Ecotrust Canada President Ian Gill spoke to the World Conference on Sport and the Environment on managing sport’s carbon footprint. What follows are his remarks on March 30th in Vancouver.  

One of the most famous ever environmentalists was a cranky old guy – an American – called Edward Abbey. He wrote about 20 books, one of them called “The Monkey-Wrench Gang,” which inspired a generation of environmental activism.

Ed Abbey thought and wrote a lot about the environment, and he once came to a very simple conclusion: “The best thing you can do for the environment is to stay home.”

Well, if you are engaged either in the practice or the business of sport, that's not exactly an easy thing to do. As with just about everything else we do when it comes to the environment, I suppose what we are considering today is what is the second best thing we can do for the environment?

After all, sport is a very hard thing to do if everyone stays home – unless you really like to play table tennis.

So what can sport – as heavily dependent on travel as it is – do to slow and reverse climate change trends?

We've heard a lot today about greenhouse gases. The David Suzuki Foundation warns that Canada could lose more than half its ski season if climate trends continue as they are. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games has demonstrated real leadership this morning in announcing its target to neutralize the 300,000 tonnes of emissions – direct and indirect – that will be generated by next year's games.

But how do we take that commitment and ensure that it is leveraged to have multiple effects? To ensure that the legacy of the 2010 Games isn't just that it's carbon neutral, but that it creates a net benefit for individuals and communities and businesses struggling to manage their carbon now – and in the future.

As important as the Games are, the Olympics is just one sporting moment in Canada. This is a country that hosts more than 250,000 sporting events every year. Not only that, 30 per cent of overnight trips from the US to Canada are by people participating in sport or an outdoor activity. (It's just under 30 per cent for international travellers.) So people don't stay home – they come here. And they come here to play.

Increasingly, people offset the carbon impact of their travel. I think that's all well and good but what happens when they do that? And what's going to happen when the 2010 Games offsets its 300,000-tonne impact?

VANOC wants to establish a carbon offset portfolio that will invest in green technology projects that improve energy efficiency or produce renewable energy such as wind, solar or geothermal. The portfolio may also include projects that capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, such as forestry and land use projects. I think this is great. Our rural communities were struggling even in the so-called economic boom times, and with the market meltdowns now upon us, they are struggling even more. If we can find a way to value and monetize ecosystem services – like carbon – and flow benefits to rural communities, that's something of value to help build infrastructure – especially low-carbon infrastructure – that governments seem unable or unwilling to fund.

I believe that the greatest contribution that VANOC can make is not just to be carbon neutral, but to land its investments in renewable energy right here at home. Think of it as “backyard carbon.” Call them “community development offsets.” As the global offset market explodes, I think we need to demonstrate that it can have specific local benefits for communities wrestling with how to invest in climate solutions.

Remember the old environmental rallying cry: think globally, act locally?

Well, the 2010 Games are a global act that should have demonstrated local benefits. Act globally, benefit locally.

Because people right here, right now, are craving solutions. I know this from direct experience. At Ecotrust Canada, we have launched a business called Climate Smart. We work with businesses to help them measure, reduce and manage their greenhouse gas emissions and I must say the response has been remarkable. Businesses have customers and employees who are demanding that they respond to climate change. With Climate Smart, we show them how – and along the way they find out they can save money, too.

When the 2010 Games are over, VANOC will shut up shop. One sporting organization gone for good. But Canada has almost 35,000 sport and recreation organizations that will be left behind. Maybe more, if the Games inspires a new generation of athletes. That's an incredible infrastructure for reaching Canadians. And while I don't know the figures globally, presumably there are hundreds of thousands of sporting organizations around the globe reaching hundreds of millions of people – all of whom have a stake in a low-carbon future; all of whom will potentially respond to real climate leadership.

According to the organization True Sport, 92 per cent of Canadians believe sport can have a positive influence in the lives of young people. Let's harness the power of sport to reach vast numbers of people with solutions they can invest in. If we're not going to lose our winter in Canada, the best legacy of the Winter Games will be to showcase how to get to a zero carbon future – right here at home.

I opened with a quote from an American, Ed Abbey. Let me close with one from a Canadian, Gilles Vigneault. “Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver.” My country is not a country – it is winter.