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Data Stories...Paris Olympics

Paris Olympics

Ecology News
Event
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This data story aims to examine how the Paris 2024 Olympics are addressing the environmental and sustainability challenges.
Ecology News
2024-07-23T00:00:00.000Z
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Important: The information provided in this article, including calculations and estimations, is based on our research and data analysis, and only aims to contribute to discussions around the carbon footprint of international events like the Paris Olympics. These estimations are derived from the best available data and should be viewed as contributory insights rather than definitive facts.

Environmental Ambitions

What are the Paris Olympics sustainability goals? 

Sustainability was a cornerstone of Paris' bid to host the 2024 Olympics, and the city has committed to making these the most environmentally friendly games ever. From the outset, the organizing committee, Paris 2024, laid out a comprehensive sustainability plan featuring ambitious targets and groundbreaking initiatives to reduce emissions and enhance sustainability. 

The primary goal set by Paris 2024 is to cut the event's emissions by half. For emissions that cannot be eliminated, they devised a voluntary offsetting strategy, which includes carbon capture and avoidance projects. Additionally, the organization committee has pledged to offset more emissions than the event produces, including those from spectator travel, by supporting additional projects across France. 

One of the most impactful initiatives contributing to these targets is the prioritization of existing and temporary venues. Rather than constructing large new facilities - often associated with major sporting events like the Olympics - Paris 2024 will utilize 95% of pre-existing or temporary structures. 

To further reinforce efficiency and innovation, the organizers have implemented additional measures such as:

  • Utilizing 100% renewable energy throughout the games
  • Embracing the principles of a circular economy
  • Sourcing sustainable food options
  • Implementing responsible digital technologies
  • Providing clean mobility solutions for the Olympic fleet
  • Offering public transport and environmentally friendly transportation options for spectators
  • Ensuring biodiversity protection and effective water management
  • Adopting a solution-driven approach, harnessing the expertise of SMEs and startups to foster innovation
  • Collaborating closely with state, local, and regional authorities, partners, athletes, and NGOs to share and promote these ambitions

Another headline-grabbing environmental goal is the ambitious (and somewhat controversial) €1.4 billion project to clean up the Seine River, aiming to improve water quality to levels safe for swimming. This initiative not only serves the Olympic events but also aims to create a lasting legacy, enabling Parisians to swim in the river long after the Games have concluded.


👉 These ambitious initiatives demonstrate Paris2024’s commitment to not just hosting the games, but setting a new standard for sustainability in large-scale international events. However, the question remains: have the Olympic organizing committee's efforts been successful in achieving these sustainability goals?

Examining the Paris Olympics targets

Paris 2024 has set the ambitious target of reducing the carbon footprint of the Olympic Games by more than half compared to previous Olympics, such as London 2012 and Rio 2016.

For context, the London Olympics, including the Paralympic Games, produced around 3.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. The Rio Games generated slightly more, with about 3.6 million tons of emissions. 

The organizers of Paris 2024 initially set an ambitious target of reducing emissions to 1.58 million tons of CO2e, more than halving the emissions recorded in previous games. This figure was subsequently revised, with the emissions allowance rising to 1.75 million tons of CO2e - still significantly lower than previous games and even lower than that of the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, which occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic without spectators.

Historically, the carbon footprint of the Olympics was calculated post-event, Paris 2024 on the other hand, has adopted a proactive strategy by calculating the emissions impact of policy decisions before their implementation. This approach is designed to allow for adjustments and optimizations in the planning stages to ensure the sustainability targets are met.

In 2018, Paris 2024 released its Carbon Footprint Methodology for the Olympic Games, offering some insight into its approach to measuring emissions. However, the organizing committee has faced some criticism for lack of transparency about how the games are progressing against these targets and the extent of resources already consumed.

This criticism has been addressed with the recent release of the comprehensive Sustainability and Legacy Report, which includes a detailed carbon assessment for the period from 2018 to 2023, revealing that the total carbon emissions amount to 476,000 tons of CO2e. This initial assessment indicates that the estimated carbon footprint for the entire event is on track to meet the target of 1.58 million tons of CO2e, even lower than the revised target of 1.75 million tons of CO2e.

With this data now available, this article examines how the Paris 2024 Olympics are addressing the environmental and sustainability challenges associated with hosting large-scale international events. We will delve into the core initiatives adopted by the organizing committee, including venue construction, energy consumption, circular economy principles, transportation logistics, and the cleanup of the Seine. Each element will be scrutinized to assess its effectiveness and to gauge whether these efforts align with the stated goals. Additionally, we will attempt to estimate the emissions associated with other factors, such as transportation for international spectators and emissions linked to their accommodation. This exploration seeks to provide a clearer picture of the environmental impact of the Paris 2024 Olympics and its potential legacy.

Olympic venues 

Previous Olympic host cities have often faced criticism for building ‘white elephants’ - expensive and environmentally costly infrastructures that remain underused post-event. In particular, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and the Rio 2016 Games, as well as the 2022 Qatar World Cup, were criticized for such constructions. For example, during the Qatar World Cup, six permanent venues were built, each with a capacity ranging from 40,000 to 80,000 spectators. However, given that the average Qatari championship attracts only about 4,000 spectators, these venues are likely to be underutilized in the future.

In contrast, London presented a more sustainable model by utilizing a mix of new, existing, and temporary venues. Post-event transformations made these spaces functional for alternative uses. The purpose-built athletes’ village, for example, was converted into housing after the games, complete with bars, restaurants, and commercial units. Other venues have been repurposed for events and concerts.

Paris aims to set an even higher standard by repurposing existing venues for nearly all Olympic events - 95% to be precise. The Stade de France will host athletics events, the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome will see cycling competitions, fencing will take place at the Grand Palais, basketball at Bercy, and the Champ de Mars Arena will be the venue for judo and wheelchair rugby. Additionally, 85% of all athletes and 95% of Paralympic competitors will be housed within 30 minutes of their venues, minimizing transport emissions.
Only two non-competition venues - the Athletes’ Village and the Media Village - and one competition venue - the Aquatic Centre - were built for the needs of the Games. These are rented by Paris 2024 for the Games and will be left as a legacy to local communities after the event is over.

