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File Photo: Official 2010 Olympic pins on display (TROY FLEECE/Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press)
File Photo: Official 2010 Olympic pins on display (TROY FLEECE/Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press)

Green group targets guilty Games fans Add to ...

Olympic pin collectors will have another souvenir to bag come Games time, and it comes with a feel-good bonus - a carbon offset.

The pin, featuring two mountain peaks against a clear blue sky, will cost $25, represent one tonne of carbon and be hawked by Offsetters, the official supplier of carbon offsets to the 2010 Olympic Games.

Offsetters plans to set up shop in the airport next month to catch Olympic visitors so they can pick up some greenhouse-gas guilt along with their other baggage.

"They're all coming through YVR," says Offsetters president James Tansey, who is already wearing the pin on his lapel and hopes it will become a key part of his company's pledge to make the games carbon-neutral. Offsetters also runs an online calculator that lets visitors calculate their emissions and buy offsets to counter them.

"What we're saying to spectators is, 'Come and use the calculator and get an exact number. Or buy the pin for $25 - and you get a nice commemorative pin, that $25 goes into the offset pool and you get some bragging rights.' "

Pin-collecting has become an unofficial offshoot of the Olympic games, with aficionados swapping and trading pins from various countries, sports and sponsors.

The Offsetters pin comes with a certificate and represents one tonne of carbon emissions to be offset through the company's projects. To date, those have included a B.C. cement plant's switch from coal to wood waste for fuel and similar projects at Lower Mainland industrial greenhouses. Future projects are expected to include solar-energy installations in India, efficient wood stoves in Africa and wind-energy installations in Turkey and Asia.

Skeptics say the fledgling offsets business does not result in significant reductions and that many of the projects would have happened anyway.

Offsetters says its projects are independently audited and designed to result in "real, additional and permanent" reductions to greenhouse-gas emissions.

Named an official supplier to the Vancouver Organizing Committee in June, Offsetters has pledged to offset 118,000 tonnes of direct emissions related to things like venue construction and athlete travel. The company is also working with sponsors to offset an additional 150,000 tonnes of indirect emissions related to the Games, which begin Feb. 12 and run through Feb. 28.

Corporate sponsors have largely come on board, but the harder-to-corral spectator component is being targeted with pins and pleas.

Offsetters was founded in 2005 as an offshoot from the University of British Columbia. The for-profit company has a staff of 12 and annual revenues of about $5-million.

As an environmental evangelist, Mr. Tansey is familiar with the argument that buying carbon offsets is the modern equivalent of paying money for one's sins.

"Most of the great public goods of Rome, the cathedrals and plazas, were funded by indulgences," Mr. Tansey says. "To say it is simply buying down guilt without there being any upside, is only telling half the story.

"But the main thing from our perspective is that this money is investing in the next generation of green technologies and the emission reductions are real."

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