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They’d better start now. Brazil, that is. On greening the 2016 Olympics.

That’s what ran through my head this week when I heard the latest news about the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. On November 5th, the city officially handed over the athlete’s village to the Olympics, which prompted a flurry of news reports about the overall ‘greenness’ of the games. A former industrial area, the site boasts various LEED certifications for the new construction. The winning design was agreed upon back in 2006, long before any of us had heard about the global financial crisis or credit default swaps.

That’s what ran through my head this week when I heard the latest news about the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. On November 5th, the city officially handed over the athlete’s village to the Olympics, which prompted a flurry of news reports about the overall ‘greenness’ of the games. A former industrial area, the site boasts various LEED certifications for the new construction. The winning design was agreed upon back in 2006, long before any of us had heard about the global financial crisis or credit default swaps. Way back then, there was less interest in sustainability among the general population. That interest has grown exponentially in the last few years, in North America as well as the rest of the world. Which is why I think Brazil will have big expectations to meet in 2016.

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Because these Olympics are almost seven years away, it’s almost impossible to predict how critical sustainability will be to the general public by then. Certainly, no one thinks that it will be less important. And the bar for what constitutes ‘cost of entry’ for sustainability keeps rising, and quickly. It used to be enough for companies and brands to claim recycling as their primary sustainable activity. Today, doing only that is a sign that a brand “just doesn’t get it”. Now smart brands and corporations seem to be out-greening each other with claims of energy and material reduction, supply-chain sustainability plans and zero-waste stream goals by 2020.

Brazil is fortunate to have a population that would be behind a sustainable Olympics. Based on our 2009 Green Brands study, we also know Brazil’s consumers have high expectations when it comes to sustainability. 88% of Brazilians are committed to making a conscious effort to purchase green products and 73% plan on spending more on green products in 2010 and 62% of the population is more concerned with the environment than the economy, particularly regarding Amazon deforestation. So convincing the local Rio population to support making 2016 “the greenest Olympics ever” should be easy. Perhaps the biggest misstep would be to aim too low, to set the bar for a sustainable Rio Olympics based on 2009 expectations rather than on what Brazilians and the world community will expect in 2016.

During their Olympic bid, Rio pledged to focus on several sustainable initiatives including renewable energy, water conservation and tree planting. Many of the other bids also included a sustainability component, most notably Chicago. But given the rate of change in the world’s expectations regarding sustainability, the Rio 2016 Olympics are going to have to go much further to not be seen as falling short on the issue.

So they’d better start now.

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About the author

Russ is an expert on brands and sustainability, and currently serves as Global Director, Strategy and Insights for Siegel+Gale. Since becoming a marketing professional, Russ’s focus has been helping companies across the globe deliver remarkably clear and unexpectedly fresh brand experiences.

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