Even with the few new construction projects required for the games, Paris officials are committed to minimizing their environmental impact, setting a target of just 700 kg of CO2e emissions per square meter of construction - a notable reduction compared to the usual average of 1 tonne per square meter. 

SOLIDEO and its role

SOLIDEO (Société de Livraison des Ouvrages Olympiques) is the public body responsible for the development and construction of the permanent structures needed for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Paris 2024 is responsible for the temporary infrastructure related to the Games. 

New infrastructures built by SOLIDEO use low-carbon construction technologies, such as wooden frames, low-carbon concrete, and recycled materials. These technologies have reduced GHG emissions per square meter associated with construction at the Athletes’ Village and the Aquatic Centre by 30% compared to a conventional project.

SOLIDEO’s strategy also focuses on minimizing carbon emissions by recycling construction waste and incorporating renewable energy. Their efforts extend to improving urban comfort by reducing the urban heat island effect, developing reversible infrastructures, and enhancing indoor air quality. Additionally, SOLIDEO has pledged to contribute positively to biodiversity by creating new ecosystems, and climate-adaptive vegetation, enhancing green infrastructure, and addressing water cycle challenges.

The Athletes’ Village

The Athletes’ Village, located on the banks of the Seine in Saint-Denis, Saint-Ouen, and l’Île-Saint-Denis, provides accommodation for athletes and delegations. The Village’s carbon footprint has been reduced by 30% per square meter for the construction phases compared to conventional projects, and by 47% when including the operation of the buildings over 50 years.

Eco-construction techniques and design

The Athletes’ Village showcases several innovative eco-construction techniques:

  • Use of low-carbon materials: Extensive use of wood (a low-carbon bio-sourced material), with 16,000m³ of wood used in the buildings. 100% of residential buildings under 28 meters incorporate wood in their structure, and nearly half of these buildings have an all-wood structure.
  • Low-carbon concrete: Support for the development of ultra-low-carbon concrete, emitting 150 kg CO₂/m³ compared to 250 kg CO₂/m³ for conventional concrete.
  • Circular economy practices: 94% of materials recovered from deconstruction were reused. For example, 31,600 tonnes of concrete were reconditioned for reuse in road and ground construction, and 900 tonnes of materials such as sanitary ware or windows were resold as second-hand.
  • Waterway transport: 500,000 tonnes of rubble from deconstruction were evacuated via waterways, and 141 prefabricated wood modules were delivered, equivalent to 140 avoided truck journeys and over 3,000 tonnes of carbon emissions

These strategies not only significantly reduced the carbon footprint but also enhanced sustainability, making the Village a model for future urban development.

The Olympic Aquatics Centre

The Olympic Aquatics Centre is the only permanent sports facility built specifically for the Paris 2024 Games. Beyond the Games, it is designed to benefit the Seine-Saint-Denis area, which lacks sports facilities.

The design and construction of the Olympic Aquatics Centre are based on innovative eco-construction solutions, making it a pioneering project in terms of environmental and social transformation.
Eco-construction techniques and design

  • Bio-sourced materials: Emphasis on bio-sourced materials, like the 2,300 cubic meters wooden frame and structure.
  • Innovative wooden frame: A first-of-its-kind wooden frame with a 90m span, featuring a concave shape that minimizes heating requirements by 30% compared to a flat roof.
  • Carbon efficiency: The center boasts a highly efficient carbon footprint, emitting less than 30,000 tons of CO2 equivalent.
  • Solar power: Nearly 5,000 m² of photovoltaic panels cover the roofs, making it one of the largest solar farms on a public building in the Paris region, and providing around 20% of the complex’s electricity needs.
  • Environmental impact reduction: Incorporates outdoor air filtration, and water recovery systems that reclaim 50% of used water, and sources 90% of its energy from renewable or recovered sources.
  • Recycled materials: The grandstand seats are made from recycled plastic bottles and caps.
  • Ecological continuities: The development includes full-ground areas and 102 planted trees, creating wildlife refuge areas within the development zone.

Arena La Chapelle

Arena La Chapelle is designed to host a variety of sporting events, including basketball and other indoor sports. It aims to enhance Paris' capacity for major sporting and cultural events while providing a community hub for local residents.

Eco-construction techniques and design

The construction of Arena La Chapelle incorporates several innovative eco-construction techniques:

  • Low-carbon concrete: Utilises 65% low-carbon concrete to significantly reduce the building’s carbon footprint.
  • Bio-sourced materials: Features bio-sourced materials, including 100% wood frames for one of the gyms, wood-concrete composite floors, and recycled cotton insulation for the main hall.
  • Construction waste recovery: Over 95% of construction waste has been recovered, with more than 900 tons of waste recycled since summer 2020.
  • Green roofing and terraces: Includes 6,900 m² of green roofing and 1,700 m² of planted terraces, with 80% of horizontal surfaces covered by nature.
  • Recycled plastic seats: The grandstand seats are made from 70 tons of recycled plastic waste.
  • Renewable energy mix: Powered by 100% renewable and recovered energies, thanks to an urban cooling production plant utilizing local geothermal energy.

Temporary structures

Paris 2024 is responsible for the temporary infrastructure, which includes 17 venues, such as the Grand Palais Ephémère and modular structures. All materials used for temporary equipment and infrastructures will be reused, repurposed, or recycled after the Games. Key highlights include:

  • 100% of materials used for temporary equipment and infrastructures will be reused, repurposed, or recycled.
  • 80 to 100% of waste from the decommissioning of the Athletes' Village will be avoided or recovered.

Existing structures

Paris will utilize 25 existing competition venues, such as Bercy, Yves du Manoir, and football stadiums, some of which have undergone renovation work. These venues ensure minimal new construction and efficient use of resources

A lasting legacy

Sustainability efforts don’t end even when the games do. After the event, materials, and fittings unique to the Olympics will be repurposed or recycled in accordance with Paris 2024's Sustainability Guidelines. For example, post-Games, the Athletes Village will transform into a multifunctional community space with more than 2,800 new homes, 25% of which will be designated as social housing. Public facilities will include daycare centers, schools, sports facilities, and a police station, along with 6 hectares of green spaces. This will ensure that the legacy of the Olympics includes long-term community benefits and continues to contribute positively to the local environment and society.

