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The 2024 Paris Olympics: Sustainability and innovation in action

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As the world eagerly anticipates the 2024 Olympics, Paris prepares to host an event that will not only celebrate athletic excellence but also spotlight France’s commitment to environmental progress. 

Over the years, the Olympics have become notorious among sustainability advocates and have faced criticism over issues like environmental degradation, excessive waste, and the creation of opulent “white elephant” venues that see little use post-Games. While the Olympic Games provide host nations with a platform to showcase their cultural identity, achievements, and global unity, the spotlight often pivots to the less favorable aspects of the host nation and the games themselves. And for the host cities, the costs of hosting large sporting events have begun to overshadow the benefits. 

The bobsled track from the Sarajevo Olympics is the very definition of a white elephant.

A University of Oxford study estimated an average overrun (costs that exceed the initially planned or budgeted costs) of 252% for each Summer Olympics since 1976. This has led to substantial debts for host cities, exemplified by Montreal’s 1976 Games, which saddled the city with a $1.5 billion debt.

The Rio Games had a substantial negative impact on the city, displacing an estimated 77,000 people due to infrastructure projects and city restructuring for the Games. After the Games, Rio experienced a significant surge in crime; street robberies increased by 48% and homicides by 18% compared to the previous year. ​

The Rio aquatics venue was closed in 2020 due to standing water inside and outside the facility, posing a high risk for mosquito breeding and the spread of dengue fever and Zika virus.

All host cities have grappled with the challenge of balancing the grandeur and scale of the Olympics. Notably, events like the London 2012, and Sochi 2020, made strides in incorporating environmental considerations, but the aftermath revealed shortcomings in long-term sustainability planning and execution. 

Paris 2024: Revolutionizing the Olympic Games

Paris 2024 is set to revolutionize the concept of sustainable large-scale sporting events: Their goal is to halve the carbon footprint of the Games compared to previous editions. The organizers are targeting every source of emissions, with initiatives like low-carbon structures, renewable energy, sustainable catering, and responsible procurement strategies. They have set a target to not exceed 1.5 million tonnes of CO2, which is half the average carbon footprint of previous Summer Games.

These Olympic Games are set to send a powerful message to the world: that sustainability is not just a goal for one nation but a shared responsibility for global unity and progress.

Central to the Paris 2024 narrative is a strong commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility, a theme increasingly vital in the context of global events. This commitment aligns with the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Agenda 2020, which emphasizes the importance of addressing climate and environmental considerations in sporting events. 

The Paris Olympics have pledged to minimize environmental impact and champion how large-scale events can harmoniously coexist with nature. This commitment includes significant measures to reduce the carbon footprint, optimize resource use, and promote sustainable practices among participants and spectators alike.

Paris 2024 will use existing structures, including the Palace of Versailles’ famous gardens for equestrian events.

How is Paris able to do it?

One of the key strategies of Paris 2024 is to use 95% existing or temporary venues. This approach minimizes environmental impact by reducing the need for new construction, thereby limiting the carbon footprint and showcasing France’s architectural heritage. 

Paris 2024 is also undertaking an ambitious offset program. They plan to offset more emissions than the Games generate by supporting environmental and social benefit projects on all five continents. These projects include carbon capture efforts to restore and protect forests and oceans, and the development of climate-friendly projects in France.

An innovative aspect of their approach includes a “Climate Coach” app to help employees reduce their personal and professional carbon footprints. Paris 2024 is also encouraging partners and suppliers to apply sustainability principles to 100% of Games purchases.

Through Paris 2024, France will set a precedent for future Olympics and other major events. The 2024 Games are poised to demonstrate that the Olympic spirit is not only about athletic excellence and cultural showcases but also about leading the charge in global environmental stewardship. The Games are set to be a celebration of sports, culture, and sustainability, exemplifying how a nation’s identity and global unity can harmoniously coexist with environmental responsibility.

In our next article, we’ll dive into the role solar energy is playing in the 2024 Paris Olympics’ sustainability goals and how solar may be integrated in the Olympic infrastructure for many Olympic games to come.

Featured image by Luca Dugaro.

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