The value of sustainability – Part One | Budapest 2024

  • Budapest bid is aligned with long-term urban redevelopment strategy
  • 'Circular economy' approach underpinned by 'Reduce, Re‐use, Recycle, Recover' motto
  • Bid has partnered with Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method and Building Research Establishment

There’s no doubt the 2024 contenders are taking sustainability more seriously than any previous Olympic bidding process. Never before has the IOC been so focused on instructing bidders to slash costs, think green and to meticulously address thorny legacy questions. Never before have candidate cities vying for the biggest sporting prize on earth laboured so hard on this aspect of the bid dossier. This time may be different, but can Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris pay more than lip service to deliver sustainable Games

The 2024 contest is the first test of IOC president Thomas Bach’s much-trumpeted Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, which calls for sustainability to be included in “all aspects of planning and staging of the Olympic Games”. So, has the IOC got it right? Are the reforms working and the bids delivering?

Jacqueline Barrett, the IOC’s associate director for Olympic candidatures, seems to think so. As the IOC sets to work on examining the third and final bid dossiers submitted in February ahead of evaluation commission visits to the three cities, she believes sustainability “has been fully embraced”.

Following the troubled run-in to the 2016 Olympics and now alarming reports that some venues are falling into disrepair and disuse, the IOC might be glad to see the back of Rio. Despite the problems, Barrett is quick to defend Rio’s blighted post-Games landscape. She says the IOC disagrees “quite rigorously” with any analysis that the Brazilian city is a failure: “Rio, we have to take a little bit of a distance from in terms of judging legacy and sustainability. It’s very early days there.”

For the 2024 Games expect something better, she suggests. “We have reinforced legacy and sustainability commitments [to the bids] and addressed governance structures for legacy delivery,” she explains.

But why should IOC members voting on the 2024 host city in Lima, Peru, in September care about sustainability and legacy? Many are unlikely to give the detailed evaluation reports on Budapest, LA and Paris much of their time.

“The bottom line is sustainability matters today – for everyone in society. Olympic Agenda 2020 was a very thorough and long discussion… the IOC voted in unanimity,” Barrett adds. “They want this on the table. They feel it themselves. It’s their Olympic agenda… it’s not just the president’s, it’s the whole Olympic Movement’s.”

Does she think the winning 2024 bid can match up to their promises and set new benchmarks? “It’s a huge opportunity, win or not, working with diverse groups, to introduce new standards and to come to the table with something creative, so yes we have high hopes of that,” she says.


VIDEO: An introduction to Budapest's bid for the 2024 Games:

With a master plan aligned to the Budapest 2030 long-term urban development strategy, the Hungarian bid aims to enhance the capital’s desirability as a place to live and work through a raft of initiatives.

A strategic sustainable impact assessment has evaluated the major economic, environmental and social impacts of the Games concept, guiding the bid’s work. Notable are the environmental improvements, including the brownfield remediation and decontamination of the Olympic Park Cluster, Danube Rowing Centre and FOKA Bay, promotion of climate-friendly transportation modes and expanded Active Route Network for pedestrians and cyclists – 38km and 120 km of existing and planned pedestrian walkways and cycle paths respectively – and improvements to the Soroksári branch of the Danube. Other Olympic positives would include new housing opportunities and programmes related to social inclusion, skills, volunteerism, health and wellness, national cohesion and the socioeconomic rehabilitation of certain areas.


Acting on the analysis results have been the “thought leaders and influencers” from across national and municipal governments, and experts from academia, real estate and NGO sectors, who make up the eight-member Budapest 2024 sustainability advisory board. Out of this have emerged policies on procurement, resource efficiency, carbon emissions and waste management. There’s a sustainability code of conduct, governing environmental, social and ethical issues in the procurement of products and services, including sponsorship and licensing deals, as well as choice of business partners, adherence to green building stipulations and international human rights and labour standards. Budapest 2024 has the ambition to be “a trailblazer among European cities”.

Zsombor Barta, the bid’s head of sustainability and legacy, trumpets the “circular economy” approach for all Games‐related procurement, construction and operations, a strategy supported by the motto “Reduce, Re‐use, Recycle, Recover”.

