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Will Paris be the most sustainable Olympic Games ever?

February 02 2023

Paris will host the Olympics for the third time in 2024, an event that will see iconic landmarks across Paris transformed into sporting arenas as 206 nations compete for gold. As well as planning for a spectacular event, this edition of the Games has also set ambitious sustainability targets. But will it be the most sustainable Olympics ever, and will it leave a lasting impact for future generations?

Will Paris be the most sustainable Olympic Games ever?

Building on an historic Olympic legacy

The next edition of the Olympic Games will take place in July and August of 2024. Over nineteen days of competition 10,500 athletes will take part in 329 events across 28 sports. Landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Hôtel de Ville, and the Grand Palais will be transformed into arenas, while overseas territories will help stage the games for the first time in history.

As with all large-scale international sporting events, Paris 2024 will pose a huge social and environmental challenge. With athletes, officials and spectators flying from all corners of the globe, the Games will create an enormous environmental footprint. The last edition of the  Summer Olympics, held in Tokyo in 2021, is reported to have created a carbon footprint of between 1.96 and 2.42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Despite these challenges, however, the Paris 2024 organising committee have huge sustainable ambitions, and are aiming to organise the world’s first climate-positive Olympic and Paralympic Games. They have also placed a strong emphasis on leaving a positive legacy, with Emmanuel Macron vowing to make France a ‘sporting nation’ through the lasting impact of the event.

But just how does Paris 2024 intend to fulfil this ambition?

Using the seven “Sustainable Pillars of Sport”, Global Sustainable Sport has examined Paris 2024’s aims and objectives.

The Official Legacy and Sustainability Plan

In 2021, Paris 2024 published an 130-page Official Legacy and Sustainability Plan, which lays out the central ambitions and main pillars of the event’s sustainability goals, and a Sustainability and Legacy Report, which provides key figures and performance indicators for their achievements to date.

The Legacy and Sustainability Plan was developed over the course of two years in collaboration with stakeholders including the French state and local authorities, the French National Olympic and Sports Committee, trade unions, and local communities. It states two central ambitions: to deliver a Games that can be held up as an inspiring example, socially and environmentally; and to leave an enduring social and environmental legacy using sport.

To meet these central ambitions, the report lays out six central pillars:

  • Eco-responsible games that harness sustainable solutions
  • Boosting regional growth and appeal
  • Opening opportunities for everyone
  • Using sport to improve health, education and civic engagement
  • Using sport to improve inclusion, equality and solidarity
  • Using sport to drive the environmental transformation

The Legacy and Sustainability Plan is a thorough, well-developed document that takes into consideration both the social and environmental elements of sustainability. Exploring the aims and methods of the Paris 2024 Games through the lens of the seven sustainable pillars of sport demonstrates how their sustainability and legacy plans are, on the whole, wide-ranging, in-depth, and innovative.

Partnerships are at the core of the Games

Paris 2024 has developed a wide range of partnerships, working in collaboration with stakeholders across the sporting industry, national and local government, and the public and private sectors. The aim of these partnerships is to ensure public accountability and effective environmental and social policies.

Most importantly, Paris 2024 have aligned with the Paris Agreement 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, committed to the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 and the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, and are signatories to the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate Action Framework and the Race to Zero. Beyond this, the Games are also working with a wide range of partners, including the Paris City Council, the IOC, IPC, French National Olympic and Sports Committee and French Paralympic and Sports Committee, the French Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sport, trade unions, and employer organisations. Paris 2024 was also a signatory to a Charter of 15 eco-responsible commitments drafted by the French Ministry of Sport and WWF, and have partnered with EDF as official energy suppliers. It is a positive start to see collaboration across industries, as well as a public commitment to the major UN environmental goals.

Sport to improve health and physical activity

Encouraging people to get active is a central objective of the Games’ Sustainability Plan. The Plan lays out objectives that include encouraging people, especially children and teenagers, to take part in physical activity; encouraging sport as a vector for academic achievement; and using sport to drive citizenship and engagement.

Plans include renovating around 20 local sports facilities, including three new swimming pools, in the Seine-Saint-Denis area; providing physical training for workers at Games construction sites; emphasizing cycling skills and promoting cycling to work; promoting access to sports for young girls; and training doctors and sports clubs in exercise prescriptions. In collaboration with the French Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Paris 2024 have also trialled a daily thirty-minute period of exercise in schools, in addition to physical education lessons.

Meanwhile, Paris 2024 has also created the Generation 2024 label, designed to ‘build bridges between school and sport to encourage young people to take up sport and stay active’. To achieve the label, schools must take part in events, work with elite athletes, and develop structural projects. The goal is to certify 20% of schools by 2024. In addition, Paris 2024 has also created the Olympic and Paralympic Week, which is designed to promote participation in sport among young people.