Reduced energy consumption

Paris 2024 has launched a comprehensive energy initiative aimed at minimizing emissions by integrating all Olympic venues into the public electricity grid and eliminating the need for diesel generators. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to ensure that the Games are powered entirely by renewable energy.

Traditionally, the vast majority of events, especially those in temporary facilities, rely heavily on diesel generators. These generators emit CO₂ and fine particles, causing significant air pollution and noise disturbances. Even events connected to the electrical grid often use generators as backup solutions to manage peak consumption or potential power outages. During the London 2012 Olympics for example, 4 million liters of diesel were consumed, resulting in 11,000 tCO₂e emissions!

In collaboration with grid operator Enedis and energy supplier EDF, Paris 2024 announced key energy targets for the 2024 Games. Namely, all venues, both competition and non-competition, will be connected to the energy grid, and all electricity supplied will be powered entirely by renewable energy sources. The new grid connections established for the games will also remain as a lasting infrastructure legacy. Additionally, Paris 2024 has implemented steps to optimize energy consumption through low-consumption equipment, LED lighting, and efficient venue design. 

Initiatives to achieve energy targets

Development of venue connections

Paris 2024 has ensured that all venues are connected to the grid with Enedis, carrying out 8,000 operations to reinforce and adapt these connections. This effort is expected to reduce CO₂ emissions related to energy supply by 80% compared to the use of generators, avoiding approximately 12 tons of CO₂ equivalent.

Optimization of electricity consumption

The design of the Olympic venues incorporates energy efficiency from the outset. Spaces are tailored to meet user needs with low-consumption equipment and LED lighting. Additionally, users are informed and made aware of energy-saving practices, with real-time consumption monitoring to make necessary adjustments.

Ensuring grid reliability and security

To ensure a stable and reliable electricity supply, comprehensive reliability analyses of the grid and high-voltage installations have been conducted. Enedis has also temporarily enhanced grid capacity to handle the increased demand during the Games, ensuring uninterrupted power supply without relying on diesel generators.

Minimizing fossil fuel use

Paris 2024 is committed to minimizing the use of fossil fuels. All venues are connected to the public electricity network, reducing the need for polluting generators. In remote areas, mobile battery packs and biofuel solutions will be used as alternatives. As a last resort, Paris 2024 plans to use innovative backup solutions utilizing biofuels, batteries, or hydrogen.

Sourcing 100% renewable energy

EDF certifies that all electricity used during the Games is sourced from renewable energy, with Guarantees of Origin from eight wind and solar production sites across France. An innovative tool, Trackelec, links venue consumption with renewable energy production using blockchain technology, ensuring real-time matching of energy use with renewable generation.

Permanent grid access points

A major innovation by Enedis, supported by local authorities, is the establishment of permanent grid access points for temporary events. These points provide quick and powerful connections, significantly reducing the need for diesel generators. Installed at strategic locations like Place de la Concorde and Champ-de-Mars, these retractable access points will remain as a legacy, enhancing the environmental performance of future events.

Athletes' Village

At the Athletes’ Village, a hot-cold network supplied 65% by geothermal energy significantly reduces the need for air conditioning. Additionally, 15% of the village's future electricity consumption will be covered by photovoltaic energy from rooftop solar panels. EDF has also installed a 470m2 floating solar power plant on the Seine and a large (1,250m2) photovoltaic canopy at the bus station, both providing renewable electricity during the Games and designed for easy repurposing.

Olympic Aquatics Centre

The Aquatics Centre features nearly 5,000 m² of photovoltaic panels on its roof, making it one of the largest solar farms on a public building in the Paris region. These panels provide around 20% of the complex’s electricity needs. The design also includes a concave wooden frame that reduces the interior volume needing heating and ventilation by 30%.

Arena La Chapelle

Arena La Chapelle benefits from a mix of 100% renewable and recovered energies, thanks to a local geothermal urban cooling production plant.

Circular economy 

Human activities often follow a linear model of resource use (extraction, utilization, and disposal), leading to unsustainable levels of resource consumption. It’s estimated that we consume 100 billion tonnes of natural resources annually. The Olympic Games, being short-lived but highly resource-intensive, exemplify this issue. With anticipated expenditures of approximately €2.5 billion on goods and services, the Paris 2024 Games will require 42,000 chairs, 10,000 office tables, 6,000 shelves, and 800 workstations, highlighting the substantial carbon footprint involved.

The Paris 2024 organizers are committed to combating this unsustainable consumption, prompting the adoption of a responsible purchasing strategy and the implementation of circular economic practices throughout the event. Their main commitments include:

  • Ensuring 100% of furniture is repurposed
  • Integrating second-life criteria into 100% of tenders
  • Reducing single-use plastic in catering by 50%
  • Ensuring 100% of the temporary infrastructure is earmarked for a second life
  • Reusing, repurposing, or recycling 90% of look and signage items

In order to achieve these targets Paris 2024 has developed a material footprint estimation method, mapping the necessary objects and materials for each venue and event. This methodology will serve as a benchmark for future organizing committees.

The Paris 2024 circular economy strategy is based on three principles: do with less, do better, and leave a legacy.

Do with less

Paris 2024 emphasizes efficiency and simplicity through:

  • Compact and frugal designs
  • Pooling spaces and resources across events
  • Using low-consumption equipment
  • Renting and reusing materials over purchasing new ones

Do better

Prioritizing eco-design, Paris 2024 has also integrated circular economy principles into the procurement processes:

  • Assessing and verifying furniture and equipment needs, reducing requirements from 800,000 to 620,000 items
  • Including second-life obligations in tenders
  • Ensuring ergonomic and universal accessibility of spaces and furniture

Leave a legacy

Paris 2024 focuses on the second life of assets:

  • Ensuring suppliers propose second-life plans for equipment
  • Prioritizing resale, donation, and recycling of materials
  • Collaborating with social and solidarity economy companies for sustainable furniture solutions


Circular economy achievements

Paris 2024 has implemented numerous innovative initiatives to align with its circular economy strategy. The Athletes' Village for example features iconic eco-designed furniture, such as coffee tables made from recycled badminton shuttlecocks, bean bags from parachute fabric, chairs from recycled bottle caps, and sofas from reused materials like Vauban barriers and mattresses.

