The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have gotten a bad rap even before they started August 5. From the toxic and trash-filled waters of Guanabara Bay to the Zika virus epidemic, athletes and visitors alike face an uphill battle to stay environmentally sound for the duration of the event. These issues also make Olympic watchers wonder whether the games will only make the environment worse for the 6.4 million residents of Rio.

bigstock--136557302The answer may surprise you. The organizing committee – Rio2016 – has integrated sustainability into all aspects of the games, from how it harvested raw materials for building venues to including diverse and micro businesses among its suppliers. Take a look at some of the ways the Rio Olympics are tackling the massive sustainability issues associated with hosting the largest sporting event of the year.

Building better venues

Approximately 30 million items have been purchased to build and host the games. When it comes time to dismantle these items, they will be reused, sold, donated or recycled whenever possible. For example, 80% of the materials used to build the committee headquarters will be reused. (By the way, the headquarters was also built to consume 70% less energy than typical buildings and collects rainwater to reduce water consumption.)

In addition, all timber used in the venues and buildings is certified that it was logged from a sustainably managed logging region.

Encouraging tourism diversity

Rio2016 teamed up with the United Nations Environment Program to create a Green Passport site and app that shows visitors how to get off the worn, touristy path and explore local cultural venues. This encourages less consumption and more genuine experiences, according to the campaign.

Serving sustainable food

Standards are in place to ensure that food served at the games is: organic; certified as sustainable; and not obtained from logged regions. For example, nuts and fruits are harvested from standing trees rather than from trees that have been cut down to get the produce. Also, meat only comes from areas that have not been deforested. All fish and seafood are certified sustainably caught. Buying priority goes to small and local farmers.

Reducing emissions

The organizing committee plans to reduce emissions by 18% from the 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents estimated to be produced during the games. To help with this, the 1,500 buses used to transport athletes and referees will use 20% biodiesel fuel made from recycled cooking oil. Biodiesel and ethanol will be used as fuel for other equipment as well, such as generators.

Before the games even started, the committee and one of its partners, Dow, offset the equivalent of 2 million tonnes of CO2 through agricultural, building, manufacturing and packaging projects.

Making events eco-friendly

Medals for the winning athletes are made from recycled materials. The bronze medals contain copper left over from the Brazilian Mint, and the gold and silver medals include about 30 percent recycled metals, such as used X-ray plates and broken mirrors. Even the ribbons the medals dangle from are partially made with recycled plastic bottles.

On the competition fields, both natural and synthetic grasses are being used – and will be used again after the games. Natural grass in place for equestrian and field hockey events will be composted. Synthetic grass for soccer competitions will be donated to needy organizations.

The Olympic golf course has been a success story in rehabilitation and sustainability. It was built in a sandy, former industrial zone west of Rio de Janeiro that was short on plants and animals. Since the course was started in 2013, vegetation has increased 167% and the number of animal species has more than doubled. This is the type of lasting influence Rio2016 strives to have on the host city.

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