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Tokyo 2020: Everything you need to know about sustainability at ‘first-ever carbon negative Olympics’

Sustainable development a major priority for Olympics organisers

Kate Ng
Friday 23 July 2021 13:33 BST
Tom Daley gives tour of Tokyo 2020 Olympic village
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The Olympic Games begin on Friday after being delayed for a year due to the pandemic, and all eyes are on Tokyo, where the games are being hosted.

As one of the largest sporting events in the world, sustainable development has become a major priority for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in recent years.

This year’s games are focused on sustainability, with the organisers pledging to “deliver sustainable Games and showcase solution models of global sustainability challenges to people in Japan and around the world”.

Weeks before the event, organisers purchased 150 per cent of carbon credits required to offset the games’ greenhouse gas emissions, which they say will make it “the first-ever carbon negative Olympics”.

Yuki Arata, senior director of sustainability at the Tokyo Organising Committee, said: “From the outset, Tokyo 2020 has been dedicated to leveraging the opportunities provided by hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games to help build a more sustainable society.”

Here are all the other ways the Tokyo Olympics are meeting their goals on sustainability:


Host cities are usually notorious for building brand new venues in anticipation of the games, but Tokyo has chosen to use 25 existing venues that were built when the city last hosted the event in 1964.

Many of the existing venues have been retrofitted with advanced building technologies to reduce energy consumption. Only eight new venues were built from scratch, while a further 10 are temporary structures designed to minimise construction costs and energy use. In total, there are 43 Olympic and Paralympic venues.

Recycled materials

The 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals have been cast from metals salvaged from nearly 79,000 tonnes of smartphones and other electronics donated by the Japanese public.

The Olympic torch was also produced from aluminium waste from temporary housing built in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The torchbearers carrying the flame at the torch relay wore T-shirts and trousers made from recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles.

Even the podiums made for medallists to stand on have been created out of recycled plastic waste.

According to the organisers, 99 per cent of all goods procured for the games will be reused or recycled, including the timber used to build the athlete’s Olympic Village Plaza, which will be returned to communities to be reused.

The 18,000 athletes taking part in the games will sleep on beds made from recycled cardboard, which can support up to 200kg. The mattresses can be later recycled into plastic products.

Organisers have also made the decision to hire much of the equipment instead of buying it, with the goal of returning them to be reused after the games end. Some 65,000 computers, tablets and electrical appliances, as well as 19,000 office desks, chairs and other fixtures have been rented.

Renewable energy

Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics promise that much of the energy that will be used to power the games comes from renewable sources, including solar arrays and wood biomass power. The latter uses construction waste and tree clippings to produce electricity.

The Ariake Urban Sports Park, which will host the BMX freestyle, BMX racing and skateboarding events, is totally powered by renewal solar energy produced in Fukushima.

The games has also employed a carbon offsetting programme to cover all direct and indirect emissions, including transport and construction. Under Japan’s carbon cap-and-trade programme, carbon credits will offset around 720,000 tonnes of CO2 expected to be emitted in the city over the four days of the Games.

The Olympic and Paralympic cauldrons will be lit using clean hydrogen fuel, which will also be used to power electricity and hot water in dormitories, cafeterias and training facilities in the Olympic Village.

Once the games are over, the Village will be turned into hydrogen-powered flats, a school, shops and other facilities.

Toyota, an official partner of the Olympics, has provided a fleet of 500 hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) cars and 100 FCEV buses to transport athletes and crews around and between venues.

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