Lyreco, Official Supporter of Paris 2024, supplies furniture and various items while promoting reuse through a second-hand platform launched for items used in the Games. This platform has been open for pre-orders since March 2024.

Fnac Darty, another official supporter, has focused on the second life of 250,000 household appliances by prioritizing resale, organizing donations, and planning recycling for items that cannot be resold or donated.

Airweave, the company that provided 16,000 beds for the Athletes' and Media Villages, has post-Games plans to donate and recycle the mattresses and bed bases, helping to ensure that they are responsibly repurposed. 

In construction, SOLIDEO has also successfully implemented circular economy strategies for reusing materials from deconstruction projects. Impressively, 94% of materials recovered from deconstruction have been reused, 31,600 tonnes of concrete were reconditioned for road construction, and 900 tonnes of materials were resold as second-hand items.

Paris 2024 has also made significant strides in the area of sports equipment. MONDO, another official supporter, provides athletic tracks and equipment, ensuring a second life for all products by redistributing them or refurbishing them for future events. Similarly, Gerflor has committed to supplying 33,466 m² of sports flooring, with most being manufactured in France and reused in sports or school facilities post-games. GYMNOVA, another official supporter, ensures 100% recyclable materials for gymnastics equipment, which will be refurbished and resold at preferential rates to French clubs or associations.

Finally, Paris 2024 seeks to pass on its learnings and innovative practices to future organizers of major sporting events. They have developed resources available online, including guides for responsible events, sustainable communication media, and eco-design of packaging, ensuring that the sustainable strategies and circular economy methodologies pioneered at Paris 2024 will benefit future events worldwide.

Food consumption

Sustainable catering is another key focus area for Paris 2024, with an estimated 13 million meals to be served during the games. This includes 5 million meals for spectators, 3.5 million for staff, 2.2 million for Olympic athletes, 1.8 million for media members, and 500,000 meals for Olympic and Paralympic participants.

To ensure a sustainable approach, Paris 2024 has made several commitments to reduce the environmental impact of food consumption. Their main targets include increasing plant-based food offerings, sourcing certified food, and minimizing food waste.

Paris 2024 aims to:

  • Offer twice as many plant-based meals to halve the carbon footprint of meals and snacks
  • Ensure 100% of food is certified and sourced sustainably, with 80% from France and 25% locally
  • Halve single-use plastic in food consumption
  • Minimise food waste and recover 100% of unconsumed food resources

These commitments have been integrated into all catering tenders, with sustainability accounting for a significant portion of the evaluation criteria.

Carbon footprint reduction

Addressing the carbon footprint of food consumption is a key focus for Paris 2024. If the 13 million meals served during the games were typical non-vegetarian dishes, their total carbon footprint would amount to 25,500 tCO₂e, equivalent to the annual food-related emissions of 11,590 UK citizens (based on ADEME's emission factors).

Paris 2024 however, has taken catering into consideration when developing their sustainability strategy and committed to significantly increasing the availability of vegetarian options to reduce emissions. Their goal is to minimize the use of animal products by offering 50% of all meals as vegetarian, increasing to 60% of meals served to spectators.

Our climate experts have analyzed the emissions associated with the 13 million meals planned for the Olympic and Paralympic games, incorporating the targets outlined above. The data shows that the average vegetarian meal generates 1.275 kgCO2e, which is significantly lower than the French national average of 2.04 kgCO2e per meal for non-vegetarian options (according to emission factors provided by ADEME). Based on these calculations, if vegetarian dishes account for 50-60% of meals served, the total emissions would be approximately 15,810 tCO₂e - a 38% decrease compared to the 0% vegetarian scenario, highlighting the substantial reduction in emissions.

The Olympic organizers have set a slightly lower target than this, of just 1 kg of CO2e per meal. This goal may be achieved through various additional sustainability measures, including ensuring 80% of food consists of seasonal local ingredients, sourcing meat, dairy, fish, and free-range eggs sustainably from France, and composting 80% of unavoidable food waste. All staff have also been trained in on-site waste sorting, and there will be a ban on the free distribution of plastic bottled drinks, alongside the provision of free drinking water fountains and reusable tableware for all meals.

Although catering will contribute just 1% to the overall carbon footprint of the games, the organizers emphasize the importance of implementing best practices across all aspects of the event.

It should also be noted that the environmental impact of catering extends beyond carbon emissions, encompassing significant water usage and food waste, which will be addressed under Paris 2024’s zero waste policy. However, with spectators responsible for disposing of their items, a significant portion of food and drink consumed at the venues is likely to end up in landfill, highlighting ongoing challenges and the need for comprehensive waste management strategies.

Transport 

Transporting nearly 200,000 accredited individuals and millions of spectators during the Paris 2024 Games presents a significant challenge. The organizing committee is committed to addressing this by minimizing transport-related emissions and ensuring efficient access to venues. This effort includes connecting all locations via public transport and enhancing active mobility options.

Paris 2024's commitments include:

  • All competition venues are to be served by public transport, with 75% within 500 meters of a stop in Île-de-France
  • Venues accessible by active mobility, including temporary bicycle parking
  • 100% electric, hybrid, or hydrogen vehicles for the Olympic and Paralympic family
  • 37% fewer light vehicles compared to London 2012, thanks to the "Transport Connect" system (shared vehicles and car-pooling)

Event organizers have prioritized minimizing transport-related emissions for the games, with a strategic focus on the proximity of event venues to the athletes' village. All venues are situated within a 10 km radius, significantly decreasing travel time. There has also been a concerted effort to ensure all locations are well-connected by public transport. For example, Paris 2024 has enhanced public transport services by increasing capacity by 15% during the games, with up to a 25% increase on lines most affected by the events. Dedicated spectator shuttles will also be put in place to serve venues farthest from public transport stations.

Additionally, the game venues in Paris are supported by an extensive 418 km cycling network, which includes 88 km of newly established protected bike lanes and nearly 20,000 temporary secure bike parking spaces. 

Paris 2024 is also advancing other aspects of its transport program. This includes the integration of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, the establishment of recharging facilities, and the formation of partnerships for domestic travel, all aimed at improving the sustainability and efficiency of transportation for the event.

