Epic is On: Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games – Sustainability by Design

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.
— Nelson Mandela

Sport and Sustainability Panel 1

Ann Duffy, Naki Osutei and Zenia Wadhwani speaking about Sport and Sustainability 100 days before the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games at TSSS on April 1, 2015

On April 1st, 2015, at the offices of Loyalty One in Toronto, the 100-day countdown to the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games was marked by an engaging discussion about sustainability and social engagement in the context of the Games.

While Mandela’s words were spoken in the context of sport being, “more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers”, his words ring true beyond that context. Sport’s ability to inspire and unite makes it an ideal springboard for addressing some of the greatest challenges of our time (including climate change, economic disparity and social injustice) that plague our countries and communities.

Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Trailblazers

Prior to the panel presentation, TSSS President Brad Zarnett took time to recognize the winners of a recent competition to identify Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Trailblazers. This competition was sponsored by Kruger Products, a company whose commitment to sustainability is as much a part of its corporate DNA as it is part of the DNA of these 30 young people. The passion, achievements and contributions of these trailblazers would be remarkable regardless of their age. They recognize that a vision of something better and a passion to make a difference are fundamental tools for change.

Sport and Sustainability Top 30_2

Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Trailblazers being honoured at TSSS

Ann Duffy Explores the Big Picture of Sport

Ann Duffy, Corporate Sustainability Officer to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and consultant to the IOC and FIFA, was the first panel member to address the audience. She opened by expressing how excited she was by the “ingenuity, entrepreneurship, hunger and passion” in the Top 30 trailblazers. She then spoke at length about sport, sustainability, legacies and engagement.

2015: Canada’s Year for Sport

2015 has been proclaimed by Governor General Johnston Canada’s Year for Sport. Duffy explained that we have an opportunity to use this platform to engage with all levels of government, industry and citizens on common themes and values. As we face staggering statistics on childhood obesity and poor air quality in our communities, we can work together to advance sport and in turn promote dialogue and solutions in the realms of health and environmental protection.

Sochi 2014: Resounding Success or Dismal Failure?

sochiDuffy described the reality of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, excellent from a sport event execution point of view, but with dismal results from a social and environmental perspective. After Sochi, a number of countries withdrew their bids to host future Olympic games, citing a lack of citizen support. The International Olympic Committee recognized the need to change its bid process to protect its brand and responded by developing Agenda 2020, as a strategic roadmap for the Olympic movement. Agenda 2020, along with new Sustainable Event Standards from organizations including CSA, ISO, GRI and FIFA, offer guidelines around accountability, safety, accessibility and inclusion. These guidelines serve to minimize negative impacts, maximize positive benefits, encourage responsible sourcing, and assure excellent customer experiences. Adherence to such guidelines guarantees that large scale sporting events make the most of their platform to act as a catalyst for positive change and to observe the fundamental ethos of leaving a place better than we found it.

Feed the Hungry and Train the Unemployed

Large scale sporting events require tremendous operations infrastructure and human involvement. This reality means that these events also have tremendous opportunity to lead the way in effecting positive change. Duffy used inspiring examples from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games to illustrate the power of a large sporting event to act as a catalyst for social engagement. One example was how Vancouver’s GM Place partnered with community groups in Vancouver’s impoverished east side to create an urban gardening initiative. Another example was how Rona financed a warehouse in East Vancouver and partnered with a government agency to build needed Olympic items including award podiums while providing 34 weeks of labour training to 84 diverse individuals, with a focus on providing opportunities to women, aboriginal and racialized people.

41 Countries. 51 Sports. 7,500 Athletes

Pam AM TorontoNaki Osutei, Director, Public Affairs and Social Legacy for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, shared with the audience some important numbers. In 100 days, 10,000+ athletes/coaches/officials (Vancouver 2010 had 7000+), 23,000+ volunteers and 250,000 visitors will fan across 16 municipalities at more than 30 competition venues. As Osutei quipped, sharing a running joke from their small team who are constantly innovating to achieve more with less, “This will be the most innovative games ever!”

