How the Winter Olympics Are Getting More Sustainable

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Global businesses can learn lessons from the Winter Olympics as they transition to a carbon-neutral model.


  • The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are the first to go carbon-neutral, with all venues powered by green energy.
  • Existing infrastructure, retrofits, and equipment rentals are all part of a holistic plan to tackle emissions.
  • More needs to be done in the future to fight climate change and avoid relying on offsets to meet targets.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are on, despite the strain and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the sporting event powers on in the face of this global threat, it is waging a campaign against another threat to it and your business — climate change.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are the first to go carbon neutral, in line with the requirements of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). So what can your business learn from their progress?

The New 3 Rs: Reuse, Retrofit, Rent

The expense of the games (both economic and environmental) has historically been a sticking point for critics. The majority of these costs come from infrastructure, venues that often go neglected after the games finish.

As a result, China has focused on retrofits and green buildings to boost sustainability.

In terms of new construction, all 13 newly-erected buildings have received the highest ratings under China’s green building certification. The games have also repurposed seven venues from the 2008 Summer Olympics, including the National Aquatics Centre (colloquially known as the Water Cube), which has been retrofitted to host curling events and renamed the ‘Ice Cube’.

Another notable conversion is the transformation of a former steel mill into the Shougang Big Air venue. The mill was shut down in 2011 over emissions concerns, with cooling towers now rubbing shoulders with ski jumps.

Two coal workshops on site have been converted into 23,000 square metre ice sports venues.

The games have also favoured renting, rather than purchasing, when possible. Games organisers rented 12,000 computers, monitors, printers, and other items (e.g. furniture) to reduce e-waste and emissions from manufacturing.

The energy needs of snow and ice sports are higher than those featured in the Summer Olympic Games, due to the need for both heating and refrigeration. To address this, these games have become the first to use natural carbon dioxide refrigerants instead of hydrofluorocarbons. This is reducing emissions from the ice rink cooling process to near zero, according to the IOC.

How the Games Are Using Green Energy

The 2022 Games are powering all 25 venues with renewable energy. Many events are taking place in the city of Zhangjiakou, which was designated a national-level demonstration zone for renewable energy in 2014. The city is already producing more than 2GW of clean energy, much of which is now powering the games.

The choice of Zhangjiakou as Olympic co-host and the launch of China’s national green energy market in September 2021 are key steps on the path to hosting a carbon neutral event. And a newly-constructed transmission line ferrying green energy to venues in other areas underpins this concerted battle against emissions.

The transmission line (with the highest voltage and capacity of its kind in the world) joins a new Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed rail line connecting the two co-host cities. Further transportation measures include the implementation of intelligent dispatching for public transport to reduce emissions from idling and improve efficiency.

The majority of vehicles in the Olympic fleet will be zero-emission, with 816 hydrogen and 370 electric vehicles in total.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for China to host a carbon-neutral Olympics. More than 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) has been saved by the absence of travel and accommodation-related emissions due to the lack of international spectators. To put this into perspective, total emissions for the 2022 Olympics are projected at 1.3 million tonnes of CO2e.

Even after all these steps to reduce emissions, the games’ carbon footprint is still equivalent to the annual emissions of 220,000 cars.

Reducing Emissions Even More in the Future

COVID-19 has made it easier for the Beijing Games to be carbon-neutral, but there are questions about whether that goal can be achieved once attendance normalizes in future games.

As it stands, the games rely on carbon offsets to get the rest of the way. Still, China compensated by acquiring offsets greater than the event’s expected emissions. This includes offsets worth 600,000 tonnes of CO2e from sponsors.

Despite some concerns about greenwashing, the holistic effort to highlight and factor in games-related emissions is a step in the right direction.

Research shows that if warming trends continue at the current rate, only one of the 21 cities (Sapporo, Japan) that hosted the Winter Olympics in the past would be able to do so in the year 2100. Embracing sustainability will ensure the survival of the Games by making them more environmentally and financially viable.

What This Means for Your Business

Hosting the Olympics is a matter of national pride, and no expense is spared to present the host nation in the best light. While net-zero efforts at these games benefit from deep pockets, most businesses don’t have access to the funding needed to purchase cleantech solutions.

The Olympics are showcasing that many cleantech solutions are indeed market ready. Businesses need only overcome the main hurdle: access to the funding to accelerate implementation.

EnPowered Payments will help you unlock stalled energy projects and accelerate the adoption of cleantech. Our on-bill payments platform helps solution providers sell more by differentiating themselves from the competition. This allows your clients and other energy users to get their projects off the ground and start saving right away.

Contact us today to learn how EnPowered Payments can help you cross the finish line and achieve your energy goals.

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Rod Foster

Rod joined EnPowered in October 2022 to help the company scale its Payments solution.

Having led a number of technology start-ups and scale-ups, Rod is stimulated by working with various stakeholders to provide value for all. He also led the transition of a UK publicly-traded firm in the energy sector into the North and South American marketplaces.