Toyota for example will supply 500 of its hydrogen-powered Mirai vehicles for use during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024, following a similar initiative at the Tokyo event in 2021. These vehicles form part of the official Olympic fleet and will be used to transport athletes and officials across various venues. This initiative is a key part of the efforts to enhance sustainable transportation during the games.

However, it should be noted that the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles is not without controversy. One major concern is the energy-intensive nature of hydrogen production, predominantly through steam methane reforming, which relies heavily on fossil fuels and results in significant carbon emissions. Additionally, when hydrogen is produced via electrolysis, it is a resource-intensive process that requires large amounts of electricity and water. The environmental impact is heavily dependent on how the electricity is generated, raising questions about the overall sustainability of hydrogen as a fuel.
Setting aside the concerns about the environmental impact of hydrogen fuel, the largest carbon footprint related to the games undoubtedly comes from spectator transport. It is estimated that the games will host 15,000 athletes, 9,000 journalists, and 15 million spectators, with 1.5  million expected to travel internationally. The organizing committee has limited influence over the modes of transport these spectators use to travel to the venues, and many will inevitably fly, given the international nature of the event. The environmental impact of this spectator travel will be discussed in greater detail later in this data story.

Biodiversity and water management

Paris 2024 is committed to preserving biodiversity and minimizing environmental impact across all venues. The aim is to protect France’s natural heritage, enhance it, and ensure the restoration of venues post-Games. This commitment includes:

  • 95% of venues are temporary or preexisting structures to limit the ground footprint
  • Implementing avoidance and protection plans for over 50 heritage species identified during ecological assessments
  • Zero impacted trees

To achieve these goals, Paris 2024 has developed an innovative approach. Since there was no official environmental analysis framework for temporary installations, Paris 2024 created a rigorous method combining field analyses with bibliographic and cartographic reviews.

Measures for ecological preservation

Paris 2024 has implemented four primary measures to preserve areas of ecological interest:

  • Avoid permeable areas
  • Keep trees at a distance
  • Fence off ecological areas
  • Channel public footpaths

For example, at the Golf National, temporary installations were relocated to protect habitats and species such as the Scarce Swallowtail and Common Newt. Physical demarcations, such as barriers or marked boundaries, were implemented to preserve these areas effectively.

Measures to reduce impacts of biodiversity

Five main measures have also been prioritized to mitigate biodiversity impacts across all phases of the project (setup, operations, dismantling):

  • Applying a responsible event construction charter
  • Protecting soils against compaction
  • Installing physical tree protections
  • Limiting light pollution
  • Adapting fences to allow species movement

These efforts ensure minimal disruption to natural habitats while maintaining the integrity of the environment.

Water management

Linked to biodiversity preservation is the sustainable management of water resources. With increasing droughts, estimating water needs, identifying reduction measures, and anticipating vulnerabilities are critical for Paris 2024.

Paris 2024 developed a methodology to estimate water consumption based on various needs: hydration, toilet use, competition needs, venue cleaning, athlete recovery, and misting. This aims to understand water consumption and identify reduction measures. Initiatives include installing synthetic turf at the Yves-du-Manoir stadium, saving 40% of water for maintenance; using non-potable water for maintaining green spaces and sports facilities at the Athletes’ Village, Golf National, and BMX stadium; and real-time water consumption measurement during the Games to provide a reference for future events.

Greenly’s analysis of water consumption at Golf National 

Greenly’s data scientists conducted an analysis to estimate water consumption for the 10-day Olympic golf tournament at the Golf National. Considering the water usage patterns and requirements for maintaining the golf course, it is estimated that approximately 1,370 m³ of water will be consumed during the ten-day period of the competition. 

This figure is about half the volume of an Olympic swimming pool and is equivalent to the annual potable water consumption of 25 average French citizens. This highlights the significant water usage even with reduction efforts and the importance of efficient water management strategies.

Paris 2024 is committed to setting a benchmark for biodiversity and water management in large-scale events, ensuring the preservation of natural habitats and efficient use of water resources. These initiatives and methodologies will serve as valuable references for future organizing committees and sporting events.

The Seine clean-up

A €1.4 billion initiative to clean the Seine River is now complete, aiming to restore swimmable conditions in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Swimming in the river has been banned since 1923 due to severe pollution. However, it’s hoped that the clean-up will reverse this trend and revive dwindling fish populations and riverbank vegetation, as well as provide a cooling retreat for city residents during the hotter summer months.

The vision to restore the Seine's water quality dates back to 1990 when then-Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac pledged a revitalization effort that promised swimmable waters within three years - a goal that went unfulfilled. Renewed commitment to this vision played a role in Paris securing the upcoming Olympic Games, echoing the city's first hosting in 1900. The 10k swimming marathon - a highlight of the triathlon - and a Paralympic swimming event are planned to take place in the Seine.

Paris's river has faced significant pollution over the years, including the dumping of electronics, bicycles, and other large items, with 360 tons extracted annually. However, the main sources of pollution are still domestic and industrial wastewater.

Thanks to recent infrastructure upgrades, city officials have reported a dramatic reduction in wastewater pollution, with a 90% decrease in river-bound wastewater over the last two decades. Yet, challenges persist. In 2022, 1.9 million cubic meters of untreated wastewater were released into the Seine to prevent overburdening the city’s sewer system and avoid urban flooding during heavy rainfall.

Paris's sewage infrastructure, originally established in the 1860s and partially modernized since the 1980s with automated spillways and valves, still struggles to manage stormwater. The current system - a mix of historical and new tunnels - is a vast network that complicates efforts to divert excess rainwater.

A promising solution to the issue is the construction of an underground rainwater storage tank southeast of the city, near Austerlitz Station. Completed earlier this year in the spring, the tank spans the size of 20 Olympic swimming pools and holds up to 45,000 cubic meters of water. It aims to mitigate the risk of sanitation overflow by temporarily storing excess rainwater, which will later be released back into the network and treated downstream before re-entering the river. Additionally, a new tunnel will connect the tank to the opposite riverbank, ensuring that overflow does not reach the sewage system but is instead processed at downstream facilities.

