The failure of Brazilian and Rio authorities to live up to the promises made in their bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics to suitably clean the unhealthy, polluted, potentially dangerous-to-human bodies of water that will host Olympic sailing, rowing and the triathlon swim, has been a high profile, legitimate, and festering environmental story in the run-up to the August 5 Opening Ceremony. But there is another Rio environmental story that also needs to be told: And that is how Dow, the Official Carbon Partner of the Rio Olympics, is using advanced chemistry to make these Games far cleaner and greener than they would’ve been, problems at the sailing venue and elsewhere notwithstanding.
GreenSportsBlog recently spoke with Julio Natalense, Latin America’s Technology and Sustainability Leader for Dow at Rio 2016, to get the lowdown on what Dow’s sustainability/carbon involvement with Rio 2016, gain an understanding of the rationale behind Dow’s overall Olympic-sustainability strategy, and find out what kind of environmental and social legacy the company will leave after the Olympic Flame is doused on August 21.
Dow is the type of sponsor the organizers of mega-event like the Olympics, World Cup or Super Bowl crave. Why? Because after Dow pays the hefty sponsorship fees, in this case to both the International Olympic Committee and the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, they don’t simply slap a logo on a print ad or run a series of 30 second ads. Nope. They go aggressively into activation mode, investing additional resources on the ground to put their technology to use in the service of making the Olympics host city and country cleaner and greener.
Julio Natalense, Technology Director and Sustainability Leader for Dow at Rio 2016 said the company’s global Olympics sponsorship and its activations in support of that sponsorship “makes strategic sense” on a number of levels:
- Being an Olympics sponsor provides Dow with both a high profile Business-to-Business (B-to-B) platform in the host city and country, one it would not likely have otherwise. “Wait,” you say, “the Olympics are a Business-to-Consumer (B-to-C) sponsorship!” True but don’t underestimate its B-to-B power.
- Dow had been involved with sports since the 1980s, providing stadia and arenas with state-of-the-art insulation, temperature control systems and more. So the environment, pun intended, is a strong fit.
- That fit makes it easy to connect the Dow brand and values with those of the Olympics which energizes employees, helps to retain existing customers and opens the door to new business relationships. In fact, the company expects, per Natalense, to reap “$1 billion in new business over the ten years of the global sponsorship.”
Julio Natalense, Technology Director and Sustainability Leader for Dow at Rio 2016. (Photo Credit: The Dow Chemical Company)
Dow became an Olympic sponsorship activator, starting with London 2012 where it, among other things, developed the plastic that wrapped and insulated the Olympic Stadium—plastic which is being reused in Rio.
2014 brought a local flavor to Dow’s Olympic involvement as the company added the Official Carbon Partner of the Sochi Winter Games designation. As with Rio, the Sochi Olympics were bedeviled by environmental problems. Some, in my humble opinion, were the IOC’s doing (why the heck do you put a Winter Olympics in a tropical zone?), and some were the fault of Russia (reneged on many environmental commitments among other things).
Dow ignored those challenges and went about the business, said Natalense, of “controlling what it could control” on the ground. Probably its most important contribution was to create a methodology to measure the carbon footprint of the operation of the delivery of the games, which turned out to be 15o,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MT CO2 eq). Dow then undertook projects that would offset those emissions, most notable among them being the development of a new type of insulation that was more energy efficient to make and was more effective in operation. This had the effect of reducing emissions in production and in use. Dow then promoted the use of insulation in Russian homes, thus increasing its penetration.
Then it was on to Rio, where Dow expanded on its Sochi efforts—it had to because the summer games are so much bigger than the winter.
The company started its work in Brazil in October 2014 with the release of a sustainability report that estimated emissions from the organization and operation of the games. Dow agreed to develop and seed projects that would offset the emissions from Games Preparation and Operation (emissions from transportation of athletes, officials and broadcasters; broadcast operations; catering, etc.) and from Spectator Activity (transportation, lodging, food, etc..) Those emissions are estimated at 2 million MT CO2 eq, more than ten times the amount of emissions Dow offset in Sochi.
To meet that steep commitment, Dow is working on projects that will reduce emissions at its plants in Brazil (they’ve been in country for 60 years) and/or on behalf of its customers:
- Industry: Dow developed a clean BioMass fuel from eucalyptus to replace natural gas. It also created a process for generating steam-based electricity from waste sugarcane and sugarcane straw. By using both the biomass and straw, a large chemical company plant could run on renewable energy, 24-7.
- Construction: The company implemented an initiative to dramatically increase the amount of insulation used in new construction of hospitals, supermarkets and other commercial buildings. Dow, working with the insulation manufacturers, also hosts seminars and workshops on how to use the product.
- Brazilian corn and soy producers are becoming much more efficient, using fewer inputs (and thus fewer emissions) per unit of output, thanks to Dow Precision Agriculture technology and software.
- The company is helping farmers recover some of the 30% of Brazil’s 160 million hectares of pasture land that is degraded. It’s a vicious cycle: There are now more animals than green coverage, which means the soil is not retaining the carbon. If the soil is re-carbonized, more animals can be fed. So Dow, partnering with local universities and the World Resources Institute, developed a tool that can calculate where the soil can best be restored, and thus carbon emission reductions.
Brazilian farmers take soil samples to test the CO2 levels. (Photo credit: The Dow Chemical Company)
Group of cattle participating in Dow’s sustainable livestock program, which restores degraded pasturelands to increase livestock productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: The Dow Chemical Company)
Finally, it’s one thing to take on all of these emissions reduction projects. But if you don’t let folks know about them, their impact will be severely limited. Dow has thus embarked on a communications initiative to tell the story of its sustainability projects to half a million people in Brazil. It is also funding science education, including a climate change module, which will reach upwards of 7 million Brazilian kids.
Dow is bringing its Rio-sustainability story to thought-leader audiences outside of Brazil. Promoting the program was an important element of the company’s participation at the recent Green Sports Alliance Summit as well as at last December’s Sustainable Innovation in Sport Conference in Paris, which was part of the COP 21 climate conference. And one can visit http://dow.com/carbonmitigation for more information.
Still, I believe this story is one that millions of viewers in the US and beyond would benefit greatly from seeing and hearing. Dow would also benefit from telling its powerful sustainability-at-Rio stories via 30 or 60 second ads during Olympics broadcasts. That Dow is not doing so is, it says here, an opportunity missed, one that they will hopefully take advantage of during the 2018 Pyeongchang (South Korea) Winter Olympics.
Speaking of missed opportunities, did Dow miss one by choosing to not offset in some way the environmental problems at the polluted sailing, rowing and triathlon venues? I don’t think so as the company can’t be everywhere, can’t fix every environmental ill. Again, says Natalense, Dow “focuses on what we can control.” And that is to offset the carbon emissions it committed to offset—they’re well on the way to making good on that commitment—by providing farmers, chemical plant operators and others with the tools they need to continue to offset and reduce emissions once the Olympics are over; learning what worked and what didn’t and bringing that knowledge to future Olympic Games and mega sporting events.