Ann Duffy has mega sports events bidding and organizing work in her DNA. Her dad was an advisor to her hometown of Calgary’s early bids to host the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Winter Games — the Alberta city eventually won the right to host the 1988 Games. Eighteen years later, Ann was hired as Chief Sustainability Officer for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. She’s been involved in some way, shape or form with the sustainability efforts for several of the Olympic/Paralympic bids since then, as well as with the successful United Bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States to host the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup. No one is better positioned to talk about sustainability and mega sports events than Ann Duffy so GreenSportsBlog is honored to offer this two-part interview.
In today’s Part 1, Ann shares how mega-sports events are in her blood and how she came to lead the groundbreaking sustainability efforts at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
GreenSportsBlog: I doubt that there’s anyone on the planet who can say they have inherited Olympic bid work as a genetic trait except for you, Ann Duffy.
Ann Duffy: You may be right, Lew. If I’m not the only one, I know I’m a member of a very small club. I was born in Calgary. My dad, who was an alpine ski racer, worked on two Winter Olympics bids in the 1960s involving my hometown: Both were collaborations between Banff, Lake Louise, and Calgary. They did not win. Then, in the early 80s, Calgary was ultimately successful in its bid to host the 1988 Games.
GSB: You had a front row seat to the ’88 bid!
Ann: Not only that; I just loved the Olympics! I OD’d on it on TV. And my family were all recreational athletes: Skiing, tennis, cycling, you name it.
Ann Duffy, speaking at a sport and sustainability symposium in Mexico City in 2014 (Photo credit: Ann Duffy)
GSB: So the Olympics and Olympic bids are in your blood. What path did you take to make Olympic bid work, and sustainability in particular, a big part of your career?
Ann: I went to the University of Guelph in Ontario and majored in geography and environmental studies. Then I got a Masters in marketing communications at the University of Calgary with a focus on behavior change. I was there when Calgary hosted the 1988 Olympics, which was very exciting. A lot of us on campus volunteered and took in the Games. I was working at the business school on a study of the economic benefits of hosting mega sports events.
GSB: A hint of things to come…
Opening Ceremonies at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Canadian Olympic Committee)
Ann: Next I moved to Switzerland and worked for the World Wide Fund for Nature – International (WWF) for four years in corporate communications and education. I lived in Lausanne…
GSB: …Home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
Ann: Indeed! In fact, my jogging route often took me right by the IOC headquarters. I’d think to myself as I looked at the beautiful building, “How cool would it be to work with the IOC in some way.” Eventually, I moved to Vancouver and worked as a communications and environmental management consultant but that Olympics thought remained in my head. And there it stayed as I moved on to lead the sustainability practice with the engineering and project delivery firm CH2M.
GSB: The sustainability-minded firm with the strange name that works on everything from wastewater treatment to urban infrastructure to greenhouse gas management?
Ann: That would be CH2M. People there really cared about sustainability; it wasn’t just box checking. From about 2000 to 2006, I developed CSR strategy for big engineering projects. And CH2M has a sport events practice…
GSB: …Ahhh, that Olympics thing!
Ann: YES! And, from 2000 to 2003, Vancouver was deep into the bid process for the 2010 Winter Olympics. CH2M pitched the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) on infrastructure planning for the bid. And, after Vancouver won the bid, VANOC hired me in 2006 to be the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)!
Ann: Oh it was! And my dad, Dr. Patrick Duffy, was so proud!!!
GSB: He should’ve been! Ann: He even became a volunteer driver!
Ann Duffy (r), her dad Patrick and her assistant Fiona Kilburn at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Ann Duffy)
GSB: So what was it like to be CSO of the Vancouver Olympics?
Ann: Lew, it was the best job I’ve ever had — and I’ve had some great jobs — it was thrilling, really. And I was inspired and engaged every day I went to work.
GSB: I can imagine! So what did you work on as CSO?
