FutureStructure

Paris Promises to Host the Greenest Olympics Ever

As a finalist in the running to host the 2024 Olympic Games, Paris has said it will deliver a highly sustainable event, with many of the venues taking place in the heart of the city.

by / February 24, 2017
International Olympic Committee
The Paris 2024 Olympic committee says it is ready to deliver the most sustainable games ever.
 
Paris is in the running with Los Angeles and Budapest for the summer Olympics, with a decision expected by the International Olympic Committee in September.
 
“Paris 2024 intends to deliver the first Games ever aligned with the objectives set by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” according to the city’s formal bid documents. Paris “will provide an ambitious solution to climate change and biodiversity protection while ensuring carbon neutrality of the Games.”
 
The issue of sustainability at the Olympic Games has been building. Some observers question the impact of hundreds of thousands of visitors on the urban landscape, while others worry about disruptions to the natural habitat as a result of stadium construction.
 
At the Rio de Janeiro games, an Occupy Golf movement demonstrated against the construction of a golf course at the Marapendi nature reserve. At the same time, organizers put in place extensive carbon offsets. They served locally sourced and sustainable foods and the 5,130 medals handed out were made from gold mined under positive working conditions.
 
The IOC meanwhile declares it is “committed to building a sustainable future,” noting that efforts to green the Olympics has sparked advances in the field, including “innovations in design and construction; improvements in energy, water and waste management; more efficient transport infrastructure; and ethical supply chains.”
 
Paris organizers say they are looking to raise the bar even higher, should they be awarded the Games.
 
The London Games produced the equivalent of 3.4 kilotonnes of CO2, a measure of greenhouse gas impact, and Rio generated 3.6 kt. Paris says it will generate just 1.56 kt, thanks largely to its existing world-class public transportation system.
 
To leverage that infrastructure, planners are looking to put most of the sporting activities in the heart of downtown, significantly reducing the need for transit of any sort. Visitors will be able to walk from beach volleyball at the Eiffel Tower to cycling on the Champs Elysees to fencing at the Grand Palais. 
 
“Every person in Paris already has a Metro station within 400 meters, and from the center of Paris 73 percent of spectators will be less than 30 minutes by bike from the venue,” said Jerome Lachaze, head of sustainability for Paris 2024.
 
If everyone will walk, bike or take the Metro, Paris 2024 could be a carbon-neutral event. For the small amount of carbon that does get produced, organizers have set aside 1 percent of the budget for compensatory carbon offsets.
 
“We will find projects that benefit local populations and also abroad. This is the first time this is in an Olympic budget,” Lachaze said. The French public-sector investment arm Caisse des Depots et Consignations will coordinate that effort.
 
In terms of infrastructure, all new buildings will obtain a double-certification for environmental quality (BREEAM and HQE) and will be labeled as low-carbon buildings. Ninety-five percent of construction waste is slated to be reused or recycled.
 
The massive procurement processes around the Games will unfold under the soon to be published ISO 20400 international guidelines for sustainable purchasing. ISO 20400 “concretely differentiates programmes that truly stand up for environmental protection, human rights and the fight against corruption, from programmes that are simply greenwashing,” organizers note.
 
In terms of energy consumption, all power supplied to venues will derive from renewable sources and the Olympic Village will have a zero waste policy. Official vehicles including cars and buses will be green certified with zero emissions. Tests are underway on a pair of driverless electric buses, which would run along the banks of the Seine River.
 
On the environmental side, planners aim to remediate and restore 13 hectacres of green space and to make parts of the Seine swimmable. Water needed for plantings will come from recovered non-potable water.
 
To help bring these ambitions to fruition, planners say they will build an open source sustainability lab, inviting researchers in to develop new solutions around energy, water, waste management and other matters. “We could use the lab to find solutions that we could install during the Games, solutions that could be repeatable,” Lachaze said. “We can use the power of the Games to try to create new solutions.”
 
The sustainability push around Paris 2024 already has drawn broad participation.
 
In partnership with WWF France, organizers have engaged some 1,500 people in the planning efforts, including representatives of the Olympic and Paralympic movement, non-governmental associations, trade unions and the local business community.
 
In September 2016, more than 800 students from diverse academic disciplines took part in a Nudge Challenge, a contest promoting innovative and eco-friendly practices for the Games.
 
Planners also expect to reach out to visitors in advance of the Games, to ensure that all those who come to watch are on board with the green agenda. They’ll use athlete spokespersons and digital messaging, including gamification. Visitors might, for example, earn points for their nation by riding public transportation or ordering a vegetarian meal.
 
“If you just wait for people to do it, there is some chance they won’t act. So we want to engage with them, giving them videos and content and challenges before they come,” Lachaze said. “If we can do that it will also have an impact after the games, because when they go home they will bring that message of changed behaviors and maybe try to change their habits.”
 
This idea of looking beyond the games is integral to the Paris 2024 efforts. Organizers view the Olympics as a global stage, one that could be used to promote the message of sustainability at a high level.
 
“The Games give you a powerful tool to broadcast this message. In the opening ceremonies in Rio they spent two minutes talking about climate change with over 300 million people watching,” Lachaze said. “You can leverage that in a powerful way to engage the public worldwide.”
Adam Stone Contributing Writer

A seasoned journalist with 20+ years' experience, Adam Stone covers education, technology, government and the military, along with diverse other topics. His work has appeared in dozens of general and niche publications nationwide.