dmitry Chernyshenko, president and CEO of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, pointing to vast differences in environmental consciousness in the EU and Russia which the organisers hope Sochi will help change. 

Dmitry Chernyshenko is president and CEO of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee.

"At a time when the global challenges of environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources and climate change are on the agenda of political leaders everywhere, it is of huge importance that iconic events like the Olympic Games step up to the environmental mark too.

As snow is crucially important to their successful hosting, Winter Games are particularly aware of the challenges posed by global warming. As such they play an even greater part in raising awareness around protection of the environment.

Sochi 2014's use of innovative technologies makes us confident that there will be enough snow for the competitions to be successful. But having to act preventively in case there is no snow in the Russian mountains in the middle of winter tells us something about climate change. It underlines the importance of protecting our environment, today and for future generations.

It is my strong conviction that Sochi 2014's environmental programme lies at the very heart of our Games Legacy for the country.

The preparations for the Sochi Games offer a wonderful opportunity to raise people's awareness and implement new habits. Russia's very first system of ‘green standards' has been used in the building of the Olympic venues.

Construction is being carried out with environmentally-friendly materials and compensatory projects – such as replanting flora further away from construction sites – which will mitigate the effects of construction. Waste treatment is enhanced, venues will use water recycling systems, rain and melted water will be collected and processed, and parking lots will be equipped with wheel washers.

New protected natural areas will be created; a 200-ha natural ornithological park will be set up as well as an environmental and scientific centre. On a practical note, Sochi city will get new roads, new energy supply systems and modern water management systems, whilst the Krasnodar region is benefiting from an electric railway between Krasnaya Polyana and Imeretinskaya Valley.

The Organising Committee also actively involves the public in Sochi and beyond in such activities as an ‘eco-task force' to help clean the shores of the Black Sea, the planting of trees on Environment Day or special classes for schoolchildren, which help raise the whole population's awareness towards the importance of protecting the environment.

Our Sochi 2014 volunteers, who come from the entire country, play a major part in this process by participating in all these activities and by spreading an environment-friendly spirit throughout Russia.

International green organisations are also on board and working alongside our partners. The Organising Committee is collaborating with the World Worldlife Fund, Greenpeace and UNESCO. A memorandum of understanding with the UN's Environmental Programme (UNEP) was signed two years ago and their reports continue to inform and improve our approach. In total, over 1.5 billion euros will be spent on environmental protection measures.

The European Union is the world leader in environment issues, so all this must look like a given. But as Europeans gather at this week's Green Week, they should look at our efforts through a uniquely Russian lens.

The popularity of Sochi 2014 in Russia has promoted environmental awareness and new-found appreciation for the environment. Our goal is to ensure the wider country benefits from this spectacular sporting event – and continues to do so long after the Games are over."

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