Tokyo Olympics: Sustainability on the World Stage

From excluded countries to bent knees and raised fists, the Olympics and Paralympics is truly on the world stage and has always been a platform for politics - regardless of the talent of the athletes. 

The 2021 Olympics and Paralympics discussed a lot in the last eighteen months. The Covid-19 pandemic saw the great event postponed from 2020, and many countries were in great debate as to whether to attend. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee felt the glares of every pair of eyes around the world on their country and made an environmental choice. 

Sustainable Games

A global event is already a high carbon consumer purely in the travelling required in preparation and by the athletes coming from across the world to participate. We know the negative impact of air travel upon the environment, and the construction of new sites alone can have a considerable carbon footprint. 

And so, they made a choice. To offset the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games' carbon emissions and create a sustainable games at every possible opportunity.

So how did they do it?

Making a Sustainable Olympics and Paralympics

 Carbon Offset Programme

The Tokyo Organising Committee estimated that the 2021 Olympics and Paralympics would generate 2.93 million tonnes of carbon during its construction and throughout the event. (1.58m from construction, 530k tons from event operations and 820k tons from participants and spectators). The pandemic saw a dramatic drop in spectator numbers, especially from international nations, so that the final number may be much lower. 

One of the most inclusive ways they intend to offset the emissions created is through the Carbon Offset Programme. 

The Programme allows businesses across Japan to adopt actions that will reduce their CO2 emissions, creating 'Carbon Credits' that will offset the final count of the games, also bringing forward a way to create a sustainable society.

Runners Competing Athletes

Is there a Gold Medal for Recycling?

 No. But if there was, Japan would do well! 

Two of the major icons of the Olympic and Paralympic games are being made from recycled materials. The medals themselves are made of recycled electronics, and the podiums for the athletes will be made from recycled plastic. 

Getting Around

With multiple sites across the country being used to host the various Olympic and Paralympic events from Equestrian Dressage (which has been going down a storm on social media) to Athletics, moving around the athletes, coaches, and media teams can be a colossal carbon pull. 

The Tokyo Organising Committee has brought in five hundred hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to move all parties around the site to bring in motion from a renewable energy source.

Using Sustainable Energy for Getting Around - Electric Cars

The Beds!

We've loved getting behind the scenes of the athlete's village through social media this year. We've seen some of the restrictive controls to minimise the risk of the athletes contracting Covid-19 and the quirks of the facilities. 

One of the quirks that went viral was the beds. 

One of the main issues that face every Olympic and Paralympic host is that the athlete's village is seen as wasteful. The Tokyo Organisers faced this challenge by making the beds out of cardboard. By creating elements within the village that are recyclable, it's a great step forwards. The beds were even made with potential extension modules for taller athletes (we're sure the basketball players and pole vaulters were grateful for this one!).

Of course, recyclable is excellent, but reusable is better. While we love the initiative shown here, we would have rather seen beds being donated to those who could use them after the Games. The WWF called for improvements in the way the Committee procured wood products, marine products and palm oil for the Games. A reminder that we should constantly be pushing for the greater good of our planet.

A recyclable cardboard bed and a mattress are pictured in a residential unit for athletes during a media tour at the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the Tokyo 2020 Games, in Tokyo, Japan June 20, 2021.

Image Credit: Akio Kon/Pool via REUTERS

Using What You Have

One of the largest per cent of carbon emissions from the games is in the construction of new competing sites. For the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, they used existing venues as much as possible; among the forty-three sites being used as venues for the Olympic and Paralympic games, twenty-five were already in existence and only ten are temporary venues.

While it would be great to only use existing venues to come closer towards zero-carbon games, this is certainly a step forward.

Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics - National Stadium

Moving Forward

We love seeing the efforts of global organisations, particularly in the events field, that are making sustainability visible, showing it's possible to make changes for the environment's good. We hope for the next Olympics and Paralympics; we see monumental shifts in the way the organisation of the Games.

While the small changes that we make as individuals all positively impact the environment, we need to be demanding big companies and organisations to start making more sustainable choices. 

Where to Start

Does your work still use paper coffee cups? Get them to invest in mugs.  Maybe get branded water bottles for all employees!

Work in a hospitality environment that still uses disposables? Lobby them to invest in biodegradable or recyclable options.

Making little changes in our environment can mark big changes to the planet. 

Branded Water Bottles Ecofriendly

Simple Swaps 

You know, at Curlicue, we are all about simple swaps - those easy, economic changes that we can all make for more eco-friendly products that we use daily, like changing to shampoo bars or switching to loo roll made of recycled paper. You can find some of our fave simple swaps here

Beautiful Gift Wrap. Saving the Earth

We created Curlicue to be a simple swap for those of you wanting beautiful gift wrap that won't harm the planet. Made entirely from recycled material and fully recyclable after your gift is given, our wrapping paper is the ideal simple swap for a greener gift. 

You can shop our beautiful, eco-friendly and vegan wrapping paper here

Curlicue - Ecofriendly Gift Wrap