With the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics rescheduled for July of this year, we can expect the most sustainable Olympics yet. While sustainability is a relatively new aspect of the Olympic legacy, it has become a strong factor in the host cities’ bidding process. Here is a walk through the history of the Olympics going green.
Why did the Olympics decide to start a Sustainability Initiative?
The Winter Albertville Games of 1992 was the green awakening for the International Olympic Commission (IOC). In preparation for the games, the infrastructure plans didn’t account for the deforestation and ecological devastation that resulted from new buildings. The public backlash from these games brought sustainability to the forefront as an aspect that needs to be considered when planning for future games.
What did the IOC do to fulfill their promise of sustainability?
By 1994, the first environmental policy was put in place by the IOC that required candidate cities to provide an evaluation of the “environmental consequences of their Olympic Games plans”. While this policy was a great start, this initiative had little power to impact the city selection with it only being a single policy highlighting this effort with no set goal.
This policy was followed by the creation of the World Conference on Sports and Environment. This biannual international conference serves as IOC’s advocacy initiative that brings the Olympic family, varying governments, the UN system, and academic institutions together to discuss and promote their sustainability efforts.
The IOC committed to Sustainability as a main goal in 1996 with the initiation of the Sports and Environment Commission. This amended the Olympic Charter to have more environmental responsibility by adding a third olympic pillar of “Environment”. This strengthened the impact of sustainability as a main aspect of the candidate cities’ bidding proposal.
How did these initiatives impact the Games?
The 1998 Nagano, Japan Games were the first games following the addition of the green initiatives. These games would be watched with wariness over the previous games’ downfall still fresh on the public’s mind. While Nagano was allotted little time to shift to greener games, the effort was still apparent.
The biggest effort highlighted in these games was the sustainable infrastructure. The public transport system received an upgrade with the addition of a bullet train that can complete a 200km travel system in a little over an hour.
The efforts of the 1998 Games will be recognized and built on for the upcoming Japan Games.
How have the Games improved their green initiatives over time?
It is evident that the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was able to dedicate more time and effort into fulfilling the IOC’s Sustainability initiatives. They provided a strong multifaceted approach to sustainability with an emphasis on energy and water conservation.
The Games allowed for Sydney to house Australia’s first large-scale urban water recycling system. This system improved the collection, reprocessing, and harvesting of water that would have otherwise been released into the ocean as a form of point pollution.
While this project is impressive, their biggest success is the innovations of the Athletes’ Village and the Games’ power.
The Athletes’ Village was a strong part of their green efforts. The energy required for the Village is a 50% reduction of energy that a traditional dwelling would require. The energy that couldn’t be reduced upon was supplied through renewable solar energy. It was recognized for its achievement as the largest solar power suburb with an astounding 665 houses on the solar grid system.
The Games achieved their lofty goal of utilizing only renewable energy through the duration of the games. The Olympic Park had the equivalent of all of South Wales’ grid-connected solar photovoltaics installed in preparation for the game’s energy needs and post game functions.
The 2002 Utah Games were focused on remediation and restoration of natural resources.
Through the duration of the Games, 85% of the waste produced was recycled or composted. This successful rate of reducing waste in landfills from the Olympic venues was achieved through the integration of a two-bin system along with educating the masses on proper disposal. Educating the public not only benefited the games’ sustainability, but was capable of being carried over to daily life for fans in attendance.
The Utah Games were heavily focused on pollution control. Through large partnerships, the removal of 240,000 tons of pollutants from various locations in North America was achieved. The UN Environment Programme’s Climate Neutral Network certified the Games as a climate neutral event. Then, following the concussion of the game, the Venue Tree Programme planted more than 15,000 native plants.
The initiatives seemed to plateau with repetition of motions made by prior games until the 2010 Vancouver, Canada Olympics took large strides in clean fuel and energy.
In efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuel, Vancouver’s public transportation was expanded to increase use by 50%. The Games dedicated $89 million into hydrogen fueled transportation and infrastructure to transport those in attendance of the Games. In addition to reducing emissions, they organized an Early Carbon Offset Program to eliminate what they were unable to reduce.
Vancouver’s Olympic Village received acclimation as one of the greenest cities. A Waste Heat Recovery System provides a whopping 70% of the Olympic Village’s heat supply. The 20 building city consists of around 1,100 residential units, parks, and stores with environmental issues at the forefront of the design. All buildings received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED) Gold certification with the exception of the Community Center and the Net-Zero Energy Senior Housing. These two infrastructures received the highest rating of Platinum. LEED is internationally recognized for their work in sustainable building and is the leading certification system available.
The Games following Vancouver’s success was the London Games. The 2012 London Games excelled in their post game work. The venues constructed for the Games were built with the intent of lessening materials as well as recycling them. 90% of the material was deemed to be recycled with the deconstruction.
Looking forward to the Tokyo Games
Our next exceptionally green game will be the Tokyo Games that will be resuming this Summer. The 2020 Games will be returning to Japan for their second turn of exhibiting Environmental focus since the addition of the Sustainability pillar.
We have several promises to look forward to. The duration of the games is anticipated to be 100% renewable sourced power. The Games are being organized as a zero waste event which is a large feat for such large attendance. The goal of material acquired for the Games will be 99% recycled or reused.
Tokyo has already achieved several of their goals. The first being the integration of hydrogen power through fuel cell cars. There are 500 fuel cell passenger cars for traveling during the Games. The emissions have already been reduced by 280,000 tonnes and will continue to be reduced during the games as well as remediated to achieve carbon neutrality. They will be sending a part of the sustainability home with each athlete seeing as the 5,000 metals were created from recycled electronics donated by the citizens of Japan.
The sustainability of the Games is fairly recent but has been well developed in these recent Games. We have the upcoming Tokyo Games to look forward to as the greenest Games yet. So while the athletes go for gold, Tokyo will be going for Green.