Tokyo 2020 – When the Olympics Started Going for Green

Hazel Needham

Hazel Needham

Tokyo 2020 event - Full credit to the event organisers of the Olympics

2020 felt neverending, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics never started (until 2021) – and now, after so much waiting, both 2020 and the Olympics are in the past. But at One Tribe, the thing we are interested in is the future. Take a look at how Tokyo 2020 is starting to demonstrate how green is the new gold.

Get our best content on Climate Action in your inbox every week

“Be better, together – For the planet and the people.”

Tokyo 2020 took unprecedented strides in terms of becoming an event that is sustainable for everyone. The sustainability concept of Tokyo 2020: “Be better, together – For the planet and the people” meant that the organisers of the Games had a chance to not only deliver solutions to the global sustainability challenges around the world but to demonstrate their effectiveness on an international platform and become a figurehead for sustainability.

The image below, taken from the Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Plan website, illustrates 17 different areas that the Games acknowledge as opportunities for sustainable development. As rainforest protectors, we are particularly interested in 13 – though all aspects are crucially important for the future of the planet and its people.

sdgs goals

So what did Tokyo 2020 do, in reality, to achieve its sustainability goals? 


The United Nations Environment Programme reports, “Building and managing a sports facility and operating an event uses energy and can contribute to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation, as well as to ozone-layer depletion, habitat and biodiversity loss, soil erosion and water pollution.”

Notorious for their expanse and economic potential, host cities often spend millions building new venues in anticipation of the games, with the London 2012 Olympics being no exception. For Tokyo 2020, however, courtesy of their last Olympic Games back in 1964, 25 of the pre-existing venues were reused, saving valuable resources and energy. In fact, Japan decided to do more than just reuse – they revamped, in the name of sustainability. 

“Tokyo has a rich heritage and has shown its capacity to innovate, for example at the Olympic Games 1964. This time, the Games will accelerate the city’s move to a more sustainable future,” says Marie Sallois, IOC Director for Sustainability.

In total, only 8 of the 23 Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues were built from scratch. Even better is the precedent – only 5% of the venues at Paris 2024 are going to be built from scratch, and by Los Angeles 2028, this figure is set to be 0.

Tokyo 2020 event - Full credit to the event organisers of the Olympics

Renewable energy

Non-renewable energy sources release carbon dioxide, which our rainforest is struggling to absorb. One way of helping protect the rainforests, and our planet, is by switching to renewable energy sources and reducing your carbon footprint. 

The Ariake Urban Sports Park at Tokyo 2020 hosted the BMX freestyle, BMX racing and skateboarding events, which are the Olympics first. And it wasn’t the only first.

Want to hear how these athletes really went for green? You guessed it – this Tokyo 2020 venue, along with every other building and vehicle in the Olympic Games, was completely powered by renewable energy. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic is a ‘model of Japanese innovation’ when it comes to renewable energy – seeing as it was completely powered by hydrogen. Not a single smokey coal anywhere in sight – not even for the Olympic torch.

Carbon credits

Tokyo 2020 purchased 150% of the needed carbon credits to neutralise the Games’ greenhouse gas emissions. These funds will then be invested into local projects that combat CO2 emissions, reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by a greater amount than the 2020 Games themselves even emitted.


Tokyo 2020 had a goal of ensuring that 99 per cent of goods procured for the Games were reused or recycled. Relentless utilisation of raw materials has a huge impact on the rainforest, as land is cleared to extract natural resources and causes mass deforestation. In acknowledgement of this, Tokyo 2020 made a point of using recycled materials. Those all-important Olympic medals were made from recycled consumer electronics and the winner podiums were made from old plastic.

Waste management

Tokyo 2020 was not only thinking about how recycling could be used in preparation for the Games but how it could be used during the Olympics themselves. A recycling initiative was developed, so that plastic bottles used for the duration of the Tokyo 2020 Games could then be recycled and remade into the same product, keeping the carbon footprint and use of raw materials down to a minimum.

Of all the waste generated from the operations at the Games, Tokyo 2020 aspired to recycle 65%.

Future Olympics will be better for the planet

Huge, international events like the Olympics are always going to be heavy on the planet. Taking into account international transport, water and energy usage, single-use and temporary living quarters, arenas and utilities etc, there are plenty of factors that have damaging impacts on the environment.

But what we love about Tokyo 2020 is how these factors were instead identified as areas of potential improvement – factors that must be addressed and solved with an alternative, more sustainable solution. With Paris and Los Angeles already well into the planning stages, Tokyo 2020 has set an excellent precedent for the Olympic Games to come.

Celebrating the medals haul? 

Another great games, and if you headed out to party for the latest medals haul or will do again in the future, check out these 10 tips for sustainable partying . . . 

Tokyo 2020, Olympics started going for green, green Olympics, Tokyo 2020 Olympics, green is the new gold, sustainable for everyone, for the planet and the people, global sustainability challenges, international platform, figure head for sustainability, become a figurehead for sustainability, Tokyo 2020 sustainability plan, the future of the planet, united nations environment programme, greenhouse gas emissions, saving valuable resources, director of sustainability, helping protect the rainforests, renewable energy sources, reducing your carbon footprint, athletes really went for green, powered by renewable energy, carbon credits, combat co2 emissions, carbon in the atmosphere, reused or recycled, causes mass deforestation, using recycled materials, recycled consumer electronics, impacts on the environment, damaging impacts on the environment, future Olympics will be better of the planet.