The Olympic Gold Rush Has Only Just Begun

The Olympic Gold Rush Has Only Just Begun

The main focus of the 17 days of Olympic competition rightly was on the athletes.

But beyond the joy of winning and the pain of losing -- which we all shared -- there was another dynamic at play throughout the Games where there were no losers and where the awards are only just beginning. This was the effort being made by corporate-level sponsors to bring their own sustainability agendas to Vancouver for the world to see.

For the corporate sponsors of the 2010 Games the immediate and most obvious benefit was the opportunity for green branding and the chance to sell products. But for many other business leaders in town to catch an Olympic event or two and to meet government officials from across the nation, Vancouver 2010 was a testing ground for new ways to do business and new ideas that could change the world.

Most notable in this regard was Sir Richard Branson, who convened the first Carbon War Room summit in partnership with the City of Vancouver, where a bold plan was tabled to remove five billion tons of CO2 per year by 2020, in essence reducing the global carbon footprint by 10 percent.

Branson's plan, as some commentators have noted, is to tackle the low hanging fruit of energy inefficient buildings, where it is estimated that investments of $130 billion per year for building retrofits and $50 billion for renewable energy over the next 10 years could achieve the goal.

Even more important is the fact that much of that money required will come from the private sector, and its impact on job creation will stimulate economies everywhere.

As green business strategist Andrew Winston noted in his Harvard Business review blog, many other corporate sponsors used Vancouver 2010 to circumscribe time and space to test consumer reaction on a controllable scale to new products and new business strategies. Behind Coke's pre-games targets of zero waste and carbon neutrality was a plan to employ new refrigerants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, hybrid delivery fleets, a new "PlantBottle," and the purchase of carbon offsets.

What better way to test this strategy than to use millions of devoted sports fans focused on one event at one point in time -- a moment that will change the way Coke's business unfolds for years to come and the impacts it will have on the environment.

The opportunity was not lost on other corporate sponsors. Rona used Vancouver 2010 to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability in how it does business and in the products it sells, as did others.

For these corporations and for the many other enterprises large and small associated with the Games, Vancouver 2010 was a turning point in how they do business.

It was also a turning point for officials from federal, provincial and municipal governments from coast to coast who were on hand in Vancouver to promote to global business leaders and the international media Canada's commercial strengths and investment advantages.

In addition to the commendable efforts made by the B.C. government in its business showcase, the federal government's two-week Global Business Leaders Initiative was an investor outreach program that brought top business leaders and senior political representatives together at a single moment that could have spin off benefits for years to come.

{related_content}"What we've learned is that there's a great deal that can be gained around the Olympics with partnerships," according to Alan Collins, the U.K.'s ambassador for the 2012 Games and consul general in New York.

"The Games are brilliant for sport but there's a huge amount of business possible as well," he is quoted as saying. He is absolutely correct.

It was a two-way street in terms of communications. Government leaders learned firsthand from corporate giants the dangers of focusing on short term political payoffs and the necessity to plan forward for years into the future. The B.C. government had already learned this lesson and its support for the Games -- often at a high political cost -- was based on a vision for change that extends far beyond today's poll results.

The City of Vancouver made the same commitment by setting a goal to be the greenest city in the world and putting in place a plan to achieve that goal, a plan that will remake Vancouver for generations to come.

And the golden accolades of the moment won by the competing athletes surely extend to VANOC, the Vancouver Organizing Committee. Just as each gold medal winner set a new standard for their individual sport, VANOC set a new standard of excellence in how Olympic events in the future will unfold.

Did the Vancouver 2010 Games achieve its goal to be the first truly sustainable and carbon-neutral Olympics? Perhaps! The numbers will take weeks to unfold. But more importantly, did Vancouver 2010 change the world of tomorrow? Most certainly it did, and the payoff both here and elsewhere will unfold for years to come.

For our part at the GLOBE Foundation, like a relay runner we'll pick up the Olympic Torch and carry forward the same message about changing the future when business and government leaders from around the world gather for GLOBE 2010 taking place on March 24-26th in Vancouver. We won't be looking for gold medals; but we will be trying hard to make winners of everyone working to make a better world.

John D. Wiebe is the President and CEO of the GLOBE Foundation.