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How Sustainable are the Olympics, Really? A Dive Into Greenwashing at the Tokyo Olympics 🏅

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

First, what is greenwashing?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines greenwashing: as "expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities".

-> Click here for a more in-depth article about the ethics of greenwashing.

The term was coined in the 1980s as a way to expose unsustainable corporations who use marketing that portrays them as "environmentally-friendly." Some examples of greenwashing include oil companies showing employees involved in animal conservation, a car commercial centered on nature and exploration, or a brand using a false claim on their sustainability practices.

What progress have the Olympics made thus far?

From recycled plastic podiums to medals sourced from cyber-waste, the Olympics have managed to incorporate sustainability into various symbols of the games. Even the athletes are sleeping on cardboard beds. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are the first ever to be carbon neutral and run on 100% renewable energy for any extra electricity needed.

Where can they improve?

While all of this progress is important, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have still managed to be the third least sustainable Olympics since 1992. Due to this ranking, the Olympics' sustainability efforts have been accused of being "superficial" and greenwashing ploys to distract from the real environmental cost of the games.

Researchers share that the Olympics' sustainability has decreased over time, and the only way to really improve may require downsizing the event. However, a first step would require the creation of an independent body that will evaluate the event's sustainability claims.





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