Despite these efforts, concerns linger as the games approach. Last year's test triathlon event, planned to take place partly in the Seine, was canceled due to failed pollution tests. World Aquatics also canceled the 2023 Open Water Swimming World Cup in Paris, citing subpar water quality. Yet, Olympic officials argue that winter test results do not reflect the typical summer conditions.

However, even in June, E. coli levels often exceeded safe limits. Heavy rains can worsen bacteria levels by washing urban runoff into the river, while cooler temperatures and lack of sunshine can hinder bacterial kill-off. Thankfully conditions have improved in July, with recent tests showing better results. In an effort to prove the water's safety, French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently took a dip in the Seine. Yet, while there is optimism, the situation remains touch-and-go, with the final decision likely hinging on last-minute test results. 

A few words about plastic pollution in the Seine

While efforts to restore the Seine are critical, broader environmental challenges like plastic pollution also demand urgent attention. The Seine begins at Source-Seine in Côte d’Or and ends 773 kilometers further into the Manche - between Le Havre and Honfleur. Studies estimate that between 100 to 200 tons of plastic reach the sea along the Seine.
Recent research highlights the significant impact that plastic has on global warming. According to a report by the International Center for Environmental Laws (CIEL), nearly all plastics derive from fossil fuels, making the industry a major contributor to carbon emissions. This sector, if unchecked, could account for 20% of global oil consumption by 2050.

A further issue is that the degradation process of plastics, particularly when exposed to UV light (like plastic waste is in the Seine), also releases potent greenhouse gases such as methane, exacerbating climate change. This creates a dangerous feedback loop, where increased global temperatures lead to faster plastic degradation and higher emissions. 

Furthermore, microplastics in the oceans not only impair the carbon absorption capabilities of phytoplankton but also alter their metabolism and reduce their ability to reproduce. This is particularly concerning given that phytoplankton, though they only makeup about 1% of terrestrial plant biomass, are responsible for producing approximately 45% of the Earth's atmospheric oxygen. These disruptions in phytoplankton function diminish one of the Earth’s key methods of regulating carbon dioxide levels and sustaining oxygen production.

In Paris, efforts to manage plastic waste in the Seine could play a crucial role in addressing broader environmental impacts. Our climate experts have analyzed the figures for plastic debris in the river Seine, finding that between 22 and 36 tons are intercepted annually, giving us an average of 29 tons. However, due to the varied nature of plastics (such as PP, PS, PET, etc.) and the lack of specific data on what percentage of plastic waste they account for, the estimated emissions resulting from plastic debris in the Seine range from between 58 to 870 tCO2e. Although these figures are significantly lower than emissions linked to food production or the transportation sectors, they are not negligible. 


∗ It's important to recognize that emission factors for plastics are still subject to much uncertainty, with very few studies reaching a scientific consensus on these values. Therefore, while plastic pollution might seem less impactful at first glance, its contributions to climate change are meaningful and warrant attention alongside other environmental initiatives like the renovation of wastewater systems and infrastructure improvements in Paris.

Adaptation to climate change

Paris 2024 has prioritized environmental resilience, focusing on the ability to anticipate, survive, and thrive despite climate disturbances like heat waves, floods, and air pollution. With the Olympics scheduled from July to September, episodes of extreme heat and other weather conditions are expected. Ensuring the safety and comfort of all attendees, particularly vulnerable groups, is essential.

Paris 2024’s adaptation strategy includes monitoring urban meteorology, installing "islands of freshness", and equipping venues with water fountains. The strategy aims to anticipate and provide real-time weather monitoring (temperature, sunshine, humidity); eco-design temporary infrastructure and equipment; provide water and distribute protective products; and inform and raise awareness among spectators and participants about appropriate behaviors.

Specific measures implemented by Paris 2024 include:

  • Free water fountains and options to purchase drinks and protective gear such as caps and fans
  • Shading tents and shelters to limit sun exposure
  • Accessible cooling spaces combining humidity, shade, and evapotranspiration (mist arches, potted trees, etc.)

Paris 2024 has also implemented urban resilience measures through SOLIDEO, incorporating thermal simulations up to 2050 in its design choices for new buildings. The Athletes’ Village, for example, features air circulation from the Seine, ground cooling with shell-covered sidewalks, geothermal energy cooling systems, extensive vegetation, wall and window insulation, blackout blinds, optimized natural ventilation, and wastewater treatment solutions for irrigation.

Despite the initial eco-friendly design of the Athletes Village and the purposeful decision to exclude air conditioning, Paris 2024 recently announced the inclusion of 2,500 air conditioning units at the Athletes Village due to concerns from various national teams about extreme heat (the environmental impact of this decision will be explored in more detail later). This decision underscores the complexity of balancing eco-conscious choices with the practicalities of a warming planet, highlighting the challenges of implementing sustainable solutions in the face of immediate needs. 

Balancing progress with challenges

Paris 2024 is setting a new benchmark for sustainability with regard to international sporting events. The proactive initiatives undertaken by the Paris 2024 organizing committee underscore a commitment to not only reduce the environmental impact of the games but also to build a sustainable legacy for the city.

While the ambition and progress of these initiatives are indeed noteworthy, it is crucial to recognize that hosting a global event of this magnitude inevitably results in a carbon footprint. Despite the best efforts, some environmental impacts are unavoidable, particularly those stemming from the event's scale and international attendance.

A considerable portion of the emissions associated with the Paris 2024 Olympics will originate from spectator travel and the accommodations needed during their stay in the city. International visitors traveling to Paris will significantly contribute to these emissions, particularly through air travel, which remains one of the most carbon-intensive modes of transportation. Additionally, the energy and resources consumed by hotels and temporary accommodations will further add to the overall environmental impact.

Spectator travel 

As Paris gears up for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics, the ticket sales have showcased a truly global interest, with tickets purchased by residents of 158 different nationalities. This international enthusiasm underscores the vast logistical and environmental challenges associated with managing the travel arrangements for such a diverse and widespread audience. The majority of these international spectators are expected to travel from neighboring European countries, with the United Kingdom emerging as the top ticket-purchasing nation outside of France.

