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Building the green Olympics

Following the recommendations contained in Agenda 2020 by the IOC, and its request that candidate cities must present projects closely adhering to their long-term social, financial and environmental planning needs, now, more than ever, ‘greenness’ will be a vital cornerstone of any winning Olympic bid. With this in mind, what new measures, techniques and approaches can we expect to see implemented from the 2024 cycle onwards? 

The history of the Olympics is littered with what could be considered failures. Ghost town Olympic villages, redundant stadiums and a sheer lack of concrete evidence of genuine sustainability from previous Games, highlight some of the issues endured by previous hosts. It’s hardly surprising then that Boston, Budapest, Rome and Hamburg all pulled their bids for the 2024 games mid-race, fearing high costs and local opposition.

So, what will Paris and LA do differently?

The Paris masterplan

“For us it is quite simple. Our vision is the most sustainable Games ever,” Paris bid co-Chair and member of the IOC’s Sustainability and Legacy Commission, Tony Estanguet, told the South China Morning Post in January. “We will also have low carbon installations for the rare venues we have to build and we will use specific materials to reduce the overall carbon footprint.” These claims are backed up by the Paris committee’s aims in their project program including:

  • 100% bio-based materials
  • 100%green energy during the Games
  • Over 26 hectares of biodiversity created on the Olympic sites in Seine-Saint-Denis

In addition, architects, Populous and engineers, Egis, will mastermind the construction of 38 Olympic and Paralympic venues across Paris. Their masterplan will involve the use of a number of existing buildings in the city and see temporary venues installed in some of the capital’s most famous attractions. The Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées as well as the aforementioned River Seine will all become backdrops for events.

Central to the winning Paris bid is the idea of using existing infrastructure, more specifically, venues and temporary structures. Indeed, the only new major construction will be an aquatics centre. Crucially, these ambitions are echoed by the LA 2028 committee’s proposals.

Radical reuse

LA 2028 has delivered a comprehensive sustainability program built on the concept of ‘radical reuse’. Essentially this idea focuses on the use of LA’s existing world-class venues, rather than creating any new permanent structures. Executive Director of Sustainability and Legacy, Brence Culp, told Global Construction: “Radical reuse is the core principle of the LA 2028 Sustainability Program. It refers to LA 2028's plan that requires no new permanent construction. Every facility of our Games Plan, from sports venues, to the Olympic Village at UCLA, to the Media Village and other media facilities at the University of Southern California (USC), already exists, will exist independently of the Games, or will be temporary. This approach allows LA 2028 to avoid the environmental and carbon impact of the large construction projects typically associated with the Games.”

Given that LA won’t be building any new permanent venues, housing or infrastructure, what are the key benefits, with reference to construction? Culp said: “Large-scale construction projects are typically the costliest, highest risk and most unpredictable aspects of delivering an Olympic and Paralympic Games. LA 2028 will be low-risk, fiscally responsible and sustainable Games thanks to the ‘radical reuse’ principle. Avoiding the headaches of unpredictable construction projects will allow us to focus on ways of revolutionising the Games experience.”

Some of the LA venues have already stepped up their green credentials. In May, the LA Memorial Coliseum (the proposed track and field venue) was officially classed as a ‘zero waste’ sports venue. Industry standards define zero-waste as recycling, composting or repurposing at least 90% of waste materials. The 93-year-old, 90,000 seat stadium will also undergo a $270 million privately-funded upgrade in time for the 2019 college football season.

LA 2028 are now working with USC, the Memorial Coliseum operator, to incorporate innovative, impactful green strategies including implementing measures such as 150 ‘eco station’ recycling sites at the Coliseum and on-site waste compactors.

Even when the original announcement of the formation of LA’s Sustainability and Legacy Committee was made at the existing multisport StubHub Center – the bid team’s designated ‘Green Sports Park’ – the event was powered exclusively by the Center’s energy storage system using a previously installed Tesla battery. The StubHub Center also promises robust water efficiency strategies, an onsite garden including a chicken coop and greenhouse to produce fruit and vegetables for the athletes, beehives and onsite solar.

More than just a spectacle

Unpredictable cost outlays and expensive construction overruns have caused many host cities major headaches in recent years. Just ask London and Sochi. One of the most problematic areas is that of building specialised sports facilities in a venue large enough to host an event of this magnitude. Sydney, Athens and Beijing all inherited hefty operational maintenance bills for a series of fixed venues that are now barely used.

The Paris and LA approach is hoping to address these issues. Extrapolating on the value of sustainability and the amount of work that went into formulating the winning bid, Culp said: “LA 2028’s sustainable approach was the result of engagement with its Sustainability and Legacy Committee – 50+ multi-disciplinary thought leaders, government agencies and environmental organisations, including World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Natural Resources Defense Council. LA 2028's sustainability approach has already been recognised and endorsed by the California Air Resources Board, California's clean air agency.

“LA 2028 has also participated in more than 30 public meetings across the city, providing valuable public conversations and feedback on our sustainability approach.”

Now, all that remains to be seen is whether or not Paris and LA have found a genuinely viable solution to the sustainability issues experienced by previous host cities, as well as leading the way for future winning bids.


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