Post Rio 2016 GSB News and Notes: Is the Olympic Model Sustainable, Did Exxon Use Rio to Greenwash, How Green was Rio 2016


With the Olympic Flame in Rio doused, the Green-Sports world will turn its attention, Five Rings-wise, to the sustainability (or lack thereof) of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Before GreenSportsBlog does so, we are going to take one last look at Rio 2016 in today’s TGIF GSB News & Notes. 

Michael Powell of The New York Times interviewed Allen Hershkowitz as part of his investigation into the sustainability (or lack thereof) of the current Olympics model; the two came up with a provocative, greener way for the IOC to award future Games to aspiring bid cities. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, now Senior Operating Executive at Pegasus Capital Advisors and writing in GreenBiz, dug into whether ExxonMobil’s ads, which ran copiously on NBC’s many Olympic broadcast/cable outlets during the Games, amounted to a greenwash. And Shawna McKinley, writing in Event Manager, looked at the sustainability successes of Rio 2016.

Michael Powell offered a comprehensive, insightful review of the recently concluded Rio Olympics in Tuesday’s New York Times sports section. He looked at the many well-documented problems (failure on the part of the organizers as well as Rio and Brazilian governments to live up to promises to deliver clean waterways and drinking water, massive corruption, the destruction of a nature preserve to build a golf course, displacement of tens of thousands of residents, turning the Olympic Village into luxury apartments while a large segment of the city’s population has substandard housing, etc.), and came to the conclusion that “the Olympic model is fractured.”
Olympic Village Rio

Athletes enter the Olympic Village in Rio. Post Games, it is being turned into luxury housing. (Photo credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

These structural problems are, of course, not unique to Rio. Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, was awash in similar difficulties, as was Beijing in 2008.  What to do? Only award the Olympics (and other mega-events like the FIFA World Cup) to developed world cities like London, Los Angeles or Paris? Powell, with an assist from Allen Hershkowitz, President Emeritus of the Green Sports Alliance and founder of Green Sports International, took a different tack.
What if the I.O.C. instead had awarded Rio de Janeiro three cycles of Olympics: 2016, 2020 and 2024?” asked Powell.
This makes perfect sense to Hershkowitz, who told Powell “I very much understand the I.O.C.’s desire to be more equitable in delivering the Olympics to the developing world.” But awarding something as vast, expensive yet brief as an Olympics as a one-off to a developing country is a recipe for failure. A 12-year, 3-Olympics cycle, makes much more sense. A developing nation would be making a massive investment that would be amortized over 12 years, not just 3 weeks. Per Powell, “sewage treatment plants could come on line over the course of a decade.”
In the big picture, as Hershkowitz said to me, “Can the IOC really expect that Rio would invest the billions needed to develop sewage treatment, waste management or transportation infrastructure for a [3 week] event? Or that inclusive long-term development planning would take place with the most needy in mind?…[The 12 year, 3 Olympics cycle] would allow for more inclusive and longer term infrastructure planning and better IOC oversight of promised infrastructure investments.”

Along with the carrot of 3 Olympics in one city over 12 years, the IOC would possess a heavy duty stick. According to Powell, “If city leaders did not offer measurable progress, the I.O.C. could withdraw the next two rounds of Games.”

Will the IOC go for this radical altering of the Olympic host city model? Hershkowitz will put the  more sustainable (environmental and otherwise) 3-Olympic, 12 year host idea to the test at a meeting in late September with the IOC’s environment team in Lausanne. With apologies to Rachel Maddow, watch this space.


ExxonMobil is an alternative energy company?

The shocking realization came to David Crane, former CEO of NRG—one of the biggest energy companies in the US—and currently Senior Operating Executive at Pegasus Capital Advisors, as he watched many hours of NBC’s (and sister networks’) coverage of the Rio Olympics. 

What led the 25-year energy industry veteran to this startling conclusion?


