Rio 2016: How Green Will the Olympics Be?

Coming on the heels of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil will continue its role as “global mega sports host” when it welcomes the 2016 Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro in 14 months. The World Cup, according to many observers, had a mixed sustainability record. Will the 2016 Olympics improve upon that record? 

 

Brazil, as a sporting nation, has a stellar on-field history. The home to perhaps the greatest soccer player ever, Pelé, it is the only nation to win 5 FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970, 1998, 2002). Brazilian athletes have brought home Olympic gold in a wide variety of sports, from sailing to volleyball; from track and field to swimming. Tiago Splitter won an NBA Championship last season as a member of the San Antonio Spurs and Leandro Barbosa is trying to win one with the Golden State Warriors.

A relative newbie in terms of putting on mega sporting events, South America’s most populous country is in the midst of its “moment in the sun”: It hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup last June-July and, starting August 5, 2016, will welcome the world’s athletes to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics.

While the World Cup was generally seen as an on-field success, off the field challenges have dogged both events. The most prevalent concern, one that has drawn protesters into the streets on many occasions, has been that the huge sums of money expended by the Brazilian government to build the stadia and infrastructure for the World Cup/Olympics benefitted the wealthy while the poor were/will be shut out.

From a green perspective, the World Cup’s record was mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, 5 of the 12 stadia achieved LEED certification. On the downside, some of the stadia were built in remote cities (like Manaus, on the Amazon) that could not support them, post-tournament. And, per a Scientific American article from last June, “Everything…from air travel emissions to reliance on gas-fueled taxis for airport transfer and movement around cities in the absence of a well-functioning public transportation system – runs counter to even the most traditional sustainability criteria.”  

GreenSportsBlog covered the greenness (or lack thereof) of the World Cup here and here.

Given the World Cup’s so-so green record, what can we expect from the Summer Olympics next year? Let’s take a look:

PLUSSES

  • Smaller Scale vs. World Cup: Olympics are, for the most part, held in one city/metro area, while World Cups take place across an entire country (sometimes two, as in the case of 2002, when Japan and South Korea shared the event.) When a World Cup is conducted in a country as vast as Brazil, that Olympic one-metro-area advantage is even more pronounced. So the transportation-related carbon footprint of the 2016 Olympics should be much less than that of the 2014 World Cup on a per capita basis.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Energy efficient BRT has been expanded greatly in Rio in preparation for the Games. China’s BYD, among others, is supplying electric buses to run in the new BRT lanes that will serve all 4 of the Olympics’ “zones.”

BRT Rio

Bus Rapid Transit, featuring electric buses, will play a significant role in the transportation of fans to and from events at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. (Photo credit: Insidethegames.biz)

 

  • Ride sharing: In its infancy in Brazil as recently as the World Cup, ride sharing is maturing rapidly and will be a factor in the transportation mix in Rio next summer, with BYD again playing a role.

MINUSES

  • Pollution: Writing in Time Magazine in April, Anna J. Kaiser brought to light the polluted waters of Guanabra Bay, site of Olympic sailing and windsurfing. Rio’s Olympic bid promised to clean up Guanabra, filled with raw sewage and garbage, by 80%. But they’re only 49% of the way there and the state’s environment secretary said in January that meeting the 80% target was impossible. According to Mario Moscatelli, a biologist and bay advocate interviewed in Kaiser’s story, the state has the technology and money to make significant improvements but that politicians simply did not care about it. Rather, they “simply lied” to win the Games and, in so doing, put the sailors at risk “of hitting anything from plastic bags to a car bumper, pieces of wood, tires and even furniture.”

Guanabra Bay

A view of the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay near Rio de Janeiro. It will be the site of sailing events during the 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo credit: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

 

  • Drought: Kaiser’s Time piece highlights how the California-like drought dogging Brazil likely will affect the Rio Olympics. Brazil generates about 70% of its electricity from hydro so a “water crisis equals an energy crisis.” And that will inevitably lead to a run-up in the use of fossil fuels to replace hydro next summer: “According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Brazilian government spent $5 bn to subsidize fossil fuels to make up for lost hydroelectric power in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup and may have to do so again for the Olympics.”

Putting aside the “transportation scale advantage” to allow for a green apples-to-apples comparison of the World Cup and Olympics, it seems to GreenSportsBlog that the Rio Games are, sad to say, no greener than the World Cup. Perhaps that’s not surprising since the events are so close in time but it would’ve been heartening to see some tangible improvement.

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Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com

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3 thoughts on “Rio 2016: How Green Will the Olympics Be?

  1. Pingback: The GSB Interview: Dr. Eva Kassens-Noor, Planning Sustainable Legacies at Michigan State and MIT | GreenSportsBlog

  2. Pingback: Paris 2024 Promises Greenest Games Ever | GreenSportsBlog

  3. Pingback: Why Paris 2024 promises record sustainability wins | ecoiko.eu Cyprus Green Eco Energy Resource Centre and Directory

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