As with Los Angeles and Paris, Barta says the IOC’s Agenda 2020 has helped Budapest’s tilt at the 2024 Games – but arguably more than its rivals. Without the reforms, Budapest may never have come to the IOC’s table at the invitation stage. The bidding reforms were “a crucial and fundamental” reason in Budapest’s decision to bid, offering “encouragement” for mid-size cities to stage smaller, more compact Olympics, Barta explains.


He believes the legacy troubles that have beset the past two summer Olympics – stadium woes in London and a catalogue of problems now arising in Rio – will not be repeated. He says Budapest has backed up all of its legacy and sustainability initiatives with robust case studies, policies and feasibility assessments to successfully deliver bid book pledges.

Two new venues are being built – more than LA and Paris. The 55,000-capacity Olympic Stadium will be downsized to 15,000 in legacy mode, while the 5,000-seat tennis complex will retain its size. A mix of existing and temporary arenas would also stage events. The bid touts the close proximity of the seven venue clusters – all within 7km of the city centre and 10km from the Olympic Village – to help it achieve operational efficiencies and lessen environmental impact and the carbon footprint. All athletes will be within 30 minutes of a venue, 65 per cent of those in Budapest within 12 minutes of a venue from the Olympic Village. The plan is for spectators and the Games workforce to reach all venues exclusively by public transport, walking or cycling.

The City Park Cluster is set against a stunning backdrop of Art Nouveau architecture and part of a Unesco World Heritage Site on the banks of the Danube river. Low-impact, temporary venues and buffer zones will be used to protect Unesco sites, historic parks and monuments. An intimate and compact Games model, with a citywide festival atmosphere is promised thanks also to the short travel times. Barta is “confident” there will be no white elephants post-Games, as legacy and business plans have been drawn up for all venues.

The world-leading Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) will be applied in construction of Olympic venues, while the Building Research Establishment (BRE) has partnered with the bid to help deliver assets and environments “that are more sustainable to build and operate, and that enhance the wellbeing of the people who live, work and entertain in them”. Barta insists Budapest’s commitments relating to environmental certifications will be borne out in actions across the swathe of Olympic constructions.


The Sustainable Sourcing Code and BREEAM framework will guide venue procurement and delivery decisions, covering planning, design and development. In operations, rental and standard solutions will be prioritised over purchase and bespoke options to enable reuse. BREEAM will offer guidelines on sustainable construction products, such as recycled, energy-efficient, carbon-neutral and insulating materials.

Asked to pick out Budapest 2024’s most unique sustainability concepts, Barta highlights the bid’s procurement policy and code of conduct for goods, products and services, raising ethical standards. “This would be the first time that an Olympic Games is adapting a circular economic concept,” he adds, noting how it relates to resources, waste and water management, and carbon emissions.

He chooses the velodrome, which will be built irrespective of whether Budapest secures Olympic hosting rights, as an example of joined-up thinking on venue legacy. Barta says studies have suggested that if the government was building a simple velodrome, the financial sustainability would be “questionable”. But Olympic-proofed plans, with the IOC’s requirements incorporated, are adding different functional areas to the design, including corporate and conferencing uses and a cycling museum, under efforts to ensure the venue can be operated in a financially sustainable way. City and regional market analyses have backed up the economic argument.


The IOC’s Agenda 2020 is big on slashing costs and avoiding waste at every turn through the lifecycle of the 2024 Olympics and beyond. Barta thinks Budapest has got the balance right and is only spending where necessary.

“This is also a crucial element,” he says of the smallest bidding city and underdog in the 2024 race, which is taking a “holistic” view of best-practice building technologies, renewable energy and transport planning to deliver an affordable, compact and easily accessible Games.

With six other Hungarian cities slated to host Olympic events, the legacy is spread far and wide – 90 per cent of the Hungarian population will be within 90 minutes of at least one venue. The opportunity to grow nationwide participation in Olympic sports – particularly archery, badminton, cycling and BMX, rugby, taekwondo and hockey – is a sports sustainability aspect of hosting the Games.

“If the IOC is taking Agenda 2020 seriously, then Budapest would be the right answer,” Barta concludes.

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