‘Greenest Games Ever’: How the Paris Olympics aim to usher in a new era of global sporting events | 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

bBeneath the undulating wooden roof of the Paris Olympics’ new aquatic center, architect Laure Mériaud hoped the groundbreaking low-carbon building would bring a kind of calm to the highway intersection near the Stade de France stadium in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

“It’s not just about technical innovation,” she said. “It’s about creating a more pleasant, greener space for the daily lives of local people here after the games.”

Organizers of the Paris Olympics – which begin in July – have promised it will be the “greenest Games ever”, reducing the carbon footprint of London 2012 and Rio 2016 to an average of 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 halve to around 1.75 million tonnes.

Laure Mériaud, the architect of the new water sports center. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

The Paris committee says it is setting a precedent by primarily using existing stadiums rather than tackling the massive Olympic construction projects of the past, making bedside tables for athletes from recycled badminton shuttlecocks and providing logo-free dinner plates that will be reused after the Games can lead to cleaner global sporting events.

But environmental analysts warn that holding a global sporting event like the Olympics will need to be completely reconsidered if the world is to meet net zero targets in 2050. In the future, sporting events could be spread across different locations instead of the current model of millions of spectators flying into one city, they suggest.

“The most important decision we have made is not to build,” said Georgina Grenon, director of environmental excellence at Paris 2024. Unlike the major construction projects of the Games in Rio, London and Tokyo, 95% of the sites will be used at Paris These are existing venues or temporary buildings. The new construction projects include the water sports center and the athletes’ village in low-income areas department from Seine-Saint-Denis north of Paris. “The second most important decision was to build these low-carbon buildings,” Grenon said — from wood to low-carbon concrete to transporting construction waste on the Seine by barge instead of truck.

The wooden structure of the water sports center. Organizers have prioritized construction with low-carbon materials to keep the Games’ carbon footprint low. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Grenon said Paris had pushed “as hard as we can” to change the way future sporting and non-sporting events are run – primarily by connecting sports venues to the electricity grid instead of the huge diesel generators that stadiums typically rely on are. “For the London Games, four million liters of diesel were burned to generate electricity alone,” said Grenon. She hoped that other events – including Paris Fashion Week – would now forego diesel generators. “The idea is that if the Games – which are so big – can do things differently, then other sporting and cultural events can too.”

Unlike previous Olympics, where the carbon footprint was calculated at the end, Paris adds up emissions from policy decisions before each step.

In the Olympic Village, athletes’ homes will be converted into apartments, with at least a third earmarked for social housing in suburbs north of Paris such as Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis and L’Ile Saint Denis. It is designed to be a low-carbon neighborhood for decades to come as temperatures rise.

There is a dedicated mini water treatment center on site which collects and purifies wastewater which can then be used in the gardens. One experimental building, known as the “Cycle Building,” will use purified rainwater for its toilets, which are designed to separate urine and feces that can then be turned into fertilizer.

Residential accommodation in the Olympic Village where athletes will be accommodated during the Games. They will then be converted into residential buildings, with at least a third earmarked for public housing. Photo: Anadolu/Getty Images

“We simply see it as a step along the way, not the final model, on a new path to building for tomorrow,” said Antoine du Souich, director of strategy and innovation at Solideo, the authority that oversees venues and infrastructure for which delivers games. “But the fact that we did this on budget and on time – buildings that would have taken four years to design and six years to build – we did it in four years shows that it is possible.”

The key issue for this summer’s Games is the air conditioning of the Olympic Village. The village was built so that it does not require air conditioning. While there were air conditioning in every room at the Tokyo Games, there are none in Paris. There is high performance insulation and solar protection as well as reversible floor installations connected to a local geothermal power plant that draws cool water from the earth’s surface in summer and heat from deep in winter.

However, some sports delegations, such as the United States, concerned about recent record-breaking summers in Paris, may decide to rent portable ventilators or portable air conditioners just in case.

The Games’ carbon footprint is a political issue in Paris. The socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo has made it part of her mission statement and discouraged the French oil company Total from becoming a sponsor. However, questions still remain on some issues, such as the details of carbon offsets and the method of calculating the carbon footprint.

Workers are building the Eiffel Tower Stadium, which will host men’s beach volleyball and blind soccer. Photo: Guillaume Baptiste/AFP/Getty Images

The biggest challenge remains the size of a global sporting event with spectators traveling from all over the world. Even if some nearby teams like the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland travel by train, a significant portion of the carbon footprint is caused by fans flying in from far away places like the US or China.

César Dugast, senior manager at climate consultancy Carbone 4, said it was time to rethink the model of the global sporting event. “In general, the Paris organizers have made some commendable efforts to reduce the carbon footprint within the old, historical model of the Olympic Games. The real question, however, is whether this model is actually compatible with our planet’s boundaries and the Paris Climate Agreement. The elephant in the room is international air traffic – an event of this magnitude, with so many spectators flying to one location from all parts of the world, means enormous CO2 emissions during transport.”

He said: “It’s time to completely reinvent the Games, for example by splitting different sports across multiple cities around the world, meaning spectators are local and watching other sports on TV or in fan zones “There are many ways to reinvent the Olympics so that they can truly meet the challenge of the climate crisis.”

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