David Crane, former CEO of NRG and Senior Operating Executive at Pegasus Capital Advisors. (Photo credit: GreenBiz)


In his at times sarcastic, at times regretful column that ran in GreenBiz on Wednesday, Crane credited “a juggernaut of an advertising campaign by Exxon on NBC during its Olympic coverage” that aired 233 times during the 16 days of the Games. The ads, which featured a United Colors of Benetton bevy of “actual Exxon employees talking in micro-snippets about the imperative of alternative energy development at Exxon,” provoked in me a familiar feeling of righteous greenwash indignation each of the dozen or so times I saw them.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqQq984RY_k&w=560&h=315]

Exxon-As-Alternate-Energy-Company ads that aired 223 times on the NBC networks during the Rio Olympics

As I started to read Crane’s piece, I tried to lose the anger and adopt his more philosophical approach. He asked, “Should Exxon…be applauded for pursuing new ventures and new sustainable technologies that ultimately might transform its business, and the energy sector with it? Or should we heap scorn upon them, not only for what they previously have done to impede public understanding of the climate danger we face, but now for pouring resources into advertising its clean-energy efforts rather than actually pursuing them?”

I’m all in for scorn-heaping when it comes to Exxon, but I said to myself “let’s be dispassionate and see where Crane nets out.”

He did see some hope: After all, in 2009, Exxon announced plans to spend $600 million developing algae as a transportation fuel. Crane was impressed that “Exxon committed real coin to algae.”

But, alas, those hopes were largely dashed as Exxon talked the green talk but didn’t walk the green walk: “In 2013, the company applied the brakes to the program, having only spent a reported $100 million of the $600 million.” Seems as though, said Crane, “the R&D money Exxon is investing in algae these days is considerably less than the cost of the [ad] campaign.”

Crane sees Exxon as being a GINO (Green In Name Only—LOVE it!) and the campaign as being part of “Greenwash 2.0,” in which “corporate poseurs wrap themselves in the mantle of sustainability in order to escape criticism and derive the corporate branding benefit of trending green.” 

So much for hope regarding ExxonMobil.

The question now is when will sports and other media companies, who profess to their own greenness (NBC’s “Green Is Universal” campaign,) be called to account for running Greenwash 2.0 ads?

My answer: That day of reckoning needs to happen yesterday.


We tackled the many sustainability failures at Rio 2016 in today’s first GSB News & Notes segment. But what about the green success stories?

Shawna McKinley laid out a thorough list of environmental sustainability plusses in the August 20th edition of Event ManagerYes, she also looked at minuses, we’ve been there, done that. 

So, on to McKinley’s positives, which include:

  • The climate action message seen by over 1 billion Opening Ceremony viewers worldwide. This could well be the biggest green-sports success story of 2016, if not all-time.

Climate Change Opening Ceremonies

A segment on climate change at the Opening Ceremonies of Rio 2016 was viewed by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide. (Photo credit: Tyler Anderson/National Post)


  • Taste of the Games, a program that delivered more sustainable food options to 70 venues providing 14 million meals during the Games. 
  • The Official Carbon Partnership with Dow, subject of an August 2 GreenSportsBlog story. The partnership refined carbon measurement methodology for events, offset more carbon emissions than has in the past and, perhaps most importantly, invests in long term local projects. 
  • The creation of a sustainable procurement manual and process to guide business development in Brazil. It helped the Games reach for a goal of using 100% certified, traceable timber as well as the creation of medals using recycled materials and reduced harmful chemicals.
  • Infrastructure improvements that were completed, including public transit, revitalization projects, intended conversion of venues into schools and public recreation facilities. These were aided and abetted by improved smart city technology and waste water treatment.

Sad to say, to GreenSportsBlog, the green negatives at Rio 2016 outweighed the positives. We will cover Pyeongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 to see if that green ratio can be flipped.

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  1. Since the U.S. Open tennis tournament is starting up, I’m curious about its carbon footprint.

  2. Great minds think alike. I’m hoping to talk sometime this week with USTA’s sustainability consultant Bina Indelicato about just that issue. I was at the National Tennis Center today for the pre-tournament practice session. It was impossible to miss the compost bins and the compostable plastic cups, among many green features. But I want to know the metrics. Will let you and the rest of the GreenSportsBlog readership know what I find out.

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