Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

What Olympics teach about going green

By Maria Cardona, CNN Contributor
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Sat July 28, 2012
London 2012 organizers have transformed a neglected area of the East End into a green and sustainable Olympic Park. London 2012 organizers have transformed a neglected area of the East End into a green and sustainable Olympic Park.
HIDE CAPTION
London's Olympic Park goes for green
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona: This year the Olympics have aimed, with some success, to be greenest ever
  • She says Games, and sports in general, are in a position to demonstrate green concepts
  • She says some sports stadiums are already embracing, leading on sustainability
  • Cardona: London transformed a polluted area for Games, shows what can be done

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee

(CNN) -- The Olympics are upon us. Every four years people all over the world tune in to breathlessly watch sports to which they would not otherwise give a thought (hammer throw? Sculling?). They do this as a matter of national pride. The same waxing and waning of our attention applies to environmental sustainability.

And this year there is a direct connection between the Olympics and sustainability — energy, water and climate issues. The 2012 London Games were aiming to be the greenest Olympics ever, and while there is a healthy debate in the UK about how well this turned out, organizers undeniably set a bold goal.

In a summer where this country is suffering through heat waves and drought that might have you wondering about the future of Winter Games, the push for the first sustainable Olympics is no small thing.

Sports may not have the biggest environmental footprint, but its visibility offers an opportunity for massive, worldwide cultural impact, bringing issues like energy use into the bright (renewably powered, please) spotlight.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

It goes beyond the Olympics. Just last week the White House hosted an event examining how American professional sports teams are helping to bring innovative pollution-fighting practices into their facilities. For the teams, it is about saving money, sure. But it is also about that concept of social change, which is nothing new when it comes to sports.

Big cultural issues have long been reflected on the playing fields of our favorite teams. Look at Jackie Robinson breaking down racial barriers. Title IX and Billie Jean King breaking down gender barriers. Muhammad Ali taking a stand against the Vietnam War. Going green is different from the social equality movements of the last century, but tackling climate change and our addiction to foreign oil requires a mobilization to change that recalls those earlier efforts.

And if our ballparks and our athletes are seen as championing energy efficiency, cutting waste and using renewable energy, the message is that fans can do those things, too. Wind turbines (like the one at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians), and solar panels (in center field at Bush Stadium, not far from the Green Monster in Fenway Park, and on dozens of professional stadiums and practice facilities) are as American as apple pie -- and their presence in those parks reinforce that fact.

Queen Elizabeth opens London Games
Olympic athletes light up social media

The White House event focused on successes already in place from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and every other professional sports league in the country. And without a lot of public attention, they have made pretty amazing strides that set important examples for where our country can go.

Look at Seattle, where the Mariners saved themselves a million dollars by drastically cutting their energy usage (over five years, a 45% reduction in natural gas usage, a 30% reduction in electricity, and a 25% reduction in water usage). And the Staples Center is generating its own power with hundreds of solar panels.

If we are going to fight climate change, cut pollution and put the kibosh on our foreign oil dependence, this is just the sort of things we will need to do. Pro sports in America are leading by example by demonstrating to millions of fans that it can be done, that there are mainstream, apolitical solutions.

The Londoners are following our lead. As CNN has reported, the Olympic Stadium stands upon what was once some of the most degraded ground in Great Britain. Rivers that used to be some of the nation's most polluted flow through the Olympic grounds. The building itself stands as an exciting exemplar of the old green maxim, "reduce, recycle, reuse" in the way its steel structure makes it the lightest stadium of its kind ever built. It uses about 1/10 of the steel that Beijing's Bird Nest employed, including a tubular roof partly constructed of leftover gas pipelines.

The London committee is doing wonders to limit energy and water consumption. The bar has been set very high for Rio and other countries hosting future Olympic Games.

The potential cultural impact is enormous. I have seen it in person, having participated as a synchronized swimmer in the Pan-American Games in 1983. International games draw huge attention — and not just to high-profile athletes like Pernell Whitaker, the boxer who brought home the gold, and Greg Louganis, the diver who did so, as well.

The public took a keen interest in all aspects of the competition, including the construction of the venues. The examples that are set on that score can affect the global psyche. And as we have with many of the biggest problems facing the planet, Americans have led the green effort.

It's something we can be just as proud of as our medal count. Now, who is our best hammer thrower this year?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT