“As a global event with a huge visibility, the Games also carry the responsibility to take effective action to address it.”
The Tokyo Olympics, which officially kicked off on July 23rd and will continue until August 8th, have sought to do more than provide a platform for athletic competitions and encourage a spirit of global amity. This year, in addition to these longstanding Olympic goals, the organizers of the Tokyo Games have set out to turn the world’s preeminent sporting event into a showcase for sustainability and the “first-ever carbon negative Olympics.”
To that end, the Tokyo organizing committee have purchased 150% of the needed carbon credits so as to offset the Games’ greenhouse gas emissions, with the funds going towards local projects intended to reduce CO2 emissions by a greater amount than the 2020 Games themselves will emit. The Tokyo Olympics are also using sustainable materials in just about every facet of the event: athletes sleep on recyclable cardboard beds, podiums have been made from recycled plastic and medals have been made with metals obtained from recycled phones and other electric devices.
The Games are also sending a strong signal about energy usage, relying as they do on hydrogen produced sustainably through solar energy to power the Olympic flame, cars and buses shuttling between venues, and the Olympic Village itself as part of the first phase of Japan’s planned full-scale hydrogen-powered infrastructure. Seen as a green fuel of the future, hydrogen produces no CO2 emissions and can be generated via renewable sources. “Energy analysts believe hydrogen offers some of the best potential to reduce or eliminate emissions from airlines, shipping and industry,” Euronews notes.
The use of green energy, along with the long-term impact of the projects which will be funded by its carbon credits, will go a long way towards reducing the carbon footprint of the Tokyo Olympics, whose motto (“Be better, together, for the planet and the people”) refers back the event’s focus for a sustainable and ecofriendly Games. The Olympic planners have consciously carried out their preparations in line with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to create a more equitable planet along sustainable lines.
“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced, affecting sport alongside so many other human activities,” explained Marie Sallois, the International Olympic Committee’s director for corporate and sustainable development. “Sporting events must constantly adapt to the impacts of climate disruption, and the Olympic Games are no exception. As a global event with a huge visibility, the Games also carry the responsibility to take effective action to address it.”
A word of caution is in order, however. Some sustainability experts have stressed that despite manifest progress in greening the Olympics, the Games will still have a long way to go before they can truly be considered zero-impact events. “While the attempts of organizers are laudable, unfortunately more work needs to be done in order to ensure that the words and deeds are more in line [with sustainability goals],” Sven Daniel Wolfe, a lecturer in urban geography at the University of Lausanne, told The Independent.
Yet, undeniably, the focus the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have placed on sustainability sets a high standard for the organizers of upcoming events in Beijing (2022), Paris (2024), Los Angeles (2028), and Brisbane (2032). The need for carbon neutrality and sustainability even at large-scale sporting events is manifest as climate change begins to impact conditions at the Games themselves. The Olympics in Tokyo are already being dubbed the “hottest games” on record with temperatures exceeding 32 degrees Celsius for several straight days, placing strain on numerous athletes competing in the various outdoor events.
“Just going for a short morning run in Tokyo, in a facemask (as most other runners do), is energy sapping — for the athletes pushing their bodies to the absolute limits then it’s a dangerous game,” Sky News reported. “Every outdoor sport has had to adapt — the coaches and athletes have had to find the right balance between exertion and conserving energy.”
Looking beyond Tokyo, sustainability is already taking center stage in the planning of future Olympics. The organizers of the upcoming Paris Olympics in 2024 are pledging to host the “greenest games ever.” “For us it is quite simple,” said Tony Estanguet, a three-time Olympic canoeing gold medalist who is a key member of the organizing committee of the Paris Olympics. “Our vision is the most sustainable games ever.”