Sustainability at the Olympic Games

The Olympics brings a huge opportunity for depolarization and discourse on some of the major issues we need to address globally. Sport in general brings people together from all different backgrounds, with different beliefs and political leanings. Event’s like this can be incredible ‘ice-breakers’ for non-politicized conversations about sustainability and human rights between people who may not find common ground otherwise.
The Tokyo Olympic Games 2020 is about to start, in the summer of 2021, and it has been no mean feat getting the games ready during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The organizers have worked tirelessly to get the games ready despite the many obstacles they have been faced with. Just weeks ago it was decided that spectators would not be allowed into the games, and even with just a few days to go there are rumors of COVID-19 infections starting to rise among athletes.
So much of the news coverage about the games so far has been about the pandemic that very little attention has been paid to some of the other aspects, like the huge focus that has been to make this the most sustainable Olympics to date.
The organizers of the event have placed a huge emphasis on sustainability, making it one of the pillars of the whole Olympic movement and branding the sustainability concept of the games “Be better, together – for the planet and the people.”
Putting those ideas into practice, the organizers have made a number of changes to embrace sustainability:

– Avoiding and reducing emissions through advanced energy-saving technologies

– Hydrogen will be heavily used, including as the fuel for the Olympic Torch

– Collecting carbon credits to ensure the games is carbon-negative

– Utilizing existing venues
A commitment to 100% renewable energy systems at venues

– Medals have been created using precious metals from used electronics

– Athletes beds have been made from cardboard

– Recyclable paper would have been used to serve spectators food 

These are just some of the steps that have been taken to make these games greener, more humane and also to lead the way for how future Olympic Games should be put on.
But as with any sustainability claims on such a massive scale, there are certainly a lot of questions that have been asked and a lot of sceptics wondering how many of the claims made by the organizers are accurate.
Anyone can read the sustainability code for the Games. Some organizations have investigated the claims made in the code and found some worrying deviations such as the use of tropical plywood, sourced from Indonesia, which is harder to track and independently verify as being bought legally. There have also been complaints that there are too many loopholes in the procurement policies for fishery, timber, paper and palm oil, with claims of local industries lobbying for more relaxed regulations. Also, greenhouse gas emissions will still be produced despite the work done to offset them.
So while some are claiming the organizers could and should be doing more, and may even be ‘greenwashing’ their sustainability standards, others are more upbeat and feel that the organizers should get credit for the steps they have successfully taken and for making sure to highlight sustainability as essential to the process. Afterall, any step in the right direction is a good step for the planet and focusing on sustainability at such a major event helps to depoliticize conversations about climate change and the need to do things differently.
Hopefully more and more sporting events, nationally and globally, will strive to improve their own sustainability practices and use their platforms to talk about, and normalize sustainability.

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