While specific attendance figures for Paris 2024 remain forthcoming, historical data from previous Olympics can provide valuable insights. The London 2012 Olympics serves as a particularly relevant benchmark due to its geographic proximity. During those games, approximately 471,000 trips were made to the UK primarily for the Olympic or Paralympic games. Similarly, the Rio 2016 Olympics attracted an estimated 410,000 foreign tourists. These numbers suggest that Paris can expect a similar influx of spectators, potentially reaching into the hundreds of thousands, each contributing to the overall carbon footprint through international travel to attend the games.

The significant impact of international spectator travel was highlighted by the Tokyo Olympics which took place in 2021. In response to the ongoing pandemic, organizers made the unprecedented decision to prohibit overseas spectators, a move that resulted in a 12% reduction in the event's overall emissions. This significant decrease underscores the considerable environmental footprint associated with international travel to the games.

Drawing on data from the London Olympic Games, our climate scientists have developed an estimate of the carbon footprint for spectators traveling to the Paris Olympics this summer. Given the geographical proximity and similarity in visitor demographics between London and Paris, this provides a solid basis for our calculations.

To calculate the carbon emissions associated with spectator travel to Paris for the Olympics, our experts made several assumptions about the transportation methods used by visitors from different countries. For spectators coming from countries far from Paris, it is presumed that air travel will be the primary mode of transportation, with emission factors varying by whether the flights are long, medium, or short haul (emissions factors are taken from ADME). 

For neighboring countries like the UK, Germany, and Italy, where Paris is accessible by train, it is assumed that half of the spectators will opt for train travel, while the other half will choose short-haul flights.

Based on these transportation assumptions and the spectator demographics from the 2012 London Olympic Games, we have estimated the total emissions from overseas spectator travel to the Paris Olympics to be approximately 813,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). This amount is roughly equivalent to the average annual carbon footprint of 87,419 people living in France, highlighting the significant environmental impact of hosting such a global event.

The Olympics are undeniably a spectacular event, and it's completely understandable why many wish to experience the games in person. However, the environmental impact of spectator travel, especially air travel, is significant. For long-distance travelers, flying often remains the only feasible option, which contributes substantially to global greenhouse gas emissions. Given these concerns, the most environmentally friendly and sustainable option is to enjoy the games from the comfort of one’s own home, watching on TV!

Note: Our original calculation accounted for Russian spectators, but given the difficulties in obtaining visas and the increased cost of travel, we took the decision to remove this projection from the overall calculation. Based on data for the London Olympics however, Russian spectators would have accounted for around 1% of international visits, equating to 26,927 visitors and producing an estimated 23,905 tCO2e. 

Accommodation emissions

Beyond the substantial emissions from international travel, the environmental impact of the Paris Olympics also extends to the accommodation and daily consumption of visitors throughout their stay. To assess this aspect, our climate experts have estimated the carbon emissions associated with accommodation for the expected number of overseas visitors. We have used data from the London 2012 Olympics which provided an average number of overnight stays for spectators.

For our calculations, we applied an emission factor of 6.2 kg CO2e per room-night stay. This figure represents the carbon footprint of a one-night stay in a 3-star hotel in France, based on the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) methodology.

Assuming that visitors will spend a similar length of time in Paris as per the London Olympics, the total number of overnight stays in Paris for the duration of the Olympics is projected to be 13,657,652. This translates into a total accommodation-related carbon footprint of approximately 84,500 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). To put this figure into perspective, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American home uses about 7.27 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year from electricity. This means that 86,000 tCO2e is similar to the annual electricity use of approximately 11,623 American homes. This comparison helps illustrate the significant environmental impact of hosting such a large-scale event, highlighting the broader implications of the Olympic Games accommodation requirements.

Note: Our original calculation accounted for Russian spectators, but given the difficulties in obtaining visas and the increased cost of travel, we took the decision to remove these numbers from the overall calculation. Based on data for the London Olympics however, Russian spectators were projected to spend a total of around 242,339 nights in Paris for the purpose of viewing the Olympic Games, producing an estimated 1,503 tCO2e. 

Air conditioning U-turn

The Paris Olympic Village is designed to be eco-friendly, featuring a geothermal cooling system using cool water pumped from deep underground to maintain indoor temperatures at least 6°C lower than outside. This system aimed to showcase environmentally friendly technology and reduce carbon emissions. However, due to concerns about the potential for high temperatures and their impact on athletes' comfort and performance, the Paris 2024 organizing committee decided to install 2,500 temporary air conditioning units in the athletes' accommodations.

This decision emerged after pressure from various national Olympic teams, such as the USA and Australia, which were worried about the lack of air conditioning and had planned to bring their own units. In response, the organizing committee decided to provide these cooling units to ensure the comfort and performance of athletes during the games.

Data scientists from Greenly have found that the inclusion of these air conditioning units significantly increases carbon emissions. The emissions from the air conditioning units are estimated to be 200 times higher than those from the originally planned ventilation system, with the manufacturing of the units contributing to the majority of the emissions. While this decision aims to ensure athlete comfort, it also underscores the challenge of balancing performance needs with environmental sustainability in hosting large-scale international events.

Impact assessment by Greenly

Our data scientists at Greenly evaluated the carbon emissions associated with adding air conditioning units to the Olympic Village. Their findings are outlined below:

Assumptions:

  • The study covers only the duration of the Olympic Games
  • Construction emissions of ventilation systems are excluded as they are part of the building's initial design
  • Air conditioning is supplemental, with ventilation still in use
  • Emissions factors are sourced from ADEME's Base Empreinte
  • Refrigerant gas leaks are considered negligible over the short period of the Games

Scenario analysis:

Scenario 1 - Ventilation only:

  • Total usage emissions: 3,571.46 kgCO2e
  • Calculation based on ventilation usage for 70% of the time, given energy-saving measures and periods when athletes are not in their rooms.

Scenario 2 - Partial AC use:

  • Total emissions: 651,437 kgCO2e
  • Assumes 50% usage of 2,500 air conditioning units in addition to ventilation.
  • Manufacturing emissions account for 85-92% of total emissions.

Scenario 3 - Full AC use:

  • Total emissions: 703,584 kgCO2e
  • Assumes 100% usage of air conditioning units.
  • Only represents a 7% increase in emissions compared to Scenario 2, primarily because manufacturing emissions account for the bulk of emissions.

