Green Olympics, not quite…

By Sabine Lobnig, Aug 11, 2008, 00:00 3 minute reading

Beijing has been praised to do more than its predecessor Athens in launching green policies for this year’s Olympics. However, major sponsors were criticized for missing this unique opportunity to leapfrog HFCs and directly switch to natural refrigerants, including hydrocarbons.

When last Friday the 29th Olympic Games were opened in Beijing, months-long discussions about smog, algae blooms and particulate-laden skies over China’s capital were forgotten for a while. In fact, both environmental groups and international bodies had to acknowledge that China had made major progress in improving air quality, introducing renewable energies and boosting emission standards: "Anybody who knows what the situation was like ten years ago in Beijing will clearly acknowledge that an enormous amount has been done,“ Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said.

Major improvements in using sustainable transportation or clean energy sources at the Olympic sites could not, however, hide the fact that major Olympic suppliers of cooling and refrigeration equipment still used hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as an alternative to ozone-depleting substances, thereby clearly missing a unique opportunity to show true environmental leadership with natural refrigerants. This was highlighted in a Greenpeace report, issued some days before the opening, rating Olympic sponsors for their environmental performance in six key factors, among them refrigeration. The document, based on a comprehensive UNEP pre-Games environmental assessment, recognized Haier for being a key partner in spreading the “Greenfreeze” technology to China. Developed in the early 1990s, the hydrocarbon-based technology for domestic refrigerators has become a world standard. In China alone, 75% of the domestic refrigeration market uses HC refrigerators. Worldwide, there are more than 300 million Greenfreeze units.

Leapfrog into Natural Refrigerants to be long-term signal

The Greenpeace report also denounced leading Olympic sponsors, including fast food chain McDonalds and dairy group Yili, for their use of HFCs and their consequential failure to set an example that could help phase out climate-damaging technologies in developing countries. A clear corporate leadership from selected renowned brands to use natural refrigerants would not only benefit the Olympic Games but would also set a clear signal for the Chinese population and that of other emerging industries that long-term energy savings are possible with HFC-free equipment:

“China must use this opportunity now to leap directly from HCFCs to natural refrigerants such as CO2 and hydrocarbons. If climate change is of concern, HFCs should not be used as a replacement to HCFCs,” Jamie Choi, CSR Campaigner Greenpeace China and co-author of the assessment, told Shecco.

McDonalds: “We can do more”

As a direct response to the Greenpeace report, Olympic Top Sponsor McDonalds published an entry on its corporate blog to admit that environmental efforts have not been strong enough in the run-up to the Beijing Games. Being listed in the “missed opportunities” category, McDonalds was criticized for being still only in the testing phase with non-HFC refrigerants. Vice President Bob Langert thus admitted: “Greenpeace believes we can do more. So do we, but being green is not always easy!”

Although McDonalds joined the “Refrigerants Naturally!” initiatives some years ago - together with the major consumer brands Coca-Cola, Unilever and Ikea - progress on the actual use of natural refrigerants has been slow. As the first to open an HFC-free restaurant, McDonalds had already found in 2003 that using a CO2/HC cascade system for the refrigerating and freezing rooms, as well as propane as cooling agents and CFC-free foaming agents in the beverage circuit system and in meat freezers, provided benefits in terms of energy efficiency. Due to a lack of components at that time, McDonalds did not pursue this strategy. However, the restaurant chain is now aware that accelerated efforts are needed to switch to natural refrigerants. “In eliminating HFC refrigerants, together with more energy efficiency, we will have a clear win-win for improving our environmental footprint,” Langert concluded.


By Sabine Lobnig

Aug 11, 2008, 00:00

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