06 2022 Winter Olympics
For going for the green
Beijing will make history next year by becoming the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. But that’s not the only title government leaders are out to claim: They also want to make them the greenest.
Olympic host cities have been long been criticized as merely paying lip service to sustainability. A 2021 academic analysis in the journal Nature Sustainability found that—despite huge advances in technology and stakeholder awareness—sustainability of the Games has actually declined since 1992.
Using its 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Sustainability Plan to guide decisions, the Beijing Organising Committee is vowing to turn that tide by addressing sustainability from all angles. The idea is to create a positive environmental impact through renewable energy, forestation and wildlife protection projects, as well as deliver new development that will improve people’s lives and bring lasting benefits.
Ice—Without the Impact
The National Speed Skating Oval is only one of two permanent new downtown venues planned by Beijing. Also known as “the ice ribbon,” it has an internal surface area of 12,000 square meters (129,100 square feet), making it the largest speed-skating venue in Asia. But keeping all that ice cool can be an energy drain. To cut emissions, a team will use carbon dioxide refrigerant, rather than the usual hydrofluorocarbons, at most of the Olympic ice venues. According to organizers, the swap could save the equivalent of 1.2 million trees.
The 2022 Olympics will be the first Games to power all its venues solely from renewable sources. To get the job done, China built the world’s first flexible DC power grid, which could help save 49 million tons of standard coal and 12.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. China Daily reports that this project alone has driven US$8.5 billion in investments for wind and photovoltaic power projects.
Back on Track—and Really Fast
Events span beyond Beijing, including suburban Yanqing (where Alpine skiing, luge and bobsled will take place), as well as Zhangjiakou (which will host some skiing events). To increase transportation access, project leaders revamped a century-old rail line in a massive way. The new high-speed, self-driving trains are capable of reaching 350 kilometers (217 miles) per hour and have more than 2,700 sensors to help predict mechanical or safety issues. Game spectators will be encouraged to travel by public transport, but the project’s legacy will be to strengthen the regional economy and power the expected boom in tourism.
(Re)planting for the Future
To clear space for the Beijing 2022 venues without clear-cutting any trees, project leaders opted to transplant more than 20,000 plants (some of them protected) to the outlying areas of the Winter Olympic Forest Park. Working closely with the Beijing Forestry University, the team conducted an ecological survey and feasibility plan. Multiple test runs helped the team hit a 90 percent success rate, and trees are now tagged with individual QR codes, so any passerby can learn of each tree’s transplanting process.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
To cut down on needless new infrastructure, Beijing is repurposing legacy projects from the 2008 Summer Olympics. The National Indoor Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, will host ice hockey, while the National Aquatics Centre, or the Water Cube, has temporarily become the “Ice Cube,” with four curling rinks built on top of its pools. Organizers are also promising any temporary infrastructure will be built using energy-efficient and green technologies, as well as renewable and recyclable materials.
From Steel Mill to Snowboarders' Domain
Shougang Industry Park is a huge former steel complex that was relocated out of the city around the time of the Beijing 2008 Games. As part of the urban regeneration plan, an iron ore storage tower was converted to serve as the 2022 Organising Committee’s headquarters since 2017. And now blast furnaces are being transformed into training centers, while snowboarders will be flying down ramps set off the side of the site’s 70-meter (239-foot) cooling towers.