Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Sustainability Falling Short

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Sustainability Falling Short

Tokyo had big sustainability plans for the 2020 Olympic Games. Tokyo’s sustainability concept for the Games, “Be better, together – For the planet and the people,” was just the tagline of their lengthy sustainability efforts. The games, postponed from last year due to the pandemic, have been billed as the greenest ever. The event’s five sustainability pillars include producing zero-waste, restoring biodiversity and moving “towards zero-carbon.” According to the event organizers, Tokyo was supposed to be the first ever carbon neutral Olympics, running entirely on renewable energy.

However, a peer-reviewed study of the games conducted by the University of Lausanne has revealed that it is actually the third-least sustainable Olympics since 1992.

“The majority of the measures that have been included in this particular Olympics, and the ones that were particularly mediatized, have a more or less superficial effect,” said David Gogishvili, co-author of the study.

The games took many sustainability efforts, like athletes sleeping on recycled cardboard beds and receiving medals made from old smartphones on podiums 3D-printed from household plastic waste. Yet, they still fell short. Gogishvili says that a decrease in sustainability at the Olympic games is not a new problem. In fact, the Olympics have become less sustainable over time. He attributes this problem to the sheer number of people competing (and usually attending) the event.

“In 1964, when Tokyo last hosted the Summer Olympics, there were 5,500 athletes participating,” Gogishvili told Dezeen in an interview. “Today, there are around 12,000. More athletes mean more events, more participating countries and more media. They need more venues, accommodation and larger capacity, which means more construction and a more negative ecological footprint.”

Even though Tokyo 2021’s footprint has been lowered due to foreign visitors being barred due to the pandemic, the event will still result in a net addition of 2.4 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Gogishvili argues a focus on downsizing the event would have the biggest impact on the environment.