News Update

Olympics Go Green & Fair Trade

Posted August 13th 2012

By Zack Gross

With the Olympics now wrapped up, some of us will be relieved to get our favourite TV programs back or have a chance to sit out in the yard, rather than in front of the widescreen. Others will be going through withdrawal and looking forward to the next Olympics – winter of 2014 in Sochi, Russia and summer of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of the background items to this year’s version of the Olympic Dream that has received very little coverage is the step forward that the Games have taken in adopting green and fair trade policies and practices in managing events and in the products they serve.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics (soon to begin) have been characterized by organizers as the “fairest Games ever”, with millions of helpings of fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, wine, bananas and oranges being served up to visitors from around the world. The web site estimates that people at the two Olympic extravaganzas will consume ten million fair trade bananas, fourteen million cups of fair trade coffee and 7.5 million cups of fair trade tea, just to itemize a few products.

Says Harriet Lamb, the Executive Director of Britain’s Fairtrade Foundation, “Fair trade is all about creating a level playing field for smallholders and workers, so the Olympics is the perfect opportunity to help farmers to build a sustainable future”. London is the world’s largest Fair Trade City, having achieved recognition by meeting a number of criteria in 2008. Across the city, one thousand retail outlets and six hundred caterers sell and serve fair trade products. The hope is that the visibility of fair trade will persuade the international crowd at the events and venues to also get on the fair trade bandwagon.

Two of the three “official” wines at the Games are also certified fair trade, from South Africa. With many thousands of athletes, officials and spectators imbibing during the Games, a huge payout is expected toward the “Social Premium” that comes with fair trade sales. 650,000 litres of wine sold will fund many community improvements in producer villages. This will mean new schools and clinics, technical training programs and improved equipment for fair trade wine producers. Others benefiting include Caribbean and South American banana producers and Central American sugar producers. A new Brazilian fair trade wine is also being taste-tested in London as an option for the next summer games in Rio.

The London Olympics have also set out to be the “Sustainable Games”. The original bid on the Games included pitching the concept “Toward a One Planet Olympics”, a reference to the fact that if everyone lived a typical British lifestyle, we would require the resources of three planet Earths. Toward the lead-up to the Games, organizers produced a green guidebook to be followed by the various venues. One of the first decisions was that existing venues should be considered before decisions were made to build new.

In the area of transport, Games organizers have recognized that those participating or viewing the games will most often fly into Great Britain. However, they have strongly promoted the idea of using public transport, bicycles and walking as opposed to individual and family motor vehicles. Nutritious, organic and fair trade rule the food areas at the Games. Meanwhile, the waste issue has taken major thought and action, as the organizing committee has promoted the idea of the first “zero-waste games”. In the United Kingdom each year the equivalent of 79,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of garbage are carted to landfill sites.

For the London Games, three different bins are set up throughout to receive compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable waste. However, not everyone is happy with the ethical and green gains made by the Games. On one level, environmentalists have said that huge global events such as Olympics are bound to have a negative effect on the planet just by the sheer amount of air travel and waste production inherent in such a venture. As well, as is often the case with such events, social activists ask how the billions of dollars to produce the Games could have been better spent on issues around poverty, crime-prevention, education, healthcare and more.

Another issue that has been taken up by critics has been the number of corporate Olympic sponsors who have poor environment and human rights track records, such as Dow, Rio Tinto and British Petroleum. Campaigners holding the “Greenwash Gold Awards” in Trafalgar Square found themselves arrested by police after they spilled green custard as a protest against environmental degradation by the corporate world. Greenwashing is the term used for pretending to be environmentally friendly. Custard gets you arrested, it seems, while oil spills, strip mining and the Bhopal tragedy are not so clearly cut instances of law-breaking.

The Games of 2012 have taken steps toward being greener and fairer than previous ones, where little interest in sustainability and human development was shown. One hopes that this modeling of ethical consumerism and waste reduction will have an increasing impact on future events, both global and local.

Article for Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, August 13, 2012

Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of more than forty international development organizations active in our province.

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