Among all the news about the Tokyo Olympics, you might have heard one particularly wild story about the beds in the Olympic Village. These beds got an unforeseen amount of press coverage when American runner Paul Chelimo joked that the cardboard material was used to discourage “intimacy among athletes.” While the idea of an ‘anti-sex’ bed design captured peoples’ interest, this story is merely a joke gone wild. But there’s still a good reason to talk about these cardboard beds — they’re recyclable.
Many outlets, from the New York Post to Sports Illustrated, have covered the Olympic ‘anti-sex’ beds. Beyond this myth, the truth behind the design raises poignant concerns about the Olympics and the environment. Designed for easy recycling, the beds represent an attempt to make the notoriously eco-unfriendly Olympics more sustainable.
From displacing communities to using immense amounts of resources to construct facilities that will rarely be used outside of the games, the Olympics aren’t known for being sustainable — no matter how hard the International Olympic Committee (IOC) tries to prove itself. While recyclable cardboard beds and green buildings seem like strong, eco-conscious efforts, it can be difficult to judge how useful these attempts are in minimizing the Olympics’ environmental impact.
To address this issue, a 2021 publication in Nature detailed a nine-indicator model researchers developed to determine how sustainable past Olympic Games were and to make predictions for the Tokyo Olympics. As the study explained, “The Olympic Games claim to be exemplars of sustainability, aiming to inspire sustainable futures around the world. Yet no systematic evaluation of their sustainability exists.”
The nine indicators fall into three categories: ecological, economic and social. A few key measures within these categories include new construction, visitor footprint, event size and long-term viability. According to this model, the study found “that the overall sustainability of the Olympic Games is medium and that it has declined over time.”
While the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics ranked as most sustainable, both Sochi 2014 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 earned low scores. Even more troubling is that no Olympic Games scored in the model’s top category. These results seem to suggest that despite the IOC’s efforts, cardboard beds included, Olympic sustainability efforts simply aren’t winning the gold.
Lead image via Pixabay