Press Releases March 2006 - Lessons Learned from the Winter Olympics - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version [Français]

Lessons Learned from the Winter Olympics

Better Use of City Centres and Recycling of Sports Infrastructure Point Way to Even ‘Greener’ Olympic Games

Nairobi, 1 March 2006 – Contrary to some suggestions that the Winter Olympics were held too far from the mountains, Torino may in fact have shown the way towards even more environmentally friendly Winter Olympics, the head of the UN Environment Programe (UNEP) said today.

“By locating in the city centre several key events, such as figure skating or ice hockey, along with accommodation for athletes and the media, the organizers have dramatically increased the likelihood that these buildings and structures will be sustainably used in the future for sports, other leisure activities and housing,” said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director.

“During the two weeks of competition this is likely to have increased commuting and transportation between the urban areas and the events staged in more rural, mountainous locations. But over the longer term the environmental impacts are likely to be positive,” he said.

“Indeed locating more and more Olympic events away from sensitive rural areas and into city centres with good access to public transport-- especially if this contributes to urban renewal and renovation of redundant buildings and structures-- may be an environmentally sound step forward for future games,” added Mr Toepfer.

UNEP has been collaborating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for over a decade and worked closely with the Torino Organizing Committee (TOROC) before and during the Games.

It believes the 2006 Winter Olympics underlined the growing importance of the environment for those staging sporting and public entertainment events.

Eric Falt, Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information which runs the organization’s 'sport and the environment' programme, said: “We have been most impressed with the environmental measures and commitments made by the TOROC from their climate change initiatives and dedication, to the use of local stone and wood up to their adoption of ‘green’ environment management systems such as EMAS and ISO 14001”.

He said UNEP, which signed a cooperation agreement in Torino during the Games with the International Association of Athletics Federations, would want in future to work more closely with individual federations and bodies to ensure that the environment is factored into sporting events from the outset.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that incorporating sustainable development measures at the earliest possible stage of the planning process makes it easier to meet higher and more meaningful environmental goals,” added Mr Falt.

The final score card for Torino’s environmental legacy is likely to emerge over the coming months. But UNEP believes some lessons may have already been learned.

“One area that the IOC might wish review is the issue of recycling of sporting infrastructure. Take bobsleigh for example. TOROC did a great job to try and mitigate its environmental impact. But the fact remains that constructing, operating and maintaining what is effectively a huge fridge in the mountains raises many fundamental questions of sustainability,” said Mr. Toepfer.

The organizing committee has estimated that the track and equipment, also used to stage luge and skeleton events, cost around 70 million Euros to build.

It has cut a 1,435 metre ‘ravine’ complete with 19 bends through the mountainside. The freezing system uses 48 tonnes of ammonia, a substance that is friendly to the ozone layer but raises concerns about the impacts of any possible leaks.

TOROC is considering using the bobsleigh track at Cesana Pariol as a bobsleigh school. It has been designed to allow “juniors and kids” to practice.

However, the maintenance costs could be anywhere between 100,000 Euros and one million Euros annually which may be far more than the income generated by visitors.

In contrast, the ski jump venue in Pragelato blends into the landscape through sensitive design that works with the natural gradients and contours of the location.

Other measures include the use of passive solar heating, rainwater drainage systems, special fabrics for stabilizing soil on the slopes and the establishment of ecological corridors to allow wildlife to cross.

In respect of some events like bobsleigh, future organizing committees might consider re-using and upgrading existing tracks and stadia rather than building new ones if such facilities are convenient or nearby.

The next Winter Olympic Games is scheduled to be staged in Vancouver, Canada in 2010.

The IOC could for instance consider upgrading the bobsleigh facilities built for the 1988 Games held in Calgary.

Notes to Editors

For more information on the Torino Winter Olympics, please visit

UNEP’s Sport and Environment web site

In 1994 UNEP and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) signed a Cooperative Agreement in which both organisations agreed to promote environmental considerations in sport events of the Olympic Movement.

UNEP is represented on the IOC Sport and Environment Commission, which meets regularly to review environmental issues as they relate to the Olympic Games and to advise the IOC Executive Board on environmental issues.

In November 2005, UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Organizers of the Beijing Olympic Summer Games 2008. Under the terms of the agreement UNEP will work closely with the Beijing Organizing Committee, offering expert advice and support in the development of relevant environmental reports. There are also plans for far reaching educational and public awareness campaigns to further increase the impact of staging environmentally sustainable Olympic Games.

The Olympic Movement itself has declared the environment to be the third dimension of Olympism, alongside sport and culture. The Centennial Olympic Congress, held in Paris in 1994, devoted part of its debates to sport and the environment. Its final document called, among other measures relating to the environment, for the inclusion in the Olympic Charter of a provision underlining the necessity of preserving the environment. The Olympic Charter was subsequently amended in 1996.

UNEP has developed an active Sport and Environment Programme to promote the links between sport and the environment. In February 2003 the UNEP Governing Council adopted a long-term strategy on sport and the environment, which seeks to further reinforce UNEP’s work in this field. The strategy also seeks to strengthen partnerships with sports organisations and federations, and specifically requests UNEP to initiate cooperation with Olympic host cities.

For More Information Please Contact

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 62 3084; Mobile: 254 733 632 755, E-mail:

If there is no prompt response, please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Information Officer, on Tel: 254 20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, E-mail:

UNEP’s sport and environment contacts: Eric Falt, Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 652656, e-mail or Theodore Oben, Head of Unit, Children and Youth, Sport and the Environment, on Tel: 254 20 623262, Mobile: 254 (0) 722 526 181, e-mail

UNEP News Release 2006/12




Further Resources

Olympic Winter Games - Torino 2006

UNEP Sport & the Environment website

Torino 2006 and the Environment: The Sustainable Games

HECTOR (HEritage Climate TORino)
A project designed to make the winter games carbon neutral.

International Olympic Committee (IOC)

UNEP and International Association of Athletics Federations sign historic partnership agreement

Winter Olympics Get Green Seal of Approval
UNEP Press Release (8 February 2006)

Greening Olympics Reaches New Peak at the 2006 Winter Games in Italy
UNEP Press Release

6th World Conference on Sport and Environment
Sport, Peace and Environment (Nairobi, 11 November 2005)

Many Ski Resorts Heading Downhill as a Result of Global Warming
UNEP Press Release (2 Dec. 2003)

Climate Change and Winter Sports: Environmental and Economic Threats
Report by by Rolf Bürki, Hans Elsasser, Bruno Abegg 5th World Conference on Sport and Environment, Turin 2-3 December 2003 (IOC/UNEP)

Beijing 2008 Committee

Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games


Follow Us

Keep up to date with UNEP events on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.

Twitter Facebook You Tube

UNEP on Facebook