By Nick Butler at the Bolshoy Arena in Sochi

The Bolshoy Arena is just one of many Sochi 2014 venues that Dow have been involved in ©Getty ImagesI am going to be honest. On my list of things I was most eagerly anticipating about Sochi 2014 - be it sport, being in Russia or mixing with the great and good of the Olympic Movement - the nitty-gritty world of chemistry and sustainability was not high on my agenda.

But not wanting to spur the opportunity to report on something new I jumped at the chance to go on a tour around the Bolshoy Arena, the primary venue for ice hockey during the Games, to experience first-hand the varied, complex and, as far as I can tell, successful work that Dow Chemical's have done here.

Dow's involvement in both these Games and the wider Movement is wide-ranging and substantial. Since 2010 they have been a worldwide Olympic partner as part of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) TOP sponsorship programme and they are the Official Chemistry Provider of the IOC as well as the Official Carbon Partner for Sochi 2014.

But to Dow's regional representative in the Sochi and Krasnodar region Alexey Tsyganov, who has spent several years preparing the venues after shifting from a chemical and food education background, it is all about the scientific side.

As we tour the Bolshoy Ice Dome as the crowds trickle in ahead of a match between Austria and Norway, he explains how Dow have worked with project partner Mostovik to provide products and solutions in various different areas. Among these are the heat transfer fluids used to create and maintain the arena's high-performance ice surfaces. Housed in a tiny boiler room deep in the bowels of the 12,000 seater-stadium, there are three big tanks which pump through a system of pipes to heat the ice.

"The ice has to be at different temperatures for different sports," Tsyganov explains to insidethegames - with remarkable patience at my ignorant abundance of questions, I must add. "For ice hockey is it at  -5' C, for speed-skating it is at -8' C and for figure skating it is -2' C."

"This is because the ice must be slightly softer for figure skating as there is more impact and speed is less important - whereas for speed skating it has to be rock solid and for ice hockey there is a bit of everything so it must be somewhere in between."

The temperature of the ice is one of Dow's many involvements in the Bolshoy Arena ©DowThe temperature of the ice is one of Dow's many innovations in the Bolshoy Arena

The same heat transfer fluids are also being used in the air conditioning system. Here the conditions are affected more by the attendance than by the sport going on. So, for Austria against Norway, where there were many empty seats, the air conditioning would be higher than for the packed out spectacle that was United States against Russia the previous night.

For both the ice and the temperature, these heat transfer fluids help control operating and maintenance costs, I am told, because they have a longer service life than rival products.

So the emphasis is on creating a comfortable and world-class facility but also ensuring that it is sustainable and energy efficient. Achieving this balance is imperative and appears fundamental to most of Dow's work here.

As we continuing our tour, virtually everything we pass seems to enjoy Dow input of some description.

"We created the spray foam used in windows and doors, which gets inside the cracks and seals all of them, so it keeps the temperature either warms or cold depending on the conditions that you want, and is also more energy efficient," Tsyganov points out.

Dow also designs the seats in the VIP section sat on by, among others, President Vladimir Putin when he attended the Russia against US match the previous evening. The foam of these seats, like a cushion for mattresses, is extra comfy but also very stable, and works as both a sound protection and a fire safety mechanism.

Industrial coatings from Dow were applied to the buildings metal structural components, offering enhanced durability and protection from corrosion, while products were used in the concrete mixture for the flooring beneath the ice, contributing to greater workability during application.

The Bolshoy Arena is just one example of Dow's work in Sochi. Another is the Sanki Sliding Centre where a "unique concrete mixture called Polyox" and an "innovative application method known as guniting" are used to create a speedy, yet safe and sustainable surface, which has already produced two host nation gold medals during the Games

The ice at the Sliding Centre is another aspect of Dows involvement in Sochi 2014 ©ITGThe ice at the Sliding Centre is another aspect of Dows involvement in Sochi 2014 ©ITG

By this point I am completely lost, but I get the gist. Dow have done a lot in terms of Olympic construction, and I have not even mentioned the additional work they have done in regard to both mountain and coastal clusters as well as other local and non Olympic specific projects.

Dow's second commitment with Sochi 2014 is as the Official Carbon Partner of the Games. Here, as the more familiar concepts of legacy and sustainability come into play, I feel on more comfortable ground.

Dow are responsible for mitigating the carbon footprint of the Organising Committee from when they won the right to host the Games in 2007 to the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics next month. This carbon footprint refers to the "utilisation" of venues during Games time, so in other words areas including energy, waste and the the costs of transporting athletes and spectators - but not construction or the output produced by the media.

"It is like If you are hosting a party at a house - you didn't build the house specifically to host the party but you are using it for the party," is the rather helpful analogy provided by Dow's global media relations and communications leader Fernão Silveira.

By using the carbon credit market - which works "rather like a stock exchange" - since taking over in March 2013, Dow's goal was to mitigate the 360,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 10 years.

It took them just nine months.

Silveira explains how they achieved this seemingly remarkable goal by "implemented different  technologies with different customers in Russia."

