How the 2024 Paris Olympics Fast-Tracked Decarbonization

Paris pledged to radically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions compared with recent Olympic Games. Here’s what the team learned on the fly.

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For the growing number of organizations committing to decarbonization, meeting their goals can take a frustrating amount of time. The decarbonization journey is a nontraditional marathon — with a lot of ambiguity regarding the nature of the track — and many organizations struggle to identify where to start and how to scale their decarbonization efforts. We believe that these “marathon runners” can learn a lot by observing sprinters running on the same track. In particular, the fast-paced decarbonization effort by the 2024 Paris Olympic Games and Paralympics staff can be illuminating.

In 2017, in a tight race with Los Angeles, Paris won the bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. One of the key reasons that the International Olympic Committee eventually selected the city was the Paris 2024 committee’s stated commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by half compared with the average amounts emitted in the preparations for and operations of the London (2012) and Rio (2016) Summer Games.

The Paris sustainability team had about seven years to achieve the goal. To meet this ambitious commitment, they had to deploy a learn-as-you-go decarbonization process. Their experience offers four key lessons for other organizations starting or progressing on their own decarbonization journeys.

1. Do the prep work necessary to set well-defined goals.

First, Georgina Grenon, director of sustainability for the Paris Games, and her team drew up a baseline “budget” for carbon emissions for the multitude of activities necessary to prepare for, operate, and close the Olympics.

As shown in “2024 Paris Olympic Games: Three Main Sources of Carbon Impact,” the team began by separating the activities into three main categories: transportation (getting people to the Games and moving them between events), construction (building accommodations and event facilities), and Games operations (feeding, protecting, and serving the participants and spectators). For each identified activity, they estimated baseline levels of carbon emissions associated with the materials and energy used. These figures shaped an overall estimate of where the carbon emissions would be largely produced. The team determined the baselines using a careful analysis of previous Games and other big sporting events. Their budgeted reductions reflected the highest feasible estimates.


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