The Tokyo Olympics has taken home gold for their sustainability efforts.

If you’ve been on social media, keeping up with the news, or even flicking through channels over the past few weeks you quite literally couldn’t have missed the coverage of the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

This year's games are definitely one to remember. It was one of the most uncertain, unprecedented, and unlikely-to-go-ahead Games we’ve seen. We’ve seen Australian swim coaches air-humping from excitement, an incredible show of prioritising mental health from the ‘face’ of gymnastics herself – Simone Biles, and the Philippines taking home their first-ever gold (if you haven’t seen the reaction video, do yourself a favour). We also can’t write an Olympics-themed blog without an honourable mention for, Tom Daley knitting his very own Olympic cardigan bringing up all the feels circa his debut in the 2012 London Olympics. Anyone else? 

Although the most important conversation of all is that this year, the games placed a heavy spotlight on sustainability. With a goal to reduce the environmental impact of the massive sporting event. Their slogan; be better, together – for the planet and the people. 

Now, we have to note that some analysts are saying that the symbolising of sustainability at the games exaggerates the reality and others are calling it ‘greenwashing’. But despite it all, we have to commend the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their commitment on this. In recent years, we’ve heard more than enough excuses from large organisations listing all the reasons it’s just not feasible for them to make moves in the same direction. Therefore, it’s inspiring for an event of such a large scale (and amidst a global pandemic) to ensure sustainability was not only at the forefront of conversation but celebrated.

Let’s dive into them. 

1 The first Carbon Negative Olympics 

Yuki Arata, senior director of sustainability at the Tokyo Organising Committee, said: “From the outset, Tokyo 2020 has been dedicated to leveraging the opportunities provided by hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games to help build a more sustainable society.” Before the games begun, the organisers of the event purchased 150% of carbon credits required to offset the games’ greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a great first step in the right direction and a pretty good reminder that you too can offset your carbon footprint, why not check out Greenfleet for more information.

2 Location, location, location. 

Typically, host cities are notorious for building flashy-brand-new venues in anticipation of the games. Not Tokyo. They chose to use 25 existing venues that were built when the city last hosted the event in 1964. Since then, the buildings were retrofitted with advanced technology in order to reduce energy consumption. Only eight new venues were built from scratch to accommodate the additional needs of the 2020 games, with a further 10 temporary structures erected in an attempt to minimise construction costs and energy use. Not only that, but the infrastructure used throughout the games was powered by 100% renewable energy. That’s a big YES from us.

3 How would you feel about cardboard beds?

The Japanese mattress company Airweave created 18,000 beds and mattresses for athletes this summer and the best part… they are *totally* sustainable. Yeep, you heard us right. The headboard and frames are made from recycled cardboard with the mattress being polyethylene fibers that can be recycled an unlimited amount of times. After the games, these bad-boys will be recycled into paper products. That’s gotta take home gold, right?

4 Goodbye smartphones, hello gold. 

Can you believe that 5,000 medals were made for this years Olympic Games? Good news folks, these too are sustainable. After collecting nearly 79,000 tonnes of smartphones and other electronics donated by the Japanese public, these were then salvaged and cast for the Olympic medals. The games also crafted the podiums from recycled materials. 

5 Plus a whole lot more…

The Olympic torch has aluminum recycled from the temporary housing used after Japan's Fukushima disaster. The torchbearer carrying the flame wore T-shirts and trousers made from recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles. Plus, in order to run this large-scale event smoothly a staggering 65,000 computers, tablets and other electrical appliances were needed as well as 19,000 office desks, chairs and other fixtures. The Olympic organisers made the decision to hire as much of the equipment they could, with a goal of returning them to be reused after the games.

Despite the debate on whether these efforts are enough, we think it’s encouraging to see an event of this scale encouraging sustainable practices. Sure, they probably could have done better, but so can we all. At Happy Human, we focus on small swaps that have a big impact and that’s why we are celebrating these Games for the wins they have achieved and the steps they have taken to be more sustainable (no matter how big or small).