Green Olympic Dreams

China is giving itself a green makeover for the 2008 Summer Olympics to be held in Beijing (see “Through the Smoke,” Currents, May/June 2004). The Olympic organizing committee and American agencies are working closely with the International Center for Sustainable Development to integrate zero net emissions, community sustainability planning and green buildings into Olympic construction plans.

The many stadiums China has erected to host the Olympic events are considered green marvels, including the steel-looped Beijing National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest” which includes rainwater collection, a natural ventilation system and a clear roof with inflatable ETFE cushions (made of Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene, a kind of plastic) and the steel “Water Cube” for aquatics events, which is completely surrounded with ETFE pillows that increase light and heat penetration, cutting energy use by 30 percent.

But China will have trouble meeting its commitments in overall air quality, though it has spent more than $2 billion on efforts to reduce pollution. There are three million cars a day on Beijing’s streets, and 1,000 new ones each day. China may institute temporary measures to clean the air, banning over a million cars per day during the two weeks of the games and closing 1,000 small coal mines ahead of scheduled events.

Other more permanent proposals include building 14 wastewater treatment facilities to achieve 90 percent treatment rate in Beijing and extending potable water to the entire city.