The Environmental Impact Of The Olympics

When tens of millions of people are all crowding into the same area and hundreds of buildings are being lit up, televised and reported from, just how damaging to the environment are the Olympic Games?

Since their creation, the Olympics Games have brought a number of sports into the limelight and they've encouraged people to put aside political, cultural, economic and religious barriers. But when tens of millions of people are all crowding into the same area and hundreds of buildings are being lit up, televised and reported from, just how damaging to the environment are the Olympic Games?

There are already concerns about the hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a country already plagued with desertification problems and many fears for the athletes safety as a result of poor water conditions were raised prior to the recent beginning of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. With these worries being raised already it's evident that the environmental cost of becoming a host country is a topic of concern for many but it seems to take quite a bit of digging to truly unearth how much of a toll the environment takes during the Games...


When the Olympics first began, few people worried or even gave a thought to the environmental consequences of hosting such a large event but in the 1990s the host countries began to incorporate a number of environmental goals into the preparation of and running of the games. There are no doubts about the fact that hosting such an enormous event will have its negative aspects but when it comes to the benefits it all becomes a bit shady - so are there any?

Yes, to some degree, there are benefits and as time has gone on, the number of environmental schemes ran alongside the Olympics have only increased which can only be a good thing!

In the 2000 Sydney Games environmental factors became a major talking point as spectators were offered free travel on trains and buses when heading to and from the games. The environment also became an important factor in the building of the Olympic arenas; in the athlete's village the equivalent of an entire power station of solar panels were installed and the single largest roof-based solar energy system was mounted on the roof of the basketball venue.

In the London 2012 games it was clear that the focus on environmental preservation had not been lost, with figures showcasing a number of positive initiatives that had been tackled by the host country. Reports from the games showed that they had inspired a 29% increase in cyclists within central London compared to the previous year and during the games themselves 86% of the spectators travelled to the events via train. Across the duration of the Olympics 62% of the waste generated was reused, recycled or composted.

And while there are very few data sources that allow these positive environmental initiatives to be compared against the negative offsets, there can be no doubt about the fact that their implementation is a positive step forwards.

Flickr | Ian Burt

So, what has Rio done to match these noteworthy initiatives of the past?

In the face of an economic recession, a Zika virus epidemic, high levels of crime and unprecedented water pollution, Rio has fought a strong battle to convince the world that it was worthy of hosting the games in the first place AND capable of producing achievable plans to tackle the negative impact on the environment. And considering the hefty set of problems that were weighing heavily against Rio's success, the city hasn't done too badly in the proposal of its environmental initiatives. City and Game officials pledged to carbon offset for all of the athletes and staff travelling to the country by plane, commissioned for the prize medals to be made from recycled goods, organised that no meat would be sourced from deforested areas and promised to clean up the water bodies close to the Games.


Unfortunately though, with an event this large scale, no matter how many positive initiatives are implemented prior, during and after, the running of something of this size will always take its toll on the environment in one way or another. So, while there can be no doubt about the fact that Rio, and many other cities in the past, have tried to manage the impact felt by our environment, there are still negatives to being a host city.

• It has been calculated that 28,500 athletes and staff will be carried by planes to Brazil and while the carbon offset scheme will go some way in tackling this huge amount of traffic, it has failed to acknowledge the hefty number of spectators that will be travelling via the same mode of transport.

• Equally, it is believed that through the duration of the games 3,600,000 tonnes of CO2 will be emitted into the natural environment, a figure that is somewhat difficult to comprehend.

• It has also been estimated that 17,000 tonnes of waste will be produced, 6000 tonnes of food will be consumed, 23,500 litres of fuel will be needed and 29,500 gigawatts of electricity will be used throughout the duration of the games.


The worrying answer is that there is no solid figure or statement that can be given to explain or define exactly what the environmental costs of hosting the Olympics is. The reality is that the organisations that typically promote the Olympics generate a majority of the analytical data about the Games themselves and so there is no way to know just how much information is left out, tampered with or actually included in the reports. In short, Games that are environmentally friendly are likely to be more expensive but with a growing number of people beginning to understand the impact we have on the environment is important, Games which are environmentally damaging are fast being deemed as unacceptable. With a number of host cities beginning to implement environmentally friendly schemes; from carbon offset projects, to investing in more sustainable water supplies, organising transportation for spectators and sourcing sustainable materials for the buildings themselves it seems the Games may already be changing for the better. Perhaps in the future the competitive nature of the Olympics will come hand-in-hand with a positive embrace of sustainable schemes.

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By Shannon Clark - Online Journalism Intern

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