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INSEAD professors examine key lessons businesses can learn from the 2024 Paris Olympics race to decarbonisation

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INSEAD professors examine key lessons businesses can learn from the 2024 Paris Olympics race to decarbonisation

INSEAD professors examine key lessons businesses can learn from the 2024 Paris Olympics race to decarbonisation

Pursuing decarbonisation goals is a long, time-consuming journey. Many organisations struggle to identify where to start and how to scale their decarbonisation efforts.

New insights from Professors Atalay Atasu and Luk Van Wassenhove,  in a MIT Sloan Management Review article look to the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games where officials committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about half (compared to the average emitted in the preparation for and operation of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games) for key strategies used to achieve this goal in just seven years.

In “How the 2024 Paris Olympics Fast-Tracked Decarbonisation,” Atalay Atasu, Professor of Technology and Operations Management at INSEAD and The Bianca and James Pitt Chair in Environmental Sustainability, and Luk N. Van Wassenhove, Emeritus Professor of Technology and Operations Management at INSEAD, detail how the team created and executed a strict carbon budget. 

From reusable bottles to a three-layered energy grid, resalable furniture, and bicycle transport, Paris 2024 made an ambitious commitment, deployed in a learn-as-you-go type of decarbonisation process. The time-compressed decarbonisation journey of Paris 2024 provides a good example of the must-haves for success, including a top-level commitment, strong execution levers (e.g., strict carbon budgets), new tools (e.g., material footprints), fearless and motivated leadership ready to break a few walls (e.g., rethinking sourcing and performance), and aligned partners.

Large organisations can learn a lot from their actions,” said Van Wassenhove. “By looking outside of internal resources and building an entire ecosystem, the Paris 2024 team is hitting large sustainability goals by engaging stakeholders with facts and data, breaking silos, making allies, and creating a network of suppliers, partners, local authorities, and clients to create a focused decarbonisation process.”

Four lessons learned while sprinting toward decarbonisation:

  • Do the prep work necessary to set well-defined goals: Draw up baseline budgets, collect data, determine a detailed material footprint, and define sourcing.
  • Break a few walls: Use local sourcing, substitute lower-emission materials, change distribution models, and actively manage and recycle waste.
  • Find creative partners and prioritise ecosystem thinking: Look beyond internal resources and develop partnerships and ecosystem thinking for sourcing models.
  • Turn lemons into lemonade and think local: Cut travel and emissions with creative nearer locations, transport, and hybrid or hydrogen-operated vehicles.

As a result, what has been built is a lasting sustainability ecosystem, not just for future games and other events but also for business and society as a whole,” concludes Atasu. “Engaging in decarbonisation requires stamina and the long-term view that sustainability is larger than any one company. It is about a sense of purpose that engages employees and broader stakeholders. And it takes more than just inspiration to get there — and the team of Paris 2024 is a prime working example.”

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As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. Our research, teaching and partnerships reflect this global perspective and cultural diversity.

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