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Sustainability at Rio 2016, did the Games win Olympic gold?
Sustainability at Rio 2016, how the Olympic Games performed: the highlights, the controversies and future challenges.
Rio 2016 has a special place in the history of sustainability because of its social and environmental commitments – but also its controversies. In 1996 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amended the Olympic Charter introducing this concept among its values in order to “encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport”. Twenty years later, the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games have aimed to minimise social and environmental impacts by investing in a more sustainable management approach and developing a series of innovative initiatives.
Rio 2016, however, was also characterised by a number of controversies relating to indigenous land issues, police violence and environmental issues. It is to be seen whether after the Games Brazil will demonstrate that its commitment to sustainability is more than a hot topic of the moment, due to worldwide attention on the country, or an authentic objective for the future. With its energy portfolio – one of the most diversified in the world – and its potentialities, Brazil could become a pioneer of sustainable growth.
Sustainability at Rio 2016: the medals
After London 2012, Rio 2016 also obtained ISO 20121 Certification, a standard to improve the sustainability of events. Starting from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the Olympic Committee has improved the Games’ accountability and transparency through the publication of Sustainability Reports in accordance with Global Reporting Initiative Standards.
Notable among the sustainability initiatives of the Olympic and Paralympic Games of Rio 2016 are:
- Certified sustainable food, with more than 350,000 portions of responsibly sourced seafood from fisheries and farms that met the requirements of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
- A carbon measurement and mitigation strategy.
- A sustainable procurement programme, including medals made by recycled materials and reduction in harmful chemicals.
- Improvements in infrastructure, including more efficient lighting in public spaces and revitalisation projects, such as converting venues into schools and public recreation facilities.
- Projects for Rio’s peripheric areas focused on food waste, poverty and social inclusion.
- The participation of the Refugee Olympic Team.
Despite efforts to reduce the event’s impacts, and spreading a climate change call-to-action all over the world also during the Opening ceremony, Rio 2016 faced and is facing many controversial social and environmental issues:
- Forced relocation of people out of favelas.
- Police violence against residents and protestors. According to Amnesty International, over 100 people have been killed by police in the state of Rio de Janeiro so far this year.
- Suspected misuse of public funds in revitalisation and development projects, putting private developer’s over public interests (for example the privatisation of Rio de Janeiro’s water system).
- Development of the new Olympic golf course on an environmentally protected area without proper consultation with communities or an environmental impact assessment.
- 30 per cent decrease (compared to the expected amount) in the cleaning of wastewater entering the sailing venue, increasing health risks.
Most of these represent Brazil’s next challenges in order to improve its commitment to sustainability and create shared values with local communities.
Towards Tokyo 2020
The next Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo in 2020 and the attention towards sustainability issues will continue, for example in order to continue amplifying a climate change action message. The Olympic Committee published the first drafts of the Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Plan and Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Sourcing Code in January 2016, asking all stakeholders to provide comments and feedback in order to improve the Games’ commitment to sustainability.
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