EarthTalk: Beijing Olympics

"The "Birdcage," one of seven Olympic stadiums built in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. All were equipped with solar generators that provided most of the outdoor lighting.

Dear EarthTalk: The 2008 Summer Olympics in China drew a lot of attention for political reasons. One ray of light is China's effort to make the event as green as possible. What green technologies did they install? — Josh Rogers, Concord, NH

It's true that China used the Beijing Olympics as a sustainability showcase, going so far as to dub the event the "Green Olympics." Through a partnership with the U.S. government and the Maryland-based International Center for Sustainable Development, China gave Beijing a green makeover to make the city a model for net zero pollution, green building and sustainable community development.

According to China's Technology Minister Wan Gang, the Beijing Olympics were expected to generate some 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, in large part because of the flying the world's athletes did to get to and from the games. To offset these potent greenhouse gases, China took a series of measures, Wan says, including planting trees, closing 1,000 small coal mines before and during the games and banning up to a million cars from city streets.

Beijing's Olympic Village, where the Chinese government erected dozens of stadiums and other structures according to rigorous green standards, emerged as quite an example of sustainable community development. The steel-looped Beijing National Stadium, for instance, included a rainwater collection arrangement, a natural ventilation system and a clear roof with inflatable cushions made from ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene), a kind of plastic that increases light and heat penetration.

Another example is the "Water Cube," a spectacular-looking structure that looks like a building made of bubble-wrap. Officially known as the National Aquatics Center, it is completely surrounded with ETFE pillows and is estimated to cut energy use by 30 percent. And when it has finished serving its purpose as an Olympic venue, it has been built to be converted to a shopping area and leisure center with tennis courts, retail outlets, nightclubs and restaurants.

All seven main Olympic stadiums were equipped with solar generators capable of outputting 480 kilowatts of energy at any given moment. Ninety percent of the lighting outside the stadiums, as well as the entire hot water supply for the Olympic Village was powered by solar energy. Also, the main stadiums received power from Beijing's first wind farm.

While the Olympic Games only last for two weeks, environmentalists hope the greening of Beijing will indeed continue beyond the summer `08. Some proposals include building 14 wastewater treatment facilities to achieve 90 percent treatment rate in Beijing, and extending potable water to the entire city.

Also, the municipal government of Beijing has invested in expensive energy-efficient heating and transportation equipment that will greatly improve environmental quality for decades hence. Beijing, where 1,000 new cars roll onto the streets every day, also plans to source clean energy from other parts of China and through the purchase of pollution offsets on a quickly expanding international market.

CONTACTS: ICSD Beijing 2008 Green Olympics Initiative,; Beijing 2008 Olympic Games,

Got an environmental question? Send it to EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or submit to Read past columns at