Marion Thenault smiles and waves her hands as she waits for her scoresAP Photo/Gregory Bull
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Staying carbon neutral on the road to the Olympics: a welcome challenge for Marion Thénault

Marion Thénault, who won bronze in the first ever Olympic mixed team aerials event at Beijing 2022, has her sights set on a second Olympic appearance at Milano Cortina 2026.

However, this isn’t her only goal; she hopes to realize her dream all while being one of the first carbon-neutral Olympic athletes in Canada.

Thanks to her mother, who holds a master’s degree in Environmental Studies and works in this field, Thénault has always been sensitive to environmental issues. Since starting her career on the international freestyle skiing circuit, she’s never quite been able to chase from her mind the negative impact of her lifestyle on the environment.

Marion Thenault flips upside down in the sky while performing an aerial trick
Team Canada freestyle skier Marion Thénault competes in the women’s aerials qualification round during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Monday, February 14, 2022. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

Like many, she had heard of carbon offsetting. After a quick bit of research with the tools available to her online, she realized the limitations of these measurement tools and that compensating for her travels would cost her thousands of dollars each year.

Conscious of the complexity of her journey to carbon neutrality, Thénault didn’t stop there.

“I told my mother I wanted to offset my travels with carbon offsetting. She had a contact at WSP. I approached them to give a conference to their employees and at the end, I pitched the idea of a partnership. They loved the idea and it’s grown from there,” she said, thrilled to have initiated this meeting.

Her partnership with WSP will help her to combine her passion for freestyle skiing and international competition with her desire to lead a lifestyle more aligned with her environmental conscience.

“For now, we’re still at the very beginning of the project,” said Thénault, who can count on the support of WSP for the next four years. “I think I will learn a lot over the course of this partnership.”

A multi-step project

To help Thénault to offset her carbon emissions, WSP must quantify them as precisely as possible. “They must make the calculations with real data. For example, take account of my air travel from the origin to the destination, my travels once I’m there, from the hotel where I’m staying. There are many factors to consider.”

The firm will then have to calculate how many carbon offsets will be required to offset the emissions related to her participation at each competition.

How does the purchase of carbon offsets work?

“It’s about offsetting the carbon dioxide emitted by an individual or a company by investing in individuals or companies that will reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions, for example by investing in reforestation or improvement of energy efficiency,” explains Thénault, who took the time to gather more info from her partner. “For example, investing in companies that will develop technologies to reduce greenhouse gases or produce renewable energy like wind power, solar power or geothermal energy.”

WSP, an engineering firm, already offers these services to their corporate clients. “Their clients are businesses that want to be carbon neutral. They already have the contacts and resources to do that,” she further explained about the incredible assistance she will receive.

“People at WSP will help me to identify the different options and to select which ones are most realistic and affordable. It’s also important to consider solutions that will really make a difference. I must fly to the world championships, but once I’m there, are there hotels that are greener than others? Are there greener ways to travel? WSP will also cover the financial aspect of the project.”

One goal in mind: carbon neutrality

The 22-year-old aerialist wants environmental issues to be widely discussed and taken into consideration in the sports world.

“Even though I travel a lot for my sport, there are still things I can do to reduce my ecological footprint. This project allows me to feel like I’m putting in the effort. My sport is my life right now. There’s a balance that can be found between renouncing my sport, changing careers, never travelling, and never doing anything, because I feel powerless. There’s a happy medium for me as an elite athlete, but also for anyone who wants to make changes to their own lifestyle.”

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A student in aerospace engineering at Concordia, she says she’s exposed to the importance of environmental issues from her parents, who are both scientists, but also through her field of study.

“Aerospace engineering is a field that will see so much progress in the coming years thanks to green energy. I’m really interested in a lot of climate experts’ work. At university, I really get exposed to a lot of projects and initiatives related to the environment. It’s an inspiring field.”

Marion Thenault raises her arms above her head after landing a jump on snow
Team Canada freestyle skier Marion Thénault competes in the women’s aerials qualification round during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Monday, February 14, 2022. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

For now, she hopes to inspire other athletes to try to reduce their carbon emissions.

“With my project, I’d like to offer concrete solutions to other athletes. I have the support of a big company and that makes it easier, but I hope my initiative will pave the way for other athletes to do their part for the environment.”

And it seems to be working so far, with other athletes already showing interest in the project.

Small steps that make all the difference

The partnership with WSP is in its infancy, but the skier is already doing her best to take concrete steps when it comes to the environment. “Elite athletes, especially those who are sponsored by an equipment brand, can give back to their community by donating or selling equipment that they no longer use at a very low price.”

She and her teammates also try to travel on foot whenever possible. “It’s a habit we’ve developed. If we want to do something, we walk. It’s good because you get to see the city at the same time.”

Destination: Milano Cortina 2026

The partnership between Thénault and WSP will help her to better understand the environmental impact that comes with attending freestyle skiing competitions and the financial cost of offsetting the emissions generated in the pursuit of her Olympic dream.

“I’m starting to understand a lot more about how I can make my career more environmentally friendly. My goal is to get to the 2026 Olympic Games while remaining carbon neutral.”

Over the course of the next four years, Thénault will share progress updates on her path to carbon neutrality on her social media. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.