Sustainability of the Olympics Games

Olivia Liautaud
December 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Satellite Photo of Rio de Janeiro, the host city for the Summer Olympics 2016. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Since the switch from amateurism to professionalism in the second half of the 20th century, the Olympic Games have become an increasingly celebrated, attended and modernized event, drawing athletes and fans from every corner of the world together for the greatness of sport. However at the same time, with viewers at home or at the venues go up, opening and closing ceremonies become more grand and Olympic "villages" turn more elaborate, the Games cause a concerning level of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission. In recent years, with growing fears of climate change, members of the International Olympic Committee and others, particularly the host country organizers, have turned their heads to this issue to look for innovate ways to reduce both the consumption of nonrenewable energy sources and the emission of toxic gases.

Due to the increasing concern of climate change, the Rio Olympic organizers put together and drafted multiple detailed plans on how Brazil could reduce carbon emissions and also monitor the carbon footprint of the massive event. As evident from the satellite photo of the capital in Fig. 1, the city and particularly, its immediate surroundings, is very green, and so the Games themselves are just a small part of what they looked at for optimal emission reduction strategies. Most of the greenhouse gases emission and extreme energy consumption occurs during the preparation for the games (construction of stadiums, transportation systems, etc.), and some carbon emissions do continue for a certain period of time post-Games.

Fig. 2: Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Rio de Janeiro's greener Olympics Games are just an example (and the most recent) of a much larger executive effort the International Olympic Committee has created and committed to in order to improve the sustainability of all Olympic Games, both summer and winter. Their plans cover five core elements of sustainability that relate to the organization's work - Infrastructure and Natural Sites, Sourcing and Resource Management, Mobility, Workforce and lastly, Climate. These five critical areas are presented in the International Olympic Committee's Executive Summary approved by the IOC's Executive Board in 2016. The brief summary discusses the organization's strategy to protect and to improve sustainability of the games, scrutinizing plans of indoor and outdoor competition sites and offices, rethinking transportation, managing resourcing and more. [1]

Looking back more closely to 2016, solar power energy was incorporated into Rio Olympic organizers' efforts to be "green". Due to Brazil's geographical location, the country receives a ton of sunlight throughout the year, and therefore, solar panels would receive large amounts of light and convert it into energy for the Games. The roof of the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, shown in Fig. 2, was installed with solar panels all around its roof cover. This stadium hosted the 2016 Olympic Games' opening and closing ceremonies and soccer matches, and the energy from the solar panels powered the ceremonies. Lastly, the country receives massive amounts of rainfall as well and borders a the Atlantic Ocean all the way down its side. As such, Brazil is perfectly set up for using hydropower to produce electricity, which they do very well - another source of renewable, non-destructive energy source. By turning more towards electrical power as energy sources for the constructional and operational activities of the Games directly lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, Brazil has been an exceptional role model to the rest of the world in its motivation and commitment to prioritizing the expansion of cleaner energy.

© Olivia Liautaud. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "IOC Sustainability Strategy, International Olympic Committee, December 2016.