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 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT