Sustainability Tech Modernizes Today’s Olympics Arenas

Organizers aim to model smart energy use while providing optimal comfort and safety for athletes and spectators at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Sustainable Olympic Games
The glass-roofed Grand Palais, which will house fencing and taekwondo competitions at the 2024 Olympics. (Adobe Stock/Stefan Wolny)
By Olivier Vidal and Arthur Chretien

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are celebrated worldwide with joy biennially, but their negative environmental impact is also a point of growing concern. For example, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, even with the ban of overseas spectators due to the pandemic reducing traffic and wear on infrastructure, had an estimated carbon footprint of 2.3 million metric tons of CO2. This is equivalent to the annual emissions from a half a million cars. Carbon offsets helped to mitigate some of the large carbon footprint, but critics decried the Games’ heavy reliance on new construction.

Digital tools that can reduce built spaces’ impact on the environment, including the innovative application of sensor networks, advanced hardware controls, automation, and artificial intelligence, hold potential to improve older structures’ capabilities. These applications are particularly important during high-profile spectacles like the Olympics that can strain hosting cities’ resources and bring socioeconomic inequities to the forefront when populations are impacted during construction activity.

With the Olympics increasingly scrutinized for their excessive emissions impact and the effects on the environment, it’s heartening to see a strong focus on carbon-efficient activity in the upcoming Olympics. One hundred years after Paris hosted the world’s first Olympic Village in 1924, organizers are working to ensure the 2024 Paris Olympics model smart energy use while providing optimal comfort and safety for athletes and spectators.

Let The (Sustainable) Games Begin

Paris 2024 is focused on “halving the emissions arising in relation to the Games, while offsetting even more CO2 emissions than we will generate.” Smart buildings will play a prominent role at the 2024 Olympics, and beyond, to support regional zero/negative carbon emission initiatives.

Technological strides in hardware and software have the potential to make these Games the most sustainable event, ever. The Games also provide the opportunity for Paris to demonstrate for future host cities how to make their structures resilient to climate disruption while preserving the cities’ cultural heritage and satisfying the inhabitants’ desire for continuity and historical themes.

Olympic organizers are working to minimize the environmental and inhabitant effects and reduce excessive carbon emissions and water use, while also ensuring everyone’s comfort and enjoyment. The 2024 Paris Olympics Committee has made very public commitments to sustainability, showcasing advances in energy-efficient, highly adaptable built environments that will continue to serve the region’s population long after the Olympics are over.

The enormous scale of the Olympics in terms of costs, participants, and sheer acreage can make adhering to green goals challenging, but new technology for tracking and balancing energy is starting to make these goals a reality. During the Games, a host city will bring in thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators. Safe, ample lodging and clean power to comfortably house participants and enthusiastic visitors without negatively impacting existing residents is a tall order. With foresight, a commitment to green practices, transparency, and stakeholder involvement, Paris is leading the way in bringing these goals to fruition.

Creative integration of modern hardware and software technologies will be utilized throughout the diverse arenas to keep Paris’ emissions goal on track. To prepare, very few new venues are currently being constructed; 95% of the Games venues will be retrofitted pre-existing structures or temporary sites. This approach dramatically reduces new construction’s embodied and operational carbon output and ensures the city won’t be left with empty, unusable buildings when the Games are over.

The majority of the 2024 venues are being held in historic buildings—for example, the glass-roofed Grand Palais, which will house fencing and taekwondo competitions—and automated temperature controls will create a pleasant atmosphere. One of the oldest and most iconic buildings to be part of the Games, the Grand Palais was constructed 123 years ago for the Paris Universal Exhibition. It is now undergoing its first full renovation to modernize its energy and other operational systems, and will be open for arts and sports events to the French public in 2025.

One of the event’s busiest and largest venues, the Athletes’ Village, will host 14,500 athletes and staff during the Olympic Games, and later 9,000 athletes and staff during the Paralympic Games. Encompassing three metropolitan towns, organizers will later convert this space into housing for 6,000 residents, creating nearly 3,000 new housing units, student lodgings, schools, public green spaces, and business services and shops.

The Aquatics Centre is one of the few new builds planned. This modular, low-carbon space is being constructed with all bio-based materials, and its solar roof will supply all the Centre’s energy, and is touted as one of France’s largest urban solar farms. To create these adaptive environments while modeling exemplary environmental strategies, organizers are integrating innovative solutions to modernize the energy usage of these retrofitted buildings. Balancing efficiency and lowering emissions with spectator comfort, athletic performance, and for the longer horizon, residential and business use is at the forefront of these retrofits.

Because heat waves in Europe have become the new climatic normal, the summer games in Paris are expected to align with searing temperatures. These energy-efficient structures are designed to create their own energy, through geothermal or solar technology. Automatic, energy-efficient sensors and software have powerful potential to create safe temperatures for spectators and competitors. By building in the tools now to measure carbon emissions and focus on smart energy management, these 2024 Olympic Games structures are a template for Paris and future host cities to meet their carbon neutrality targets.

Chretien joined the Distech Controls team in 2015 as Product Manager and has overseen the development and market launch of a number of key products. Arthur is now in charge of the Product Portfolio for Europe.

Vidal serves as the Senior Director, Enterprise Sales at Acuity Brands, leading the sales globally for the entire Atrius portfolio across various verticals. With a career spanning over two decades, Olivier joined Acuity Brands in 2020 and has held a range of leadership roles in his career across Account Management, Sales, Product Marketing, Sales Engineering in both travel and smart building industries.

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