London Olympics sets the blueprint for the sustainable future of the games
Climate change - reducing emissions of greenhouse gases
Waste - reducing total waste and encouraging recycling during construction as well as during the Games
Biodiversity - minimising the impact of the Games on local flora and fauna
Inclusion - access for locals to the Games as well as work, training and business opportunities
Healthy living - encouraging people to get active
The main arena - CGI image of the Olympic Stadium
The Olympic ‘Big Build’ in action
The London Games should bring a sense of pride to the British public, as it did for the Chinese in Beijing
When London won the rights to stage the 2012 Olympics it based its presentation on the sustainable legacy.
On 6 July 2005 the city of London won a two-way fight with Paris by 54 votes to 50 at the IOC meeting in Singapore for the right to stage the 2012 Summer Olympics. It was heralded as a momentous day for Britain by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and it set a seven-year countdown clock ticking to the greatest show on Earth.
Paris had been the favourite throughout the campaign, but London's hopes were raised after an impressive presentation by Lord Coe, the bid chairman. It was widely recognised that bid leader Coe, a high-profile personality within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other governing bodies, hauled London closer to the French capital as the vote approached.
At the cornerstone of the bid were the plans to make this the most sustainable Olympic Games on record and leave a lasting legacy both on east London and the shape of future Games. Plans for a new Olympic park based around the deprived area of Stratford in London's East End presented a powerful case for transforming the social and sporting landscape of the capital.
Legacy was the word, and it was used often to deliver the message – give us the Games, and one of the world's great capital cities will be transformed. It was a vision that offered a new national athletics stadium, aquatic centre and velodrome. But it also fitted in with the idea of compact, non-wasteful Games, with several temporary venues to be relocated elsewhere in the UK. There would be no white elephants.
Now, seven years on, the day of reckoning on Britain and London's bold promises beckons. There is no doubt