Five ways the Olympic Winter Games will be greener: from eco-friendly ice rinks to recycled buildings


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By Alison Tudor Ackroyd

Figure skating, ice hockey and curling at the Winter Olympics are about to get greener.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will include environmentally friendly refrigeration systems at ice venues when the event kicks off in February, part of the Olympic movement’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions .

Climate change is increasingly impacting the world of sport. Snowfall and unreliable temperatures are disrupting winter sports, while hotter summers threaten the health of athletes, event organizers and fans.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the organizer of the biggest sporting event in the world, has pledged to cut emissions by 30% by 2024 and 50% by 2030.

As scrutiny of the feasibility of green claims intensifies globally, we asked Michelle Lemaitre, IOC’s Head of Sustainability, to chart for us the Swiss-based organization’s roadmap towards greener Olympic Games.

“The majority of our carbon footprint is related to travel, so that will be the most important area of ​​focus for us, and obviously the most challenging as well,” she told Alizila.

Last year, more athletes and sports bodies attended the UN Climate Summit, better known as COP26, where delegates sought to keep the global temperature below 1.5° C of what it was in the middle of the 19th century.

“It’s great to see increased ambition [to tackle climate change] across the sports world. Now we need to go beyond commitments to deliver results,” said Lemaitre, who was also in Glasgow for the Summit.

Below we outline five key actions the IOC is taking to reduce its carbon footprint:


Cloud computing has grown to the point of making virtual attendance at events a more viable and cheaper alternative to jumping on a plane.

“The most important benefit of the cloud is that fewer people have to travel to and from a location,” said Lemaitre, who did not travel to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this year but collaborated with colleagues at the Japan from its office in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Rapid access to cloud data meant fewer rights-holding broadcasters had to navigate coronavirus quarantine procedures to attend Tokyo 2020, cutting costs for media organizations and saving teams time.

Olympic Broadcasting Services, the organization responsible for bringing the sights and sounds of the Olympic Games to billions of viewers’ screens around the world, has partnered with Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of the Alibaba Group, headquartered is in Hangzhou, to move the broadcast backend to the cloud in time for Tokyo 2020. Alibaba was the official cloud technology and e-commerce services partner of Tokyo 2020.

The footprint of the International Broadcast Center, the media hub for Tokyo 2020 broadcast, was around 30% smaller than at Rio 2016 and around a quarter fewer broadcasters were in attendance, while the hours of Sequences created increased by approximately 30%.

Fans have been barred from entering Tokyo 2020 stadiums to limit the spread of the coronavirus. However, the IOC created a Virtual Fan project, where viewers could still upload photos of themselves supporting the athletes. There were over 250 million virtual cheers from around the world during the Games.

Plans for Beijing 2022 include extensive use of 5G technology which will enable greater use of the cloud, allowing overseas spectators who cannot physically attend the Games to participate virtually.


One of the most important decisions the IOC makes is deciding which city will host the Olympic Games, and an increasingly important part of the pitch process is sustainable venues.

The IOC and host cities are also making decisions earlier in the planning process on whether or not a new venue is even needed. If so, the IOC considers capacity, location and materials in terms of sustainability and whether the local community will use the building in the future.

“Site optimization encompasses many aspects, including having the proper authorities ask the right questions about needs, local support and long-term goals before making any decisions,” Lemaitre said.

All Beijing 2022 competition venues will be powered by 100% renewable energy; solar and wind energy being the main sources. Beijing 2022 ice venues will use natural, low-carbon CO2 refrigeration systems. “This is a first, both for China and for the Winter Olympics,” Lemaitre said.

Five of the six Beijing 2022 venues will be Beijing 2008 legacies, such as the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the Water Cube Aquatics Center to host curling, while the former basketball courts will host ice hockey and volleyball. courts, short track speed skating. The Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee has also regenerated a former industrial site on the western side of Beijing for its headquarters.

With 95% of venues pre-existing or temporary, among other measures to avoid and reduce carbon emissions, Paris 2024 aims to halve the carbon footprint of previous Summer Olympics.

Paris 2024 will also offset more than 100% of its residual emissions and use its influence to develop long-term carbon offset projects, becoming the first Olympic and Paralympic Games in the world to contribute positively to the climate.

The LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games will not be building any new permanent venues as part of their radical re-use ambition.


Despite the deployment of technology and careful planning, the IOC is budgeting for the remaining emissions, which it expects to offset primarily through its Olympic Forest project.

The organization plans to plant around 355,000 native trees in 90 villages in Mali and Senegal – host of the Dakar 2026 Youth Olympic Games – covering a combined area of ​​around 2,120 hectares.

The Olympic Forest is expected to sequester 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is higher than the emissions estimated by the IOC between 2021 and 2024 and is roughly equivalent to the emissions of approximately 32,000 return flights from Geneva to Tokyo.

The IOC will start planting in the middle of next year, Lemaitre said, until 2024.

The Olympic Forest is part of a larger project, known as the Great Green Wall initiative, which is restoring degraded landscapes in Africa’s Sahel region. More than 20 countries in Africa participate in the initiative and more than eight billion dollars have been mobilized and pledged for its support.

Lemaitre said it would be difficult to tackle an issue as big as deforestation in Africa in isolation. Therefore, being part of a project already in place and having on-the-ground support and expertise is integral to future success.


The IOC has released responsible sourcing guidelines for sports event organizers to help them find more sustainable materials to use at events. The documents assess the durability of materials and inform suppliers of recyclable products.

“It is important for the IOC to use its influence to create or incentivize positive climate action across the Olympic Movement,” Lemaitre said.

The IOC’s Olympic Partners (TOP) are also helping to promote the circular economy at the Olympic Games.

Working with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, P&G collected 24.5 tonnes of recycled plastic – the equivalent of around 400,000 laundry detergent bottles – to create the 98 medal podiums used at the Games. In addition to involving the Japanese public in the Games, the program was an opportunity to raise awareness about responsible consumption and the circular economy.

Using technology from The Dow Chemical Company, a pilot project to recycle Tokyo 2020 banners into flowerpots has been successfully implemented. As event banners are often incinerated or landfilled after use, the recyclable material created by Dow resulted in approximately 30-35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions over the product’s life cycle compared to conventional incinerated banners. .


The fight against climate change involves both adaptation and mitigation measures. As summers heat up, the IOC must increasingly think about the impact of rising temperatures on athletes, event organisers, volunteers and fans.

“The IOC is approaching this from many different angles because everything is connected, with many synergies and ripple effects. It’s definitely a team approach. Teams such as sports, medical, venue operations and sustainability, to name a few, are consulted and provide input,” said Lemaitre.

The IOC is also working with partners to mitigate health concerns. Alibaba has rolled out a cloud-based solution to help Tokyo 2020 on-site staff reduce the risk of heatstroke.

The technology has made it possible to track body temperature and heart rate through a smart device worn on the ear. Alerts were sent to those at high risk along with recommended preventative measures, such as drinking more water.

For more coverage of the Olympics visit our sports hub, or for news on climate change mitigation visit our sustainability page

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