Salt Lake implemented a strong environmental programme focused on urban forestry, zero waste and reducing carbon emissions, and the avoidance of compliance errors.
Utah’s environmental best practices, coupled with the International Olympic Committee’s focus on environmental responsibility, were reflected in the organising committee’s vision.
In collaboration with academics, SLOC calculated all the potential energy used and emissions associated with staging the Games and created the program Olympic Cleaner and Greener. The calculations considered the increase in regional traffic, electrical use from venue operation, temporary generators and all factors associated with the Olympic Torch Relay.
Once the program was completed, SLOC worked with 02 Blue, an environmental commodities broker, to offset these credits with emission-reduction credits. The carbon footprint for the Games was more than 122,936 metric tons (121,000 tons) of hazardous and greenhouse gas emissions. Olympic Cleaner and Greener and its partners have permanently removed more than 240,000 tons of pollutants from Utah, the United States and Canada, meaning these credits can never be used again. Salt Lake 2002 has been certified as climate neutral by the Climate Neutral Network.
85 per cent of Games-time waste was recycled or composted - a two-bin system and public services announcement educating the public on how to recycle properly were implemented at the venues
The organising committee used existing sporting and business infrastructure in Salt Lake City to host the Games. Five venues existed (the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium was rebuilt for the Games) and six were new: the ice-hockey and figure skating arenas, the sliding centre, the ski jumping and Nordic combined centre, the biathlon and cross-country skiing centre, and the Utah Olympic Oval.
The three new competition venues - Utah Olympic Park, Utah Olympic Oval and Soldier Hollow Nordic Centre-, and the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium were built or re-built using minimal construction materials for energy efficiency. For example, the Utah Olympic Oval's roof design meant the overall volume to heat and cool was reduced by more than 28,317 cubic metres. Other venues and facilities were either ready or renovated.
At the Soldier Hollow Nordic Centre, stream channels and wetlands were restored for wildlife and migratory birds. Utah Olympic Park was designed and built to follow the natural contours of the mountain and storm water run-off controls were used to prevent soil erosion and improve surface water quality.
The urban forestry advocacy was enriched by various initiatives. The programme “Plant an Olympic Family Tree” ran each autumn from 1998 to 2001. Participants received an Olympic pin and a 20 per cent discount on tree purchases. Each third-grade class in Utah (for children aged eight-nine) was given a tree with the intent that schools would plant Olympic groves to be used as outdoor classrooms. 100,000 trees were planted in the state of Utah.
Implemented post-Games, the Venue Tree programme aimed to restore the venues’ natural surroundings by planting more than 15,000 native trees and shrubs. The Global Tree Race was an international internet-based programme. It enabled participants to plant trees in their own countries and register them in the name of the Olympic Games. More than 18 million trees were planted around the world as a result.
The organising committee also adopted a zero-tolerance policy for compliance errors. It developed a strategic environmental management system which ensured specific environmental liability and disclosure language was added to contracts. Venue audits were carried out weekly to identify potential environmental issues and ensure action could be implemented. There were no fines or notices of violation of environmental and safety compliance.
This environment programme had a long-term influence in the development of regulatory and governance changes (the establishment of specific commissions for example) made by the local and state authorities. Since the preparation of the Games, sustainability has become a major focus for Salt Lake City, Park City and the state of Utah. Some of the elements developed back in the early 2000s are still present in the cities’ development plans, such as those highlighted in the 2015 ‘Sustainable Salt Lake’ plan.