Jan 16, 2024
Meet Our People and Partners / Feature Story
Olympians Nathan Chen and Oluseyi Smith on How Sport Can Help Combat Climate Change
- Why athletes are focusing on climate change
- How the IOC Young Leaders Programme helps Oluseyi Smith pursue his passion for renewable energy
- Leveraging the Panasonic GREEN IMPACT initiative as a platform to address climate issues
- Merging two passions—sport and sustainability
- How young people can prompt companies to take action
- Why the urgency? How can individuals make an impact nonetheless?
Panasonic believes in the power of sport to bring health, laughter and strength to our lives. In 2016 Panasonic accordingly became a founding partner of the IOC Young Leaders Programme, an initiative that empowers talented young individuals to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities. The company has also created its own “Team Panasonic” featuring world-class athletes and Olympic medalists, all of whom share our commitment to giving back to society.
In the build-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024, the Panasonic Newsroom Global is running a series of articles featuring Team Panasonic Olympians and IOC Young Leaders about how they are driving change through sport in areas such as climate action, equality and sustainability.
In this article, we talk to Team Panasonic athlete and Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen from the USA and IOC Young Leader and Olympian Oluseyi Smith from Canada about the roles young people can play in addressing the issue of climate change.
*Panasonic is a Worldwide AV Partner of Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Why athletes are focusing on climate change
“Climate change affects everyone, and every athlete contributes in some way to climate change,” says Nathan, an Olympic ice skater and gold medalist and one of the Panasonic GREEN IMPACT ambassadors.
“Ice rinks consume a significant amount of water and we have to travel a lot to perform on tour. We have to change the way we do things, especially as athletes who want to protect the planet while pursuing our sport.”
Nathan walks his talk. In 2022, he chose the Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center, the world’s first net zero carbon-certified arena, as the stage on which to perform his “Stars on Ice” tour. “The Climate Pledge Arena and the work they are doing there are really amazing,” says Nathan. “It was impressive to see how they are reusing rainwater to resurface the ice and the way they produce heat and cool the ice in a very sustainable way.”
How the IOC Young Leaders Programme helps Oluseyi Smith pursue his passion for renewable energy
Oluseyi is an alumnus IOC Young Leader and a two-time Olympian; he competed in athletics at London 2012 and in bobsleigh at PyeongChang 2018. When not engaged in sport, Oluseyi is a professional engineer who is passionate about research into renewable energy.
“Staying involved and giving back to the community is very important to me; the IOC Young Leaders Programme and Panasonic help equip people like me who come from the sporting world with the tools and the resources we need to follow our passion,” says Oluseyi.
As part of the programme, Oluseyi is leading the Racing To Zero initiative, which provides sustainability education and audits; it also runs carbon improvement projects, combining sustainability best practices with expert knowledge to help grassroots sports organizations and their events become more environmentally friendly.
“The IOC Young Leaders Programme comprises a group of people of my age who are running their own projects in areas they’re passionate about; we wouldn’t be able to have the impact we have without organizations like the IOC and Panasonic to help us out by putting us in touch with smart people, providing financial support and ideas to move things along,” says Oluseyi.
Leveraging the Panasonic GREEN IMPACT initiative as a platform to address climate issues
In 2022, Panasonic unveiled its Panasonic GREEN IMPACT program, the Group’s commitment to realizing a more sustainable global environment. The focus of the program is reducing CO2 emissions within Panasonic’s own value chain; the target is to reach net zero emissions by 2030 in Panasonic operating companies worldwide and reduce CO2 emissions by 300 million tons throughout their value chain by 2050.
“The work that Panasonic has been doing with Panasonic GREEN IMPACT immediately clicked,” says Nathan. “They openly recognize their role in helping to address climate issues. Over a billion people across the world use Panasonic products and roughly 1% of global CO2 emissions come from the manufacture and use of Panasonic products. That’s a very large number, and it comes with an even bigger responsibility. The initiatives they are taking are setting an example that other organizations and corporations will hopefully follow.”
In his role as Panasonic GREEN IMPACT ambassador, Nathan Chen spoke at the global CES 2023 conference about his passion for a sustainable future. “It is important to provide opportunities for athletes to speak on podcasts like this one or through other avenues that allow us to continue sharing our message,” he said.
Merging two passions—sport and sustainability
After his career as an athlete, Oluseyi pursued a master’s degree in renewable energy system technology and became a professional engineer. Asked how this merging of passions came about, he says, “I got my passion for sustainability and the environment watching the TV series Star Trek. It’s as simple as that. The show portrayed a world where humanity had moved past all the problems we have now with inequality and pollution. I thought, this is amazing; if I want to be part of this world, I have to become an engineer and figure out how I can help humanity fix the environment.”
And just what is “Sport Sustainability?” Oluseyi considers for a moment. “It means understanding your sport, where it harms the environment, and looking at how sport can reduce its carbon emissions and mitigate the impact it’s having on the environment. It’s also thinking about how sport can adapt to rising temperatures or other crazy weather in the future.”
To this end, his Race to Zero project conducts “Sustainability Audits” to help local sport clubs and organizations measure their carbon footprint and understand the impact their events are having on greenhouse gas emissions, waste levels and water consumption.
“I think the easy thing most people start off measuring is their waste. How much plastic are you producing at your event? Are you composting any of it? If so, how much? I encourage any sport or organization to try and measure this. Once you know the amounts, you can start taking action.”
How young people can prompt companies to take action
“We should certainly all be doing all we can individually, like reducing, reusing and recycling, or trying to consume less meat and fewer animal products—for the environment as well as for our own health,” says Nathan. He adds, “But more importantly, individuals can influence companies through their purchasing decisions; we need to support companies that are environmentally responsible, choosing to work for them or advocating for them on social media.”
Echoing Nathan’s comments, Oluseyi adds, “Don’t assume it’s only individuals that are going to make major change. We need to speak up and lobby those corporations or politicians or your neighborhood groups to say that the biggest changes of all can be made by groups and governments. Individuals using paper straws instead of plastic straws is not going to shift that needle. So no one should feel that responsibility by themselves alone.”
Why the urgency? How can individuals make an impact nonetheless?
“If nothing changes, everything will change,” says Nathan. “The risks are becoming more evident every day. The consequences of temperatures continuing to rise will only become more extreme and disruptive. It’s very important to address the root causes and not try to just create solutions around them,” he adds.
“Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t feel like a hypocrite,” says Oluseyi. “I give speeches and I educate people about sport and sustainability, but I still use plastic at home. My neighbor produces less garbage than I do. I feel terrible at times, but I don’t let it bring me down.”
He suggests talking small steps. “Instead of feeling guilty, just start measuring. Keep track of how much trash you are putting out or how much you travel so that you have your own initial baseline. Then you can start making small changes here and there.”
*This episode is based the recording of podcast series called “We Have A Goal,” produced by the International Olympic Committee and the IOC Young Leaders programme. Panasonic sponsors this three-part podcast series.
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