"This was not just here in Sochi because we have one planet and one ozone layer - so anything we do to increase efficiency and offset carbon footprints anywhere will help to compensate it.

"But as we are celebrating 40 years in Russia we wanted to make sure that our technology was used by Russian customers in Russia."

Using the application of many of the same products utilised at the Bolshoy, three areas in particular were focused upon to do this - agriculture, infrastructure and industry.

In terms of agriculture, Dow have partnered with a British company to develop five industrial farms in Russia's Central Black Earth Region. On these farms training has been provided for work in low tillage agricultural procedures - which keep more carbon dioxide in the soil and therefore prevent its dispersion into the atmosphere - as well as a new kind of seed which produces pioneering Omega 9 "health oils."

With regards to infrastructure, Dow have introduced a carbon fibre composite which is especially useful for maintaining cracks in bridges and buildings in a more energy efficient way than cement and concrete, while insulation products have also been distributed freely to residents as an "investment in raising awareness in energy efficiency" as well as on an industrial level.

"With all these projects combined, we mitigated more than 500,000 tonnes," announced Silveira as he failed to prevent a touch of pride from emanating.

However, Dow have also gone further and examined the footprint of media and spectators, not on the Sochi 2014 remit so not their official responsibility, and invested in projects in Russia as well as in the future Olympics host countries of Brazil and South Korea to do so. 

With all three of these countries being emerging economic powers, Silveira cites this as a primary reason why being involved in the Olympics is so desirable for Dow.

Dow's first Olympic involvement came at the Winter Games in Lake Placid in 1980 ©Sports Illustrated/Getty ImagesDow's first Olympic involvement came at the Winter Games in Lake Placid in 1980
©Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

He continues to explain why else the Olympics is such a good market with our conversation - by now taking place in the stands as Norway face Austria - punctuated by pauses for ice hockey related distractions usually consisting of either goals being scored or punches being thrown.

"We are very excited about our opportunity with the IOC for four main reasons," he tells insidethegames."

"Firstly this is business generation - we can expand our business and showcase our portfolio of over 5,000 products in these new markets. Secondly, we can build relationships and it is an unique opportunity to gain leverage with Organising committees, Olympic Delivery Authorities and Governments.

"The third point regards branding and reputation. A post London 2012 market survey found the Olympic brand resonated with 92 per cent of people worldwide. They all knew about the values of diversity, excellence, sportsmanship and fair play and It is important for us to be associated with these values."

The final point relates to pride and excitement for employees and their families. The example of Dow's work in redesigning the sleds for the US luge team is given because "employees are really excited to be associated with Team USA."

Several Dow employees are working in Sochi as volunteers, I am also told.

With regards to Sochi, I feel obliged to ask the obligatory question about environmental criticism of preparations for the Games. "To organise something like this is very impressive and the infrastructure here is out of this world," is the reply. "Yes, there are lots of challenges and we understand this and we cannot speak on behalf of the Organising Committee - we are only responsible for mitigation."

"But when we took over as carbon partner we didn't know how it was all going to go - we are humble enough to admit that - but we are very proud of what we have achieved."

"It is not the whole story of sustainability and there is always more that could and should be done but we are very proud of our solid results - we had a 360,000 MT carbon footprint and have delivered 500,000 MT."

So how does this work at Sochi 2014 compare with Dow's experiences at London 2012?

There, they designed the artificial pitch for the field hockey and contributed to the construction of the athletics track in the Olympic Stadium, but "have been much more involved in the whole process for Sochi," according to Silveira.

"The Organising Committee were very willing to learn and support, whereas by 2010 when we became involved most of the infrastructure for London 2012 was already there," he adds.

"We need as much time as possible to build relations and we are already beginning to do this for Rio 2016. The sooner we can engage people the better and show our capabilities to Rio, Pyeongchang and Tokyo the better."

The turf at the London 2012 hockey venue in the Olympic Park was developed by Dow ©Getty ImagesThe turf at the London 2012 hockey venue in the Olympic Park was developed by Dow
©Getty Images

Looking towards the future, the impact of the 2006 decision to make sustainability the third pillar of the IOC, along with culture and sport, is welcomed. "Advancing the third pillar is exciting and important and moving forward it is important for there to be more concerns and awareness about making the Games more sustainable," Silveira asserts.

So, in a tour which proved surprisingly comprehensible despite my chemical ineptitude - and which began by speaking about ice and air conditioning and meandered through tillage, health oils and insulation before reaching a conclusion on the future - I realise that Dow has contributed hugely to both Sochi 2014 and the Olympic Movement. 

Yes, they have reaped the benefits and been in the right place at the right time due to the global focus on sustainability. But they have also invested hugely and, if the Winter Olympics here so far is anything to go by, they are worthy of substantial praise. 

The obvious concluding question relates to Dow's role in the next Olympic Games. 

"Plans are already in place for Rio," Silveira explains before adding: "It is nice to see how focused they are already - they have a serious aspiration to be the most sustainable Games ever and are working hard to position themselves in that regard."

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