Olympian Sara Renner is an environmentalist

And she’s not alone. Scores of Olympic athletes, including Team Canada hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser and Renner’s husband, alpine skier Thomas Grandi, have lent their name to various environmental issues, driven by the desire to make sure their sports stay afloat—oftentimes, literally.

Raised in Canmore, Alberta, Renner grew up at her family’s backcountry lodge without road access, often hiking or skiing the 30-kilometre trail to the getaway. It was through these early experiences that she developed the skill to become a world-class cross-country skier.

Renner’s early love of nature has blossomed into a committed environmental consciousness. She and her husband, members of the David Suzuki Foundation’s Play it Cool program, are going carbon netural and challenging their peers to do the same. They aim to make the Canadian Alpine and Cross-Country Ski Teams the first carbon neutral Olympic competitors at this year’s Games.

Renner won a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics at Torino and we wish her all the best as she goes for the gold in Vancouver. We caught up with her between practices to get her perspective on environmentalism and the Olympics.

What responsibility does an Olympian have to be environmentally conscious?

I think as an athlete you can set a good example. As a cross-country skier, there is a deep connection to climate, and therefore if you care about your sport, you should care about the environment. Not everyone looks at it this way, but I hope that is changing.

Do your competitors share your outlook?

When we see crazy weather, people talk about it, but I would say only about 50 per cent of us truly care. Those 50 per cent make lifestyle choices and the rest don’t even think about it.

But some are making great efforts: the Norwegian cross-country ski team has a group called Kvit Hinter (“Keep Winter”). Their focus is on education, trying to get people to adapt and change their lifestyles as well as pushing for increased political will to make the appropriate policy changes. In sports, we need leaders around environmental issues. And I think now is the time: people are catching on, yet it is not mainstream. For athletes, the first [priority] is performance, then how they finance themselves…and then the environment is creeping in.

How has the changing climate impacted your sport?

Between 2006 and 2007 when I was off to have my daughter, it was raining above the Arctic in November, and the Alps did not get enough snow all season. Sixty per cent of alpine and cross-country events were cancelled and those that went on were [thanks to the] heroic efforts of the organizers. On the alpine circuit, organizers helicoptered snow in from nearby glaciers! That is crazy, no?

What are your hopes for the legacy of Vancouver 2010’s green commitment?

I hope the facilities are used, and that for those with green features, they continue to be showcased and maintained for many world games in the future. I also hope that kids can participate in these venues. I hope that is the legacy that is left afterwards, both for the development of world-class sports and environmental buildings.

Latest from Natural Capital

current issue