Ann: Our broad goal was to put on a great, sustainable games. But some of what I worked on was quite nerdy and technical.
GSB: Hey, I’m nerdy and I’m sure many of our readers have technical chops so go for it!
Ann: OK! #1: I developed the sustainability management and reporting system for the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games. We took a holistic view to embed sustainability into our approach to daily decision-making that included environment, social, economy and legacy. And we always kept in mind how we would communicate our sustainability efforts with stakeholders, critics, partners and others. #2: We worked very hard to make sure that any venues we built would be relevant to the host communities well after the Games.
GSB: No White Elephants coming out of Vancouver 2010!
Ann: Absolutely not. For example, the Richmond Olympic Oval was transformed from long-track speed skating right after the Games into a community recreational and sport training center. Everything from rugby to volleyball to wheelchair basketball to hockey is played there.
Canada’s Lucas Makowsky celebrates after winning gold in the men’s speed skating team pursuit at the Richmond Speed Skating Oval during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. (Photo credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
The Richmond Oval today, set up for basketball (Photo credit: Richmond Oval)
GSB: I’m sure the people of Richmond are thrilled. Speaking of people, how many did you have on your sustainability team?
Ann: Our core staff ranged from eight to ten. We had socio-economic impact professionals, specialists in environmental management and communications who worked with other units departments including designers, architects, builders, operations folks…the gamut. My job was to collaborate and provide them with the information they needed so they could do their jobs and help us reach our collective sustainability goals.
GSB: What was the #1 sustainability goal?
Ann: To infuse sustainability into everything VANOC did…
GSB: …Which was a state-of-the-art approach back then.
Ann: It was. Sustainability, in its broad Environment-Social-Governance (ESG) definition, became a core facet of everything from volunteer training to procurement to packaging to venue construction and siting…and more. The sustainability, “what do you want your legacy to be?” ethos permeated the entire staff, from the CEO on down.
GSB: Tell us more about legacy…
Ann: One of our most meaningful legacies was with First Nations (indigenous people) in British Columbia and the rest of Canada. We were intent on making sure that our interaction with them would be real and not just about headdresses. So we connected construction companies to members of four First Nations in the Vancouver to Whistler corridor to work on construction projects for the Games. This collaboration eventually led to reversing seasonal unemployment for the Mount Currie Nation and, once the Olympics were over, many First Nations were able to get additional work in the Sea to Sky Corridor from Vancouver to Whistler.
Ann Duffy (l) and Fiona Kilburn next to the Olympic Truce monument for peace during the 2010 Games, designed by First Nations artist Corinne Hunt (Photo credit: Ann Duffy)
GSB: That is what I call a positive legacy! What about from the environmental point of view?
Ann: Sure. We looked to innovate environmentally on climate action, recycling and waste reduction. All new permanent sport venues met LEED building certification from silver to platinum levels. Fortunately IOC corporate partners like Coke, McDonalds’ and VISA had a lot of experience in these arenas. They were able to make sustainability cool. Coke, for example, established 100 percent bottle recyclability solutions on site as well as water efficiency in their bottling processes, not to mention their uniforms made from recycled PET bottles – all firsts at an Olympics. Local Canadian and BC companies undertook similar initiatives. As a result, we were able to establish a protocol for managing sustainability for mega events with the Canadian Standards Association.
GSB: How did climate change fit into Vancouver 2010?
Ann: We were early movers on climate among mega-event committees: We measured and reduced our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation and venue operations to athlete and staff travel and offset the direct emissions we couldn’t further eliminate. And, we publicly reported and communicated our plans, successes and challenges.
IN WEDNESDAY’S PART II: Ann tells the story of her post-Vancouver 2010 sustainability-related work with a myriad of Olympic and FIFA World Cup bids and organizing committees. She also shares her thoughts on what future mega-event bid and organizing committees need to do to ensure fans get engaged on sustainability and climate.