If you are a green building supporter like me, there is more gold to cheer about from this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing than just Michael Phelps' eight medals. The Olympic Village, which is housing 17,000 athletes from around the world, was certified LEED-Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The near-zero energy multifamily complex, which will be converted into condos after the games, is the first international project to receive certification under the LEED for Neighborhood Development program.
In a statement, USGBC president and CEO Rick Fedrizzi said, "The Olympic Village ... sets an inspiring example while the world is watching, and the real, measurable environmental and health effects will be a real benefit to the people of Beijing for years to come."
The irony of the village's LEED-Gold achievement is that China is home to some of world's worst air pollution. Beijing's pollution was a major concern for months leading up to the games because the city's air typically is two to three times dirtier than most Western countries' air. In a concentrated effort to clear up the skies, city officials shut down scores of factories, stopped all construction projects, and removed 2 million vehicles from local roads for the two months prior to the games. The efforts worked because the air is clearer than most expected.
What does Beijing's filthy air have to do with green building? I'd argue that air pollution, which afflicts most major U.S. cities and even rural environments, is a good argument for building and remodeling green apartments, condos, and single-family homes close to where people work. These large-scale projects not only would shave utility costs for building dwellers and owners, and be more comfortable to live in, they would promote the use of mass transit (or at the very least short drives), and could aid in the reduction of smog, which is especially harmful for the elderly, children, and people with heart and lung conditions. Most major U.S. cities already are built up, so green renovation may be even more important than new eco-friendly construction in some areas.
Most people don't think about Michael Phelps until the swimming sensation breaks all records at an Olympic Games. I hope we won't forget the positive influence Phelps has had on his sport and on the thousands of children he's inspired. Likewise, we should not forget the importance of the certified Gold Olympic Village that's housing 17,000 people in Beijing.
Jean Dimeo is Co-Chief Editor for EcoHome.