What does the Brazilian Olympic Opening Ceremony mean for the future of sustainable events?

The theme of sustainability was central to Rio's 2016 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. This is something the global event industry should take note of and here are five reasons why:

1- As a theme sustainability is challenging, it isn't a feel good factor. Rio faces criticism for the quality of the Guanabara waterways which will be used by athletes yet it still bought the world's attention to the need for us all to take more action on climate change.

The message here is you don't need to have your own issues perfectly sorted to inspire others into action, in fact please don't wait until you have everything perfect because we don't have time. As the opening ceremony so clearly communicated our climate is changing fast and if we don't want many of our global cities underwater we need to act fast. This should inspire many destinations, event suppliers and major events who worry that supporting campaigns to create a positive environmental change will result in them being criticised for not having found solutions to their own recycling, carbon or food waste challenges. This is a game changer and the message it sends is that everytime the attention of the world is focused on something it should be focused on the one thing we all have in common, our shared planet. As Clare Balding a BBC commentator noted "(people will look back at this and say) this is the day I realised we had to look after our planet'

2- The business case for sustainability is clear. 
Over the last ten years the most commonly asked question I hear is 'What is the business case for sustainability, tell me how much money I can save'. It hasn't been that simple though and partly because the industry has not been prepared to save money at every opportunity. For the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games opening ceremony a key theme was reuse. From the stage sets to the significantly lower budget compared to London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games this opening ceremony demonstrated that it is more responsible to be creative on a lower budget than spending to impress. Suppliers who deliver events for brands who value sustainability should take note.

3-Sustainability is an inclusive theme.
The exact definition of sustainability is something most people couldn't tell you but everyone knows it is about looking after our future and what better way to present that visually than asking every athlete entering the stadium to plant a seed. Making this activity part of the ceremony was much more impactful than planting 12,000 trees of 208 varieties in the athletes village post event. Who knows how much this may inspire the athletes to become green fingered sustainability advocates.

4- Sustainability means inclusivity
Sustainability means ensuring something can last over time, this means  maintaining relevance and for a sporting event which involves the world it is vital that the world's athletes are included.
As the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said at the opening ceremony ''In the Olympic world we are all equal..... In a world where selfishness is gaining ground .... With the greatest respect we welcome the refugee Olympic team'
The inclusion of the refugee team made the games relevant to the situation in the world today. The global support and interest in this community demonstrates how right the IOC were to innovate to be inclusive.

5- The Olympic flame is the symbol of the Olympics and past host cities around the world still proudly display their flames.
Rio 2016's Olympic and Paralympic Games flame is low carbon emission and wind powered so Rio's symbol for their games is also a symbol of their commitment to sustainability. 

Fiona Pelham

Positive ImpactBlog