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Comment & Analysis

Sustainability in stadium design: Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2021

Carly Nettleford, Engineering Policy Officer

Tokyo Stadium courtesy of Shutterstock
Tokyo Stadium courtesy of Shutterstock

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year, Carly Nettleford looks into some of the measures that have been taken by the organisers to make the Games more sustainable.

Energy efficiency is an important factor in reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions and, as such, it is slowly becoming the norm in future stadium design. There are revolutionary stadiums all over the world that have taken an eco-friendly approach in their architecture. One of the most talked about projects is Japan’s National Stadium, which has been rebuilt for the Tokyo Olympics.

I am going to look at how this stadium was set to be the ‘most eco-friendly Games yet’; organisers hope the event will emit no more than 2.93 million tonnes of CO2.

Tokyo was due to host the next Olympic and Paralympic Games this year; these have of course been postponed due to COVID-19. The stadium, which has a maximum capacity of 68,000 people, has some very interesting features. One of these are their use of robots to during the Olympic Games. They will be used for many things, including collecting equipment used in field events, such as the javelins, to speed up the processes inbetween events. They will also be used as robotic versions of their mascots, Miraitowa and Someity. In conjunction with Toyota. These mascots are 60 cm tall, have built in cameras with facial recognition and will be used to interact with children. These are just two examples of what the robots will be used for.

The Japanese government stated that the Games will be carbon neutral and will apply the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. The stadium also uses solar panels attached to the roof, that as well as powering the stadium, will power the watering of the plants and the greenery surrounding the stadium. The project's architect, Kengo Kuma stated that “the solar panels will be attached to the roof and visible to spectators as they are looking to make this environmental technology very visible as part of the design.” He went on to say "We wanted to create something that captures the people's thoughts on the environment or the Earth at the time". With an event as large as the Olympics this was a great opportunity to inspire society to act.

There are many ways that the stadium and the wider games are eco-friendly. The use of recycled materials for many different resources is seen throughout the Games. Thirty percent of the material used for the Olympic torch material was made from recycled aluminium. Silver and bronze medals were also made from waste materials that would otherwise likely have ended up in landfill. The Torch will be lit using the Opening Ceremony cauldron by hydrogen, which allows offsetting carbon emissions. Of course, some of these measures will have only a small effect on reducing the environmental footprint of the Games, but they show the holistic approach to sustainability that is being taken by the organisers with a raft of measures, which are summarised in the 'Sustainability Pre-Games Report'.

For example, it was revealed that the athletes' beds in the Village will be made of a very strong cardboard, they will be recyclable once the Games are over. Many people were shocked by this, but the General Manager of the athletes' Takashi Kitajima stated that, “the beds can allow up to 440lbs (200kg) in weight and they are stronger than wooden beds,".

Other recyclable materials were used for the Olympic podiums, uniforms, and the plaza. Tokyo 2020 also vowed to reuse or recycle 65% of waste produced from the Games, including plastics, food, bottles, and containers. The Olympics/Paralympics are huge scale events, spread across 34 different venues, which they claim will be powered by 100% renewable energy. Additionally, 60% of the venues being used for the Games are existing ones which minimizes CO2 emissions from new venues. Any permanent venues that are being built must adhere to high environmental standards.

The Games have also worked with the metropolitan government to introduce a ‘carbon offset programme’. Tokyo 2020 was amongst the first to join the UN 'Sports for Climate Action' initiative which supports the sporting community to achieve global climate change goals.  There is a small remaining CO2 footprint; is usually unavoidable therefore they have implemented initiatives to reduce this as much as possible. An example of this is the city are offering subsidies for the use of home fuel cells. Also taking transportation into consideration, Tokyo 2020 has introduced fuel cell municipal buses, meaning that citizens can choose low-carbon public road transport, including the Metro. The stadium is also accessible to cyclists, making it easy to travel around the stadium by bike. They also aim to have a fleet of passenger cars that are fuel efficient. Again, in partnership with Toyota, they have stated that 90% of Olympic vehicles will be electrified. The use of plug in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells will enable the CO2 emissions to be reduced. This initiative will help to promote the use of hydrogen powered vehicles.

It is clear to me that a lot of consideration has been made into how the Games can be as eco-friendly as possible. As we continue to see stadiums worldwide become more energy efficient, and with large scale events such as the Olympics showing initiative this gives us a great example of the direction we should be going in and the benchmark for all future stadium design.

IMechE is planning to publish a number of articles and reports on sports engineering in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2021. If you would like to contribute in terms of writing a topical article or advising on the development of reports, please get in touch with our Engineering Policy Officer, Carly Nettleford.


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