NAIROBI/TURIN, — As the 2006 Winter Olympics kicks off tonight in Turin, Italy, behind the scenes environmentalists are applauding the green credentials of the Games.

Just as years of training will pay off for the more than 2,500 athletes from 85 different nations competing in 15 different disciplines, the Games will be the culmination of an extensive environmental program aimed at making the event environmentally friendly and sustainable in ways that will benefit the entire region for years to come.

A high-level delegation from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) will be in Turin for the Winter Olympics. Led by Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director, they are coming to see at first-hand how the games are delivering high environmental standards for athletes, spectators, the region and the wider world.

Toepfer said: "Our long-standing productive relationship with the Turin Organizing Committee will come to fruition when the 'greenest Games ever' open in Turin. I am particularly pleased that our positive assessment of the work of the organizers in the field of environmental sustainability has also been confirmed by our friends at the WWF."

"UNEP has always strongly asserted the important role civil society organizations have to play in promoting and monitoring environmental sustainability," Mr. Toepfer added.

During the Games, the UNEP delegation will participate in a number of planned activities including a "green dinner" focusing on climate change, on the evening of 15 February, to celebrate the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on 16 February.

Ensuring climate-friendly Games is one of the cornerstones of the preparations put in place by the Turin Organizing Committee for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games (TOROC).

The HEritage Climate TORino (HECTOR) project is designed to make the Winter Games carbon neutral. By supporting forestry, energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes, both at home and abroad, the Turin Olympics will be able to offset the estimated 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide that will be generated during the 16 days of the Games.

Key environmental aspects of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin:

TOROC has issued two Sustainability Reports: one in 2003, the second in 2005. They were hailed as milestones in the quest to make mass spectator events both entertaining and environmentally sound.

TOROC also voluntarily developed a comprehensive Environmental Management System to integrate the principles of sustainability in the staging of the Games. The system conforms to the ISO 14001 and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) regulation of the European Union.

An extensive monitoring plan was developed for the entire Olympic area which includes 16 environmental indicators, including water cycle, air quality, soil use, energy consumption, waste production, ecosystems, landscape and urban environment.

Suppliers of goods and services involved in the Games are also considered and selected based on the ecological quality of their products. In line with the European Eco-label for hotel services, TOROC is promoting an eco-label trademark to touristic sites and hotels in the Olympic areas and is providing technical support necessary to obtain certification.

The new initiative Refrigerants Naturally also forms part of this environmental component off the Games. Two of the official sponsors of the Olympic Games, McDonald's Corporation and the Coca Cola Company, are (along with Unilever) the founders of “Refrigerants, Naturally!.” This voluntary initiative, supported by UNEP and Greenpeace, is promoting alternative point-of-sale refrigeration technology in the food and beverage industry that safeguards the climate as well as the ozone layer.

Under the initiative, Coca Cola has deployed more than 1,000 beverage machines at the Turin Games that use carbon dioxide as the refrigerant, thereby eliminating the need for ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

If such technology were adopted globally on a large scale, it could make a significant improvement in this industry sector's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time safeguarding the Earth's protective ozone shield.

Other measures include a waste materials plan to handle the anticipated increases in rubbish during the games; the development of eco-friendly buildings at, for example, the new Olympic Village, and the use of pollution-free materials in their construction; and an extensive sustainable transport plan.

The waste management plan envisages combining recycling 68% of organic and other dry waste material produced during the Games with an efficient system of energy retrieval (32% of the waste being transformed into fuel), with the ambitious aim of reducing to zero the quantity of waste destined for rubbish dumps.

Waste production is also being discouraged, for instance by the use of bio-polymers in disposable tableware and a reduction in the use of paper for communication and information purposes.

More information on the Turin Winter Olympics, including the HECTOR initiative, the sustainability reports, and other environmental aspects, is available online.