There are clearly a wide range of initiatives designed to improve participation in sport, particularly for young people, and with a welcome emphasis on people with disabilities.

 

Sport to improve education, civil engagement and quality of life

Improving the quality of life for residents of Paris and France, and making the Games as inclusive and accessible as possible, is also central to the Legacy and Sustainability plan. The plan emphasises its commitment to ‘boosting regional growth and appeal’, and particularly to enhancing the local area in the 18th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements of Paris and the Seine-Saint-Denis area.

To meet these goals, Paris 2024 have signed a Social Charter with trade unions and employer organisations, which sets out sixteen commitments to promote decent working conditions and encourage integration of vulnerable groups, including people in long-term unemployment and people with disabilities. They have also signed a charter to promote local employment and community development, which allocates 10% of hours to be worked on Games projects to the long-term unemployed, people in work-study programmes, and residents in disadvantaged areas.

One major example of improving quality of life is in the plans for the Athletes’ Village, which will leave a ‘major urban legacy’. After the event, the Village will leave behind a sustainable neighbourhood for local residents, including housing, shops, public facilities, and green spaces, and will include between 25% and 40% social housing. It will also be energy efficient, carbon neutral, and will protect biodiversity.

Paris 2024 will also build on a ‘strong volunteering culture’ in France and promote civic engagement through various programmes. Together with the French National Civic Service Agency and the French National Olympic and Sports Committee, Paris 2024 will offer 10,000 young people civic service assignments through their ‘Generation 2024’ programme. It will also implement a new programme, ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’, to give young people access to positions of responsibility within sports organisations alongside training and mentoring.

Meanwhile, Paris 2024 has also committed to funding 150 development, renovation, and accessibility projects. The Impact 2024 International initiative, in partnership with AFD, has awarded a total of €320,821 to ten projects in seven African countries for work focusing on gender equality, education, health, and inclusion of people with disabilities. At the same time, the Paris 2024-AFD incubator will help elite athletes in France and Africa successfully transition at the end of their careers.

The Legacy plan also places an emphasis on gender equality, accessibility, and raising awareness of disability. All venues will be accessible by public transport, while audio description and improved positioning for wheelchair users at event sites will improve accessibility. Paris 2024 has also announced a charitable ticketing initiative, which will improve access for families, young people, senior citizens, and people with disabilities to access the Games. Meanwhile, in 2024 ‘there will be total gender equality among the 10,500 Olympic athletes that qualify – for the first time in the Games’ history’. Paris 2024 itself scored 91 out of 100 points in the French Ministry of Labour’s gender quality index in 2022.

Plans for improving quality of life for local people are extensive, but it will be important to continue to monitor ongoing initiatives, as well as post-Games legacies, to truly evaluate the impact on local communities.

Eco-Responsible Games that harness sustainable solutions

The environment was central to the original bid for Paris 2024, and the ambitious environmental aims of the event are significant: Paris 2024 aims to halve emissions from previous Games and offset more carbon than the event will generate. The claim is that Paris 2024 ‘will become the first major sporting event to positively impact the climate’.

To reach these goals, the Games will use 95% existing or temporary venues. The only new build projects will be the Olympic and Paralympic Village and the Aquatics Centre, both of which will provide eco-friendly areas and new resources for residents.

Meanwhile, a voluntary compensation plan will go ‘over and above’ carbon neutrality across scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, which will account for international spectator travel. Offsetting projects chosen will be international and adhere to international certification requirements. The organisers of Paris 2024 have also used a new model for offsetting: rather than reporting and offsetting after the event, they will set a ‘target carbon footprint’, and offset above and beyond this level of emissions.

Other initiatives will include a sustainability management plan; an emphasis on circular economy; sustainable food sourcing; clean mobility solutions; biodiversity protection; and water management. For example, Paris 2024 has published its own Food Vision, which lays out plans for a sustainable catering service. Meanwhile, the Paris 2024 headquarters in Seine-Saint-Denis includes zero food waste, zero single-use plastics, eco-responsible furniture, low-carbon meals, active mobility options for employees, and 100% green energy. Paris 2024 is also encouraging innovation in this area, and has allocated €13m to implement environmental excellence projects.

The environmental goals are central to the Games’ sustainability plan, and the ambitions are . If emissions can be halved and offset as planned, Paris 2024 is set to leave a historic legacy and provide a model for future events. Transparency will be key along the way, particularly when it comes to reporting on emissions and identifying appropriate offsetting projects.

Transparent reporting and governance

With eighteen months remaining until the start of Paris 2024, a framework for reporting on sustainability activities is already in motion, with the publication of both the Legacy and Sustainability Plan and the Sustainability and Legacy Report.

The Legacy and Sustainability Plan provides some detail on budgets for legacy and environment initiatives, though not in granular detail, while details of the Board of Directors is available on their website, as well as details on committees. Paris 2024 is also working with the IOC and OECD to develop tools for assessment and impact measurement.

