Few events pose greater sustainability challenges for a city than hosting a modern Olympic Games. The 2012 Summer Games in London required the construction of dozens of new facilities and brought nearly a million visitors—athletes, officials, members of the media, and spectators—to town. Such a large endeavor places enormous strains on a city’s water, sanitation, energy and transportation systems, and creates significant potential for severe environmental repercussions.
In 1996, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally amended the Olympic Charter to add “the environment” as a third pillar of the international Olympic movement, alongside “sport” and “culture.” Since then, organizers of each successive Games have placed increasing emphasis sustainability, both to reduce the considerable environmental impact of the Games themselves, and to leverage their high visibility as a showcase for cutting-edge ideas about sustainable living.
The emphasis on sustainability hit a new high with the London Games. When the city originally made its bid to host the Olympics, planners proclaimed that London would host the greenest Olympics ever. To achieve that goal, organizers planned to incorporate unprecedented measures in energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, use of recycled material and low-carbon transportation.
In the end, they didn’t meet all of their goals, but they did dramatically reduce the overall impact, compared with a business-as-usual scenario.
Now, Rio de Janeiro is in the throes of preparing for the 2016 Summer Games, and looking to build on London’s green legacy. As with London before them, the organizers in Rio are openly aspiring to host the “greenest Games yet,” and to that end they recently published a sustainability blueprint. For Rio, the Olympics present an opportunity to significantly accelerate development of essential infrastructure, and reduce environmental impact in a city that sorely needs both. A sustainable Olympics could leave a lasting positive legacy in many areas, including transportation, waste management and protection of open space and biodiversity.
And although the Rio Games are still three years away, the IOC is already thinking beyond them. On September 7 of this year, the 2020 Summer Olympics were awarded to Tokyo, Japan. As with their predecessors, Tokyo organizers are seeking to advance the cause of sustainability. In their case, this effort will grow out of the city’s broader “Tokyo Vision 2020,” the city’s long-term plan to transform itself into a showcase of urban sustainability.
Some critics maintain the Olympics are an intrinsically unsustainable endeavor. Whereas the concept of sustainability is grounded in conservation and efficient use of natural resources, the Olympics are all about big construction projects and big crowds. Despite this contradiction, however, efforts to make the Olympics more sustainable are valuable.
In our rapidly urbanizing world, cities around the globe are growing larger every day, often in unsustainable ways that threaten the welfare of us all. But by capturing the world’s attention and showing what is possible in sustainability—just as in athletics—the Olympics can inspire people to reach higher, to expect more. Ultimately, that seems like a perfect role for the Games.
Contributed by Wyatt C. King, Director, Albright Stonebridge Group
Posted: 11/15/2013 10:56:23 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments