How Paris is aiming to be the most sustainable Olympics yet by Will Glover

Ambitious Sustainability Goals

In 2015, the eyes of the world were on Paris as the city hosted the annual UN climate talks that led to one of the most significant international climate agreements to date, the Paris Agreement. Now the eyes of the world are back on the city but this time it is for the hosting of the most popular sporting event in the world, The Olympics.

While the question of who is going to win a gold medal is on most sports fans’ minds, the big question in the sustainability world is how are the organisers looking to ensure a positive impact on the environment and social factors of the biggest sporting event of the year.

The organisers have set very ambitious goals to be the ‘world’s most sustainable Olympic Games’ and the key metric used for this is their pledge to ‘cut the carbon footprint of the Games’ in half from average emissions of previous Games (and that includes Scope 3 emissions!). The previous average for Olympic Games is around 3.5 million tonnes of CO2  which means Paris is aiming to   This would make Paris the first Olympic Games to be aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Sustainable Approach: Anticipate, Avoid, Reduce, Offset, Mobilise

Paris’ overall sustainability strategy towards is centred around an ARO approach which stands for ‘approach – avoid, reduce, then offset’. They have also added two extra stages; anticipate and mobilise.

Anticipate

For ‘Anticipate’, the organisers focused on this from the very beginning of their bid by looking to forecast their carbon emissions. They used a new tool to gauge their estimated carbon footprint and used this to help guide their choices from the bidding phase and throughout the cycle of preparing for the Games. This also allowed them to set a carbon budget for the whole Games and use this in their planning.

Avoid

For ‘Avoid’, the organisers have focused on using 95% existing or temporary infrastructure and any facilities built for the Games have been done so with long term use in mind. For example; The Aquatics Centre has been built to serve the local community after the Games and has numerous sustainable features to it such as solar panels and seats made from recycled local plastic waste.

Reduce

For ‘Reduce’, the big focus was around renewable energy sources. They have committed to using 100% renewable energy during the Games and minimising the use of diesel generators. They have also pushed for a drastic reduction in various equipment such as furniture at venues and for the sports and tech equipment committed to renting more than half of the required equipment for both.

Offset

For ‘Offset’, the organisers have committed to offset any emissions that cannot be avoided through ‘projects designed to bring environmental and social benefits on all five continents’. Generally the view around carbon offsetting from sustainability experts is to only use it as a last resort (This article gives a good overview of why offsetting isn’t typically an effective approach to reducing carbon footprints). If choosing carbon offsetting, it is best practice to use a ‘Gold Standard’ project as they provide a credible, robust and high-quality means to offset emissions. The Paris organisers have not specified the type of offsetting projects they have chosen which would’ve provided some more clarity around this part of their strategy.

Mobilise

Finally, for ‘Mobilise’, they have focused on using sport as a ‘driver of the environmental transition’ by rallying everyone involved in the Games together to be more environmentally and socially responsible. One way they have looked to do this is through their own ‘Climate Coach’ app which helps people understand the COemissions from their own events and suggests steps that could be taken to reduce them.

Criticism and Concerns

One area of the planning that the organisers have faced criticism for was the decision to move the surfing, 9,500 miles away from Paris, to Tahiti. The issue around this from a sustainability perspective was the organiser’s decision to build a large metal platform for judges. Locals rallied against this due to fears it would damage the local wildlife and others criticised the decision to have the surfing so far from Paris, increasing flight distances and therefore carbon emissions.

In response, the organisers agreed to scale back the size of the tower and minimise the need for new construction. They also agreed to have 98% of the Olympic housing with locals or on a nearby cruise ship. There are still some environmental concerns from locals but it looks like the surfing will be going ahead there.

 

That is a very general overview of Paris 2024’s sustainability strategy and there plenty more initiatives they have implemented around reducing waste, food, transport and various social and sustainable procurement issues. It is encouraging to see the organisers taking sustainability issues seriously and setting some ambitious but realistic targets. Hopefully it is something that all sporting event organisers can look implement and continue improving on.

Interested in a discovery call to align your sustainability commitments? Get in touch with Will today.

For more information

Will Glover
Consultant Researcher
will@actionsustainability.com

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