Necessity: The Mother of Invention

While Osutei may have joked that necessity is the mother of invention, it was clear to all those in attendance that the Pan Am/Parapan Am Toronto team has innovation at the core of its culture not just by necessity but by design. They are committed to establishing a positive legacy from these games that will have long lasting impacts both locally and beyond. Osutei described their “Love the Game? Grow the Game” initiative to harness the reality that, “So much around sport is done through the strength of volunteers,” and that if each volunteer recruits one new committed volunteer, great things can happen.

Diversity: A Sustainability Imperative

For Osutei and her team, rather than seeing diversity as a business or moral imperative, they see it as a sustainability imperative. For example, hockey in Canada today is seeing falling numbers in its traditional recruitment base and must reach out to other communities to maintain its presence and viability. She explained, “Often times we don’t see diversity because people don’t know about what opportunities exist. Diversity is not a more expensive approach; it’s an approach that is more reflective of the community.”

Three objectives were identified:

  1. Achieve economic benefit to the broadest number of people
  2. Offer leadership opportunities to the broadest number of people
  3. Act as a catalyst and establish a platform for building diversity awareness

Outside the Box Thinking

In traditional delivery of large sporting events, a number of expensive expert consultants are brought in for contracts of 3-4 weeks. For Toronto’s games, Osutei described how instead, young people were brought in for 3-4 months, and each was paired with a mentor from one of the Games’ sponsor organizations. For example, a young person working in transportation logistics is paired with a mentor from Chevrolet, while one working on supply chain issues is paired with one from Coca-Cola. These mentors help the young professional “train up” to their assigned position. This program, “SEEDS: Career development for youth”, has involved about 150 youth and 160 mentors. As a testament to the program’s success, some of its youth hires are already talking about moving on to the Rio 2016 Summer Games.

Other examples of outside the box thinking have included working towards more diversity in the supply chain by subdividing contracts (e.g. 3 contracts to provide 300 tents, rather than one contract to provide 900 tents), offering RFP-focused writing workshops for small businesses interested in bidding for available contracts, and connecting small caterers with larger caterers who have procured contracts to look at subcontract opportunities through the “Taste of Diversity” program.

Community Engagement

Zenia Wadhwani, Director, Community Outreach for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, summarized her goal as, “To bring the community to the Games and bring the Games to the community.” She further explained, “I want people to be a part of it, feel it, touch it, own it and feel pride.” Achieving her goal depends upon three main functions:

  1. Relationship Building
  2. Community Programming
  3. Community Celebrations

For the past four years, Wadhwani has been working to engage people from diverse communities in this venture. Not every effort has been successful, but they have been flexible and learned from each experience. A Community Engagement Council was formed but members didn’t find the experience meaningful. They took a step back and changed course, dividing into 7 working groups with more common interests and objectives: Latin American, Caribbean, EthnoCultural, Community Impact, Community Celebration, College & University; Elementary & High School.

Legacy Building


One of the innovative approaches adopted by the Toronto team was the “Ignite” program that encouraged community groups to make their own events using the Toronto Pan Am/Parapan Am Games branding. This has resulted in 600+ initiatives with a reach of 150,000+ people. This small staff team has achieved enormous reach and impact by finding ways to harness stakeholders and mobilize them according to their passion. And this reach has included laying the foundation for a lasting legacy through programs like a Youth Advisory Council and PPAKids for schools and after school programs.

Canadian leadership and legacy

Canada is proving itself on the world stage as a leader in harnessing the power of sport to effect change in how both government and private industry approach large scale projects. With Vancouver 2010 we forced the world to take notice of our innovative approaches to embed environmental and social sustainability into all aspects of event planning and delivery. And in less than 100 days, the world will be watching as four years of efforts by the dedicated Toronto Pan Am/Parapan Am team and its thousands of community partners and volunteers come together to prove to the world that “Epic is On”. And Epic leaves behind a growing and sustainable legacy.

To read event summaries from past TSSS events click here