The GSB Interview with Ann Duffy, Sustainability Leader for Olympic, FIFA World Cup Bids — Part I: Born to Work on Olympic Bids; Leads Sustainability at Vancouver 2010

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.

 

Duffy Mexico City Oct

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…

 

Calgary 1988 Opening Ceremonies

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)!

GSB: Fantastic!

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!

 

Duffy Asst Pops

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 DIMITAR DILKOFF : AFP:GETTY IMAGES

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)

 

Richmond Olympic Oval

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.

 

Duffy and Ass't Summer 2010 CH 502

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.

 


 

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RinkWatch: Citizens Track Climate Change By Measuring Ice in Backyard Rinks

Ice plays a crucial role in the measurement of climate change. From the decline of Arctic sea ice to using ancient ice cores to help determine CO₂ content in the atmosphere from many millennia ago, a good chunk of the climate change story is told through frozen water.

Did you know that the climate change “ice-story” is being tracked, in part, by regular folks with ice rinks in their backyards? They are doing double duty as hockey parents and as climate researchers in Canada and the northern U.S. via an innovative program, supported by the NHL, called RinkWatch.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Dr. Robert McLeman, an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, and one of the founders of RinkWatch, about how citizens, spurred on by their love of hockey, are helping to add to the body of scientific knowledge about climate change.

 

“I’m a middle aged parent and an environmental scientist focused on the impact of climate change on humans, communities, and other species.”

Dr. Robert McLeman’s self-description shows why he is exceptionally well-suited to have co-founded and help lead RinkWatch, a program that encourages people with backyard ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. to become citizen climate scientists by recording data about their ice.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. McLeman is a Canadian — and an Ontarian — through and through. “Growing up in Cambridge, Ontario and a fan of the two teams in the province — the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — spent many a winter day playing shinny (i.e. outdoor) hockey on frozen ponds.” He did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Ontario, got his PhD in Ontario at the University of Guelph, and works today as an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in, you guessed it, Ontario.

 

mcleman winter1

Dr. Robert McLeman, one of the co-founders of RinkWatch and Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 

Awareness of the conditions surrounding climate refugees, has been and continues to be a major focus of Dr. McLeman’s research: “I am very interested in making the issue of climate refugees, and climate change broadly speaking, more accessible for the general public.

 

CANADIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT TWO THINGS: HOCKEY AND THE WEATHER

But accessibility wasn’t the only thing Dr. McLeman and Wilfrid Laurier University colleague Dr. Colin Robertson had in mind in 2013 when they began to talk about collaborating. “We really wanted to answer the question, ‘How do we make individuals and families more interested in the environment, interested in climate change, to the point where they take positive action?’,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “We kept coming back to two things Canadians love to talk about: hockey and the weather.”

 

Colin Robertson Geographers w-out borders

Dr. Colin Robertson, co-founder of RinkWatch (Photo credit: Geographers Without Borders)

 

That realization led McLeman and Robertson to the high tech world of makeshift, backyard hockey rinks. “It started with a simple thought,” shared Dr. McLeman. “Maybe we could create a project in which we would ask regular folks who happen to have backyard ice rinks to track weather-related conditions.”

The January 2013 launch of what would become RinkWatch was a no-budget operation.

“We had zero funding to start,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “So we built a simple website than can compile data like location of the rink, quality of ice, first date ice is playable, etc. We also had a form that showed people how to build a rink. The university put out a press release and the Montreal Gazettethe main English language paper there, picked it up. That really was the catalyst as the story made its way through radio and print media throughout Canada, and really took on a life of its own!”

By the end of their first month, a couple hundred RinkWatchers had signed up. Five years on, 1,500 rinks have participated in RinkWatch. The lions’ share are in Canada, with 20 percent coming from the U.S., along with a handful in China, Estonia and elsewhere.

[Editor’s Note: This is a great example of how, when the media decides to #CoverGreenSports, things can change in a positive fashion.]

 

THE NHL BUYS IN TO RINKWATCH

RinkWatch soon caught the eye of the NHL, the most proactive professional sports league sustainability-wise in North America, if not the world.

“The NHL started checking in with us, through Omar Mitchell and NHL Green,” said Dr. McLeman. “He had seen articles about RinkWatch in places like National GeographicThe league saw that what we were doing reflected the sustainability vision and commitment of Commissioner Gary Bettman, which is to say that hockey improves lives and communities and we want to do what we can to ensure it is around for the next 100 years.”

Next thing Drs. McLeman and Robertson knew, the NHL started tweeting about RinkWatch, asked them to contribute to the NHL Green website and invited them to speak, as part of the league’s centennial celebration, at a December 2016 event on the long term future of the sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “We became a bit of hit,” offered Dr. McLeman, a bit sheepishly.

 

McLeman Hockey HOF

Dr. McLeman, speaking at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

A formal relationship with the NHL began in 2017, with the league providing funding to help improve the look and functionality of the web site, allow for a broader range data to be included in the future, and to help in the building and dissemination of learning modules for teachers to use with their students. According to Dr. McLeman, the NHL and the academics share two overlapping goals: “1. Get more kids to get more parents to build outdoor rinks, and 2. Get those kids interested in studying environmental science.”

 

RINKWATCH LEADS TO PEER REVIEWED ACADEMIC STUDIES

Drs. McLeman and Robertson are also using RinkWatch data to advance the body of peer reviewed, climate change research.

“We have been able to publish our results in two scholarly journals,” reported Dr. McLeman. “In The Canadian Geographer, we reported results of a study in which we took RinkWatch observations from a number of Canadian cities, identified the key temperatures need to have a skate-able ice surface (the low 20s Fahrenheit) and put these into a climate model to forecast future skating conditions out to the end of the century.” The study showed that if carbon emissions continue on their current course, the outdoor skating season will be significantly shorter. Calgary’s season will be curtailed by about 20 percent. Outdoor skating in Toronto and Montreal is expected to be 30 to 40 percent shorter.

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

In another study, this one for the journal Leisure/Loisir, the duo reported on findings from a survey they conducted of RinkWatch participants to find out what motivates people to build rinks. According to Dr. McLeman, “an overarching response is that people see backyard rinks as community assets, shared with neighbors and friends, with the goal of getting kids outside, exercising and having fun in the middle of winter.”

That their work has been peer reviewed is a very big deal. “The importance of crossing the peer reviewed threshold cannot be overstated,” concurs Dr. McLeman. “Other environmental scientists like the idea that we’re legitimately, with accepted rigor, connecting sports to climate and ordinary citizens with science. They realize that the urgency and importance of climate change is very difficult to communicate and they see that our work makes it more relatable.”

As for what’s next, the Wilfrid Laurier University colleagues will look to reconstruct the temperature and ice conditions in Canada going back to 1950 so they will have a 150-year (1950-2100) data record. There is a practical aspect to this,” said Dr. McLeman: “Our data can help municipalities determine whether to invest in outdoor rinks or put their resources into indoor facilities.”

While that 150-year horizon is actually a nano-second in a field like climate science, Dr. McLeman finds it easy to see the real-time importance of his and Dr. Robertson’s work with RinkWatch.

“My daughter Anna is now 13. When she was 8, we built an outdoor rink with our community association on top of a tennis court — man, it was hard to spray water with a hose in my hand — it was COLD! In those five years, we’ve had one and a half good winters for skating, the rest were awful. I know this is one awfully small sample size, but it is this type of experience that, we hope, will lead to more and more collective positive environmental action.”

 

McLeman ANNA on Backyard Rink

Young RinkWatcher Anna McLeman takes to the ice in the outdoor rink she, her dad Robert and their community built (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 


 

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