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More action, less carbon

By Doug Williams | July 12, 2012, 3 p.m. (ET)

To American athletes such as Ileana Rodriguez, concerns about the environment and energy use aren’t just theoretical.

Rodriguez, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in architecture, hopes to incorporate those concerns into her architectural work and make a positive impact on resource consumption.

So when the London-bound Paralympic swimmer learned about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Green Ring sustainability program — while also getting the chance to help on some of the building projects at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs — she was excited.

Plus, the Florida International University graduate believes the Olympic platform can give the Green Ring program, announced earlier this week, some added attention.

The Green Ring program focuses on the following:

  • Carbon-neutral travel for all members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams in London, in partnership with BP America
  • Integration of sustainability practices and products into the U.S. Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, Chula Vista, Calif., and Lake Placid, N.Y.
  • Creation of electronic medical records for all 2012 Olympians and Paralympians in London (cutting down on paper use)
  • A carbon-neutral USOC vehicle fleet
  • Water conservation efforts
  • Incorporation of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines in the construction of USOC buildings.

“The Green Ring program aims to mitigate the USOC and our athletes’ impact on the environment through a number of sustainability efforts, an area that is a passion for many of our athletes,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in the news release. “Through Green Ring, we hope to contribute to sustainability while using our platform to educate and inspire our constituents to do the same. Our focus is more action, less carbon.”

Since coming to Colorado Springs in 2010 to train for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Rodriguez has worked part time with Bill Kennedy, director of facility management for the USOC. In that capacity, she’s been able to use her architectural knowledge to participate in conversations and planning for buildings that use energy more efficiently and take into account environmental impact.

“She sits in on every one of the construction meetings during the design phases,” said Kennedy, in reference to the projects in Colorado Springs which includes a 34,000-square foot strength and conditioning facility.

Added Rodriguez: “As an athlete and a citizen, we all have responsibilities with our environment.”

Rodriguez, who uses a wheelchair after suffering a spinal cord malformation when she was a teenager, also is interested in incorporating increased accessibility for Paralympic athletes in building design.

Rodriguez is one of many athletes with strong concerns about environmental impacts and increased sustainability. Among the nine athletes who are part of the BP-Olympic partnership, several noted this week that the Green Ring program could have positive impacts beyond the Olympic Movement.

“I was really excited to hear the news that Team USA and the whole London Olympics are focusing on conserving and reducing everything involved in bringing so many people into one place,” said swimmer Rebecca Soni, a three-time Olympic medalist.

Added Olympic gymnast Jonathan Horton: “I think every young person in today’s society has to think about our impact in terms of the fuels that we use and the impact on the environment.” Horton specifically noted the carbon-neutral offsetting plan for USOC travel to London.

The carbon-neutral travel plan is a significant and almost immediate aspect of the Green Ring program.

About 1,500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support staff will fly to London this summer, and BP will provide carbon offsets for what is estimated as more than 12 million air miles and 4,500 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions. The BP offsets will include investments into sustainability projects across the globe, such as a program on a Wisconsin dairy farm that turns waste into electricity.

Other specific aspects of Green Ring include the use of more efficient LED lighting in buildings, BP fuel stations for Olympic vehicles that provide fuel that is 100 percent carbon offset, better insulation to conserve energy use and more efficient water use, the use of natural lighting when available and a bike station for the use of U.S. athletes and staff in London.

For Kennedy, the Green Ring program makes sense from an environmental sense — “We need to be good stewards,” he says — but also from a financial sense.

As building projects in Colorado Springs move forward — at a time when utility bills are climbing — designs and new materials can keep costs low and create multiple benefits.

Kennedy specifically cited the new and larger strength and conditioning facility, built with LEED specifications as guidelines that he said will provide better ventilation and cheaper lighting.

“We’re looking at LED lighting throughout that facility which will reduce our energy usage, plus operationally we’ll extend our costs, to where we’re not spending as much operating money at changing out light fixtures, et cetera, just because of the length of the lights’ life expectancy,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy noted that currently, annual utility costs are about $1 million. Some of that money spent on utilities could be used elsewhere.

“If I can reduce that, as we’re bringing on new buildings, and at least be able to sustain that $1 million level and possibly bring it down some with added square footage, that’s a huge goal,” Kennedy said. “Because this year, because of utility cost increases, I had to request additional money in our budget. I’m hoping that going into 2014, when these projects are done, that I won’t have to ask for more money just because we brought on that square footage.”

The most long-term positive impact of the Green Ring program, however, might come in the attention it could generate. If the USOC — in an Olympic year — can get the word out that sustainability programs work, it could pave the way for increased education about sustainable energy projects.

“If we can show that the U.S. Olympic Committee is making effort to reduce its carbon footprint while also being good stewards,” said Kennedy, “then yeah, I think we can be and should be somebody that stands out among the crowd to say ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing.’ ”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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