Olympic games are becoming increasingly environmentally sustainable, at least on paper. Once again this year’s Olympic games are touted as being the greenest games ever. In fairness, making such a massive event environmentally sustainable is a truly herculean undertaking.
Over the last twenty years there have been a number of efforts designed to make the games more green. In 1996, the Olympic Charter was amended to recognize the environment as the third pillar of Olympism. This was followed by clearly defined policies associated in the IOC’s Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21.
The Rio 2016 sustainability plan aspires to deliver on these lofty aspirations. The Sustainability Management Plan was released in August 2013 and it applies to both the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The plan is premised on the pillars of planet, people and prosperity. It seeks to integrate the principles, actions and projects related to sustainability when hosting major global events. It was developed with input from federal, state and municipal governments.
The plan includes a technical cooperation agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Denise Hamú, the UNEP’s representative in Brazil explained the plan this way:
“Our goal is to integrate sustainability in all organisational processes, reducing the impact of the Games and setting an example of good practice for society as a whole. Together, sports and environment are powerful tools for sustainable development. For this reason, the UNEP has worked in partnership with the Olympic Movement over the last two decades.”
In November 2015 the Organizing Committee released a document called Focus: Rio 2016 Sustainability
“The sustainability planning of the Games was built on three strategic pillars – people, planet and prosperity – whose
actions unfold along nine specific themes. In the PEOPLE pillar, initiatives focus on the themes of (1) engagement and awareness-raising, (2) universal accessibility and (3) diversity and inclusion. In the PLANET pillar, focus
lies on (4) transport and logistics, (5) sustainable building, (6) conservation and environmental recovery and (7) waste management. Finally, the PROSPERITY pillar, which guides the whole Rio 2016 operation regarding (8) the sustainable supply chain and (9) management and reporting.”
The Rio 2016 are supposed to green, but like the Sochi Winter Olympics these promises fall far short.
The Olympics are a truly remarkable opportunity to communicate and embed sustainability in our world. This point was made by Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman. He said that sports plan an important role in promoting a more sustainable world. The Olympic Organizing Committee said:
“we have taken up the commitment to use the force of sports and sustainability in order to leverage transformations in people as well as the city.”
After Volkswagen’s epic greenwash, another round of promises that prove to be false will do more harm to sustainability. Such events not only hurt sports they cast aspirations on sustainability as a whole.
If the deeds don’t live up to the words the Rio Games may end up being a lot like the Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi
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