Despite efforts to maintain eco-friendly practices, the necessity for air conditioning highlights the ongoing challenges posed by global warming. The decision reflects the complexity of ensuring the comfort of athletes while striving to meet environmental goals, particularly as the frequency and intensity of heatwaves continue to rise due to climate change.

Carbon offsetting

Despite comprehensive measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the Paris 2024 Olympics, not all emissions can be prevented. To address these residual emissions, the Paris 2024 committee has committed to a robust carbon offsetting strategy. This strategy forms part of their broader ARO approach, which includes:

  • Avoid - The organizing committee has prioritized initiatives to avoid emissions wherever feasible, through the use of existing venues, renewable energy, and sustainable transportation solutions.
  • Reduce - The target to reduce emissions for the Paris Olympics and Paralympic Games by 50%, aiming for a total of 1.75 million tons of CO2 equivalent, represents a substantial decrease from previous Olympic Games.
  • Offset - Paris 2024 pledges to offset 100% of unavoidable emissions, including the broad spectrum of Scope 3 emissions. These encompass not only direct operational emissions but also indirect ones, such as those from international spectator travel.

According to the organizing committee, the offsetting commitment of Paris 2024 involves supporting a diverse range of CO2 avoidance and capture projects globally. These projects range from reforestation and ocean conservation initiatives to the provision of efficient cooking solutions in regions dependent on high-emission traditional stoves. This approach ensures that while addressing climate change, the projects also enhance biodiversity and improve the quality of life in various communities.

Local projects, particularly in the Paris and Ile-de-France regions, will also play a critical role. These efforts aim to foster local environmental improvements and community benefits, aligning with the broader goals of sustainability championed by the games. For example, Paris 2024 has allocated nearly €600,000 to finance forestry projects in France, sequestering 14,500 teqCO2. Selected projects include planting a new forest in Ile-de-France and repopulating degraded forests in Montmorency, the Vosges, and the Aisne, helping to diversify tree species in the area.

Internationally, Paris 2024 has chosen projects that meet ADEME rules and criteria for voluntary carbon offsetting, aligning with the values of Paris 2024 and sport, such as health, gender equality, education, and biodiversity protection. The international program, funded by €10.7 million from partners Abatable and Schneider Electric with EcoAct, supports nine projects close to the equator. These projects, certified by Goldstandard and VCS, include installing cooking systems and improving water access in Africa, opening solar farms in Senegal and Vietnam, and protecting forests and mangroves.

The Paris 2024 Offsetting Strategy

While the organizers promise to be meticulous in their project selection, offsetting strategies like these often face scrutiny over their accounting methods and the challenge of verifying actual carbon reduction. 

Carbon offsetting projects often face criticism due to concerns about their effectiveness and transparency. One major issue is the difficulty in accurately measuring and verifying the actual amount of carbon being offset, leading to uncertainties about whether these projects truly store or reduce carbon emissions as claimed.

Additionally, there's skepticism about whether offset projects provide a long-term solution to climate change or simply allow for the continuation of high-emission activities under the guise of environmental responsibility. This continuation is incompatible with the Paris Agreement, as there is not enough carbon capture and storage capacity worldwide to capture more than a fraction of current emissions.

Reflecting on sustainability at the Paris Olympics

Throughout this article, we've explored the ambitious sustainability strategies of the Paris 2024 Olympics, from venue construction to energy management. The organizers deserve praise for their efforts to make these games the most sustainable yet. However, it's clear that certain areas of their sustainability plans could still use more work. While the initiatives are significant, our analysis shows that some aspects don’t quite meet the high standards needed for a truly sustainable Olympic Games.

A recent report published by éclaircies and Carbon Market Watch, titled “Going for Green” provides a sector-by-sector evaluation of how well these strategies align with the rigorous environmental goals set by the organizers. This detailed analysis complements our own assessment and pinpoints where the Paris 2024 Olympics fall short. 

Notable findings regarding the environmental impacts of the various sectors include: 

Construction (30% of emissions) - Assessed as robust

The report commends Paris 2024's construction strategy for its commitment to using 95% of existing or temporary venues, significantly reducing the demand for new construction. This approach, along with the prioritization of low-carbon construction materials sets a strong precedent for reducing the carbon footprint associated with building Olympic infrastructure.

Food (1% of emissions) - Assessed as robust

The food strategy at Paris 2024 stands out for its ambitious target of reducing the carbon footprint of meals served during the games to just 1 kg CO2 per meal. 

Non-food purchases (20% of emissions) - Assessed as incomplete/unclear

While Paris 2024 asserts that circular economy principles are applied to 100% of non-food purchases, the lack of transparent criteria and measurable outcomes leaves this sector's actual impact ambiguous. The Going for Green report concludes that more precise definitions and clear reporting are needed to verify the environmental integrity of the purchasing strategies.

Transport (40% of emissions) - Assessed as incomplete/unclear

The compact design of the games, with most venues located within a 10-kilometer radius of the Olympic Village, aims to reduce transport emissions significantly. However, the strategy does not comprehensively address the emissions from international spectator travel, which forms a significant part of the games' carbon footprint. 

Our own analysis highlights that spectator travel could result in as much as 813,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). Future Olympic strategies should focus more on minimizing and managing this substantial source of emissions.

Energy (8% of emissions) - Assessed as incomplete/unclear

Paris 2024 plans for the venues to be supplied with 100% renewable electricity. However, the report highlights that the specifics of how this electricity will be sourced are not fully disclosed. Transparency about the procurement of renewable energy is crucial for validating the games' energy sustainability claims.

Roundup 

Our analysis of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, complemented by the recent Olympic carbon assessment and progress report and the Going for Green Report, shows that while the Olympics have made great strides in using existing infrastructure and focusing on sustainability, the current model isn't fully sustainable yet. However, the latest carbon assessment provides more clarity on how things are progressing, and it is commendable that the expected emissions are projected to be even lower than the revised target.

Realistically, achieving true sustainability would require scaling down the games, particularly by reducing the number of spectators and limiting international travel. One idea that has been floated for making future Olympics more sustainable is to spread the events across multiple countries. This approach could lessen the environmental impact of building new venues and cut down on the carbon emissions associated with international travel.

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