How I’m Making My Olympic Bid More Eco-Friendly

Elite sports can be big polluters. Here’s how I’m making my Olympic podium run better for the planet.
Media-Kit-Team-Canada-x-lululemon_Melissa _cropped

June 12, 2024

My parents made their way to Toronto in the 1980s, after fleeing the military dictatorship in Chile. Back home, my mom was a national ballet dancer, and my dad played volleyball for Chile’s national team. After arriving in Canada, he joined the Scarborough Solars, a local volleyball club, and got a coaching job at York University. It was through the Solars that my dad met John Child and Mark Heese, also known as Canada’s “crazy defenders,” who asked him to be their coach for the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996, where beach volleyball made its Olympic debut; they won bronze. As a young kid, I followed my dad’s many sports travels, sticking pushpins on a world map. Soon, I caught the Olympic bug, too.


I started playing beach volleyball at the age of 11. By the time I was 15, my partner, Victoria Altomare, and I represented Canada at the Under-19 World Championships in Turkey, and in 2016, when I was 24, I went to the Rio Olympics as a training partner—which basically means you’re an understudy if another athlete can’t compete. I never took to the sand, but those Games planted the seed for my new partner, Sarah Pavan, and I to make a run for gold in Tokyo in 2021. 

 Sarah and I finished fifth—far below the gold we’d set our sights on—but Tokyo stood out for another reason. High temperatures are nothing new for beach volleyball players; we’re constantly drenched in sweat. And when it’s that humid, just breathing feels a bit like drowning. We typically take safety measures like avoiding midday games, eating slushies and hitting up ice tubs after practices to bring down our core temperatures. (Cold plunges are super trendy now, but we’ve been doing them for years.) But when we were competing in Tokyo, temperatures hit upwards of 45 degrees Celsius. We knew it was going to be hot, but there was a feeling among the players of: I can’t believe we’re playing in this. We were just expected to suck it up and adapt to the heat. After the Games, I wondered: why aren’t we talking about why our playing conditions are getting hotter? 

Beach volleyball isn’t the only sport affected by climate change. Rising sea levels are a concern for water sport competitors,the same way melting snow is for skiers and snowboarders. A study from 2022 found that, if global emissions continue to be pumped out at the same rate as the past two decades, only one Olympic host city—Sapporo, Japan—will have weather conditions safe enough to run snow-based competitions. The Games also contribute to climate change: the 2016 Rio Games alone released an estimated 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, though they offset those emissions through tree-planting and other endeavours. As an athlete, my own environmental impact is immense, too. On average, I attend about 15 to 20 volleyball tournaments a year, most of which require two or sometimes three flights. That travel time doesn’t include my trips home to Toronto, medical appointments or sponsor obligations, like events and photoshoots.

When I got home from Tokyo, I wanted to use my platform to bring more attention to the climate crisis. I decided to meet with other environmental- and sports-minded Canadians, like Oluseyi Smith, a track and bobsleigh Olympian who co-founded Racing to Zero, a consulting firm that helps sports organizations become more sustainable, and Maddy Orr, a sport ecologist who’d just written a book called Warming Up: How Climate Change is Changing. I also met Lew Blaustein, one of the founders of EcoAthletes, a group of coaches, academics, athletes and other sports professionals who care about the planet. Now, I’m one of them.

Part of managing my climate anxiety involved taking action. I started hosting beach clean-ups with other athletes in Los Angeles, where I train, and as part of the organizing committee for Green Sports Day here in Canada. I shared videos for reducing wasteful consumption on social media and learned more about the textile industry, specifically, how fast-fashion practices are used to create some athletic uniforms and merch. Through an app called Climategames, which launched last year, I encourage my followers to participate in fitness challenges, like weekly workouts like walking 10 kilometres in one month. If they complete them, I purchase carbon offsets for my work flights out-of-pocket. In 2023, I took 82 flights, covering more than 244,000 kilometres—or six-plus trips around the world—a particularly busy year because of the lead-up to Paris. That cost me US$3,000 to offset. 

There’s also a lot of sustainability work to be done at the level of community sports—simple things, like encouraging youth clubs to install water fountains, instead of using single-use items like plastic bottles, which are everywhere. In the volleyball world specifically, event organizers are trying to condense our schedules, so our players aren’t flying back and forth as often. Instead of flying to Europe six times in a year for tournaments, we could play a couple of European tournaments in a row. It doesn’t sound like much, but small changes really do add up.

Here at home, the Canadian Olympic Committee has already committed to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, which involves halving carbon emissions from their operations by 2030—and achieving net-zero by 2040. I’m part of the team helping to create a point-by-point plan for how to get there. On a larger scale, that could look like reusing sporting venues and facilities, instead of building new ones, as is often the case in Olympic host cities. On a smaller scale, it could mean reconsidering giving out swag like free keychains to event participants. They’re fun, of course, but we don’t need more stuff. A lot of my own sports keychains are sitting in a box somewhere.

I’m optimistic about a lot of the new environmental initiatives planned for the Paris Games this summer, too. The organizing committee has a goal to cut this summer’s Olympic emissions by half, compared to previous Games. They’re renovating existing venues and considering the end-of-life for equipment (i.e.: renting chairs rather than buying new.) Even the food plan in the Olympic Village is more sustainable than usual: they’ve got a plant-based menu, they’ve doubled the fruit and vegetable content in meals to avoid the emissions associated with producing red meat and they’re using more sustainable protein sources, like free-range eggs. 

At times, it feels hypocritical to call myself an “EcoAthlete” when I fly as much as I do; I’ve even thought about retiring to reduce the impact of my air travel. I also sometimes have dark thoughts, like whether certain sports will even exist in 10 years’ time because of global warming. Knowing the sporting community is taking action helps me. The idea isn’t to be perfect—no one is, not even Olympians—but there’s still a lot we can do.

There’s one more (obvious) reason I’m excited about Paris 2024. I’ve got a new volleyball partner, Brandie Wilkerson. We’re currently the fourth-ranked duo in the world, and I feel confident we can bring home a medal. If we did, it would be Canada’s second-ever beach volleyball medal, after the bronze that my dad helped Heese and Child win. I’d feel extra proud to medal knowing that I did it with a clear eco-conscience.