Olympic buzz and excitement are building. Team are finalizing selections – some favorites are left out as new favorites emerge – and athletes from around the world will soon be packing their skis, boards, skates, brooms, and sticks for PyeongChang.
But when you think about the Olympics, take a moment to consider the logistics required to mount an international event on a massive scale in a new location every other year. PyeongChang will be followed by the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, and planning for each event starts years in advance: the selection process takes two years and the cities selected have a minimum of seven years to prepare.
In the lead up to each event the International Olympic Committee (IOC) works with the event organizers the host countries to ensure the Games are managed to IOC standards. But did you realize that “standards” in relation to the infrastructure associated with mounting the Games is about more than venues, athlete housing, broadcasting, transportation, and security?
While it’s true those are all critical to success, there’s another requirement you may not have considered: sustainability.
“From the design and construction of sports facilities and the way we manage resources, to valuing the natural environment and health and well-being of our people, all of our decisions will be informed by…sustainability principles.”
– Thomas Bach, IOC President
With this goal in mind, the Olympics have become progressively “greener” over recent years. When you consider the 1984 Games in Los Angeles produced 6.5 million pounds of trash, the change in focus over the years has been significant. For example, Sydney won its bid for the 2000 Games in part because of “The Environmental Guidelines for a Summer Olympic Games” included in the bid…a document committing to a range of environmental goals including efficient and sustainable waste management.
London Sets the Pace
Fast forward to 2012. The London Games were the first to measure the entire event carbon footprint and the first to achieve zero-waste to landfill. This Olympic sustainability landmark saved the equivalent of 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide and diverted 100% of Games operations waste from landfill, with “62% of that waste being reused, recycled or composted. Additionally, 99% of the waste from installing and decommissioning the Games venues was reused or recycled.”
The London Games was also the genesis of ISO 20121, a standard aimed at reducing carbon emissions and waste at all events, not just the Olympics, as well as reducing costs and carbon emissions, managing biodiversity, and achieving a diverse workforce.
The move towards setting an international standard started with David Stubbs, Head of Sustainability at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Mr. Stubbs realized a sustainable approach to event management had value beyond the Games, and worked with the British Standards Institution (BSI) to create a specification for a sustainable event management system. The resulting standard – BS 8901 – proved popular, and was eventually developed into the global ISO 20121:2012 standard.
PyeongChang and Beyond
The PyeongChang Organizing Committee (POCPG) has, for the first time in Winter Olympics history, earned ISO 20121 certification, yet another indication of the continuing “greening” of the Games.
“The international community has set forth sustainable development as a new paradigm for humanity to face unseen challenges due to climate change and resource depletion, and the Olympic and Paralympic Games is expected to take a leading role in realizing sustainability.”
– Lee Heebeom, POCOG President
Even the medals themselves are going green. Metals awarded during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro were produced using 30% recycled materials, and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games has set aggressive goals for the use of recycled materials:
Previous Olympic Games have used recycled metal to manufacture medals, but Tokyo 2020 will be the first to mine material from discarded electronic devices. Organizers claim that all gold medals will be made 100% from recycled materials.
Tokyo Olympic Medals Made from Recycled Cellphones
Sustainability has become one of the three pillars of Olympic 2020 Agenda, along with credibility and youth. Each Olympics Games, going forward, will focus on implementing the IOC’s documented Sustainability Strategy to ensure the impact of the Games on infrastructure, sourcing, resource management, mobility, workforce, climate, and the overall environment is positive.
The PyeongChang Olympics starts February 8th. As you watch the pageantry and marvel at the performances, take a moment to think about how much effort goes into hosting the Olympics and the continued work by the IOC and the host countries to ensure the Games are environmentally responsible. The move to make each Games greener is, in its own way, every bit as much a competition as the Games themselves, requiring teamwork, years of training, focus, and dedication.