As the 2020 Olympics draw near, excitement is becoming palpable. Results from ticket lotteries are being announced, hotels are being booked, and qualifying rounds are about to begin. The government, meanwhile, is taking the opportunity to fine-tune its PR. For a good reason, the results of the 2020 games may be felt for years to come. Winners and losers aside, the Olympic committee has placed the focus of the event on eco-friendly and renewable technologies.

Ensuring a Future

According to the Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, “All members of Tokyo 2020 [are working] as one to cultivate a deeper awareness of their respective roles and ensure that sustainability is incorporated into all of our activities as we look toward 2020 and beyond [1].”

On the back of record low greenhouse gas emissions, Japan is eager to use the games to position itself as a leader in the green movement [2]. Countless innovations will be employed to create a carbon-neutral event. Heat-reflective roads will absorb water, and uniforms will be made from recycled plastic. Sustainably sourced timber is being used to develop the notably few new structures being built to benefit the local economy. In short, the games are a platform: Japan is going green and is in the business of new ideas. The organizers hope other cities will adopt the cutting-edge technologies the employ in Tokyo [3].

Setting an Example

For Japan, this environmental campaign is not a break from protocol; the country has long prided itself on being environmentally friendly and in harmony with nature. The often-cited 1997 Kyoto agreement, after all, was crafted here. Furthermore, Japan is far below world leaders such as the United States, Canada, and Russia in terms of greenhouse gas emissions [4]. A remarkable feat for the country with the world's third-largest GDP.

The Shikoku city of Kamikatsu demonstrates the essence of Japan's environmentalism. A testament to Japanese thrift, the city is well on its way to becoming waste-free. For the municipality, the experience began somewhat serendipitously. In 2000, Kamikatsu was ordered to retire one of its trash incinerators. This created a dilemma for the cash-strapped city: go in debt buying a new incinerator or change course [5]. From 2003, the town has championed its goal of becoming waste-free. And it's almost there.

During the transition, Kamikatsu instituted a strict recycling policy. Residents waste very little. Townspeople divide trash into 45 types in 13 categories. As such, most items are recycled or up-cycled at specialty stores. Raw household garbage is also composted, with residents receiving rebates for household composting units. Through their efforts, the city has become 81 percent waste-free. The Zero Waste Academy NGO was also created to spread the city’s innovations to other areas [6].

Historic Games

The Olympic games have a storied history in Japan. The 1964 Tokyo games heralded a new period in Japan. With the tragedies of war over, Japan was able to reintroduce itself as a peaceful participant in the world order. The games also allowed Japan the opportunity to identify itself as a global leader in technology. Numerous ambitious infrastructure projects were carried out to host the games. The Bullet Train among them, it became a symbol of a reborn nation. The poetry doesn't stop there: Prime Minister Abe's grandfather was the Prime Minister during the 1964 games [7].

Japan’s post-war economic malaise came to an end following the 1964 games. It began the "Golden Sixties," the period known as Japan's economic miracle. So, it's a small wonder that Japanese citizens are such excited hosts. Many experienced firsthand the revitalizing affect the games and accompanying international attention can inspire. The celebration continues today, as many residents are excited to host the games. Although there are clear negatives, the opportunities hosting represents are too great to ignore [8].

Time to Act

This time the stakes are higher: climate change is increasingly considered a global threat. As such, the organizers of the games have pushed their green initiatives, and citizens have responded. Since 2017, Japanese residents have turned in their discarded electronics to fabricate Olympic medals. While being eco-friendly, the drive also intended to raise thrift and resource-awareness among participants. It seems to have worked. Residents turned in over 80,000 tonnes of electronics [9].

The venues themselves are also symbols of a commitment to the environment. Although they are sleek, they will be powered by mostly renewable energy. Most of this energy will be generated by solar panels on sight and in the surrounding areas. These facilities are designed to retain rainwater and to be cool during the summer, reducing energy consumption. The refreshments served will also be environmentally friendly, and food waste will be limited. The use of plastics will be limited, and products will be mostly made from recycled materials [10].

As an island nation sensitive to climate change, Japan is betting on an attention-grabbing 2020 Olympics. The organizers are hoping to harness history, as well as their eco-friendly reputation, to herald a new era of environmental mindfulness. It’s impromptu timing; successful games could position Japan as a leader in climate change. But whether the world will notice as it did in 1964 waits to be seen.

By - Luke Mahoney.