There have been some high-profile changes to the organising committee in recent months, and continuing transparency at the highest level of governance will be key. Continuing to report on governance procedures, detailed annual accounts, and sustainability achievements will be critical before, during, and after the event.

Global promotion of sustainability, a key ambition

Large-scale events with international reach provide a key opportunity for promoting sustainability to stakeholders, fans, athletes, and onlookers. Paris 2024 has made impressive efforts in this area: there is a detailed ‘Commitments’ section on the official website which details the environmental, social, and economic commitments of the event.

Beyond this, committees including a Legacy and Sustainability Steering Committee, Environment and Climate Council, Social Charter Monitoring Committee, Equality and Diversity Committee, Paralympic Games Legacy Committee, and an Energy Council involve collaboration with experts, civil society organisations, and associations, enhancing the centrality of sustainability to the Games’ message. In broader society, participation initiatives have also promoted sustainability: during the dedicated Olympic and Paralympic Week, over 500,000 pupils have been taught about the Games and their values.

With such a large platform, Paris 2024 can vastly improve awareness of sustainability across the globe. Work so far has centralised sustainability in the Games’ messaging, but there is certainly room for even more engagement as the event draws closer.

Responsible purchasing and sustainable employment

Providing a sustainable financial model, clean energy programmes, sustainable employment programmes, and promoting responsible consumption is another key way that Paris 2024 can truly centralise sustainability in its event. Once more, Paris 2024 has made strong public statements towards achieving this goal.

Paris 2024 has instituted a formal ‘responsible purchasing approach’, which emphasises circular economy, carbon neutrality, social innovation initiatives, and the inclusion of groups & workers with disabilities. It has also placed a strong emphasis on making Games contracts more widely accessible to very small, small, and medium sized businesses, and has developed the Entreprises 2024 platform to make it easier for smaller businesses to tender for contracts.

The Games are estimated to provide 150,000 jobs, and Paris 2024 have publicly set out their aims for driving employment sustainably on their dedicated ‘Driving Employment Through the Games’ page. An ‘Emplois 2024’ virtual job centre, aiming to improve access to Games jobs, was launched in 2021 in association with the French public employment service Pôle emploi. Meanwhile the Games also emphasises local employment and skills improvement, especially for the long-term unemployed.

While sustainable purchasing, consumption and employment is consistently promoted in the Legacy and Sustainability Plan, there are no initiatives for encouraging sustainable tourism. This is one area where there is a clear need for development.

There has also been ongoing public debate surrounding the cost and impact of the Games on Paris and on France. Estimates have put the total public cost of the games at around €3 billion, while the cost for additional transport in the Paris area is estimated to reach around €200 million. An increased budget of €4.38 billion was set in December 2022, which was met with protests in Paris. Continued transparency and a commitment to a sustainable financial model and responsible consumption will be critical as costs mount in the lead up to the event.

Addressing Russian participation and a potential boycott 

The ongoing war in Ukraine is a final critical issue that Paris 2024 will need to address. The International Olympic Committee have stated that they are ‘exploring a pathway’ towards allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Games. As a result, a growing number of nations have publicly announced that they would join Ukraine in a boycott of the Games should Russia be allowed to compete, after Volodymyr Zelensky condemned any plans that would allow Russian athletes to take part. The National Olympic Committee of Ukraine will hold an Extraordinary General Assembly on February 3rd on the issue, whilst Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania will meet this week to discuss an appeal, with Latvia supporting Ukraine in talks of a possible boycott.

Paris 2024 and the International Olympic Committee will need to act decisively and pay attention to the overwhelming direction of international opinion on Russian participation as calls for a boycott grow stronger.

Conclusion: Will Paris 2024 be the most sustainable Games ever?

The sustainability commitments of Paris 2024 reveal a detailed and ambitious strategy that aims to go above and beyond the environmental and social achievements of recent Summer Olympic Games in London, Rio, and Tokyo.

Public partnerships, collaborations, programmes, and consultations have already set the tone for the most sustainable Games ever. But will these promises and plans deliver a meaningful and long-term legacy for Paris, France, and Olympic sport?

The sheer number of planned programmes, schemes, and partnerships creates an unusual problem in that it may become difficult to quantify and keep track of the overall impact of these projects. Recording good data and publicly reporting on outcomes in an organised and transparent way will be important so that both positive and negative outcomes are expressed accurately.

There is clearly still a lot of work to do in certain areas, but by centring sustainability in their original bid, publishing a detailed sustainability strategy, and publicly committing to partnerships and initiatives, Paris 2024 has already set the tone for a Games that is set to be ‘both spectacular and sustainable’. As we move closer to the opening ceremony next summer, continued transparency, clear reporting, and continuing to raise the profile of a sustainable games will be the key to ensuring a lasting legacy for Paris 2024.

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    Read moreBethany White