PyeongChang, South Korea will be the center of the sporting world starting February 9 when the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics take place in the city that lies about 77 miles to the east of Seoul. Environmental sustainability has been a key factor in Olympic bids going back to the Vancouver in 2010 (winter) and London 2012 (winter) Games. How will PyeongChang fare, sustainability-wise? GreenSportsBlog talked with Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager in charge of sustainability for the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) to find out.
Sustainability is now a core facet of the Olympics host city bidding process. In fact, any bid submitted since the 2014 adoption of Olympic Agenda 2020 must have a robust environmental component. Since a host city has seven years between being awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the opening ceremonies, the 2022 Winter Games, awarded to Beijing in 2015, will be the first to have fully adhered to the Agenda’s guidelines.
How does the sustainability scorecard look for the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, given that the PyeongChang Organizing Committee, or POCOG, won its bid in 2011, three years before the Agenda took effect? GSB spoke with Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager in charge of sustainability for POCOG to answer that question.
GreenSportsBlog: Hyeona, how did you get involved in the POCOG sustainability effort?
Hyeona Kim: Ever since I joined POCOG 5 years ago, I have been interested in what real impact PyeongChang 2018 can bring to local communities and our country. Helping with the initial venue development phase, I learned of the sustainability area, and thought ‘this is why I came to PyeongChang in the first place’ and I needed to commit my work to it. I was fortunate to be involved with the sustainability team, from the development of overall sustainability strategy to its implementation today. I really value the opportunity to experience the whole process.
Hyeona Kim, Senior Project Manager, POCOG. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)
GSB: So you are definitely the person to talk to! Given that Olympic Agenda 2020 was not in force in 2011 when PyeongChang bid for the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, and thus sustainability was not a “must have” in Olympic Bids, how did it fit in your bid?
HK: Though it was not “must have” for Olympic Games bidding, sustainability was a strong global trend already back then, and was part of the ultimate goal to bring the event to South Korea. Naturally, sustainability and the environment were integral to our bid from the very beginning. Our focus started from the environmental sphere of sustainability. POCOG set out the environmental vision of “O2 Plus”, an ambition to go beyond the Games carbon emissions in our carbon reduction and offset efforts.
GSB: Impressive that POCOG planned to be “Net Positive”—to be responsible for the reduction of more carbon emissions than the Games would create. Were such efforts tried before?
HK: Vancouver 2010 raised the bar by achieving “Net-zero carbon Games”. PyeongChang felt responsible for sustainable Games and we thought of going one step further.
GSB: How does POCOG go about doing that?
HK: First of all, PyeongChang 2018, together with Gangwon, the host provincial government, has funded and is funding wind farms that will produce more than the minimum amount of electricity need to power the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some of the wind farms were built during the bidding phase and then, after we won the bid in 2011, POCOG ramped up its funding for the remaining wind developments.
GSB: So how much wind power are we talking about?
HK: We expect to have 190 megawatts (mW) of electricity demand during the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. As of now, 145 mW is of wind electricity is already operational, another 32 mW is secured and another 100 mW is still under construction.
GSB: That’s a lot of wind, more than enough to power the Games. Where are these wind farms located? Close to PyeongChang?
Wind turbines in Gangwon Province, part of the wind farm developments funded by POCOG that will, in total, generate more energy than the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games will use. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)
HK: Yes, all of the wind farms are in Gangwon Province. And our use of renewables goes beyond wind. Six of the newly constructed competition venues will feature either solar power or geothermal. Several of our venues are certified for G-SEED, the Korean green building protocol, similar to LEED. Gangneung Olympic Park, the site of four venues—figure skating/short track, speed skating ice hockey, and curling…
GSB: …I LOVE curling. And, yes, I have curled before. Have you tried it? If not, you have to give it a go!
HK: Yes, actually I tried it once, and it was more active than it looked. It was fun. Anyway, part of Gangneung Olympic Park was transformed from a landfill site to a cultural and sports park, protecting the local ecology and nature in the process.
Aerial view of Gangneung Olympic Park. (Photo credit: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games or POCOG)
GSB: Very impressive on both the electricity generation and facilities sides of the ledger. What about mass transit and low emissions vehicles?
HK: POCOG made an aggressive move into EVs—our fleet has 300 of them—and the charging infrastructure is being built in and around PyeongChang as we speak. Our goal is to do what we can to make EVs a mainstream choice for as many Koreans as possible as quickly as possible. On the mass transit side, POCOG and the Korean government has invested heavily in high-speed rail (HSR) as that is a great carbon emissions reducer. High-speed rail from the Seoul area will transport a significant percentage of total fans to PyeongChang and we expect such mass transit will help us reduce 6,654 tonnes of C02 equivalent^ from our carbon inventory. All of the efforts described here helped us become the first Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to be ISO 2012-1 certified…
GSB: …For those unfamiliar, ISO 2012-1 is a global standard for sustainable events. Congratulations. Now, on the flip side of POCOG’s sustainability successes, what have been its greatest challenges?
HK: Ahhh, this is a good question. When we were on our learning curve, the IOC and past Organizing Committees always screamed one common message at us “Start EARLY with sustainability planning.” And, six years after winning the bid I can see that, even though we did start early on the environmental front in 2012, it would’ve been more successful if the bigger comprehensive plan came along at the same time.
GSB: How so?
HK: Well, the comprehensive strategy would’ve balanced initiatives amongst our three sub-categories of sustainability—environmental, social and economic—and solidified specific actions and messages. Olympic Organizing Committees are always on the steep growing curve, and once it hits the operational phase, it is not easy keep the sustainability ethos alive in daily minds in office. It takes extra efforts from sustainability unit to remind and ensure delivery of sustainability initiatives.
GSB: I echo that sentiment wholeheartedly. Ensuring that sustainability, no matter what aspect, is truly part of an organization’s DNA takes constant care. But I have to say, despite the challenges; it looks like POCOG is moving the sustainable Olympics ball forward, especially in terms of Winter Games and especially when compared to an environmentally challenged Sochi 2014. Now let’s pivot to a comparison vs. the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. They had their own environmental sustainability challenges, to be sure, but one thing they got right was communicating the seriousness climate change poses to humanity to a global TV and digital audience, estimated to be up to 1 billion people. They did so with a climate change themed vignette during the opening ceremonies. Will POCOG have anything similar in store? Also will POCOG be conducting any research on attendees and/or Korean TV viewers about awareness of its environmental efforts?
HK: We were also envious of the climate change vignette from Rio 2016’s opening ceremony. No other method I think can be paralleled in terms of scale and impact of the message. It is a shame that I cannot openly discuss POCOG’s public campaign for environmental awareness at this point of time, but I can reassure you POCOG has already unfolded different programs – carbon inventory establishment and management, International Forum on Climate Change and Sustainable Olympic Winter Games – and also is keen to do more for public awareness on environment and climate change.
GSB: Those are great things, to be sure. And, congratulations to you and all of POCOG for the innovative sustainability strategies and initiatives you are championing, especially O2 Plus. But, with all of the great, net positive greening initiatives POCOG is undertaking, it’s a shame that it chose not to close the sustainability loop by communicating its greenness, its climate change fighting chops, to fans at the venues and watching on TV and elsewhere. It’s like a golfer who hits a phenomenal tee shot and a great approach shot to within a foot of the hole. All she has to do is tap in and she wins the tournament. But she chooses not to putt and walks off. Let’s hope the folks in charge of Tokyo 2020 Summer Games and the Beijing 2022 Winter Games decide to take that putt, close the loop and communicate their greenness to a global audience.
^ PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Sustainability Interim Report, February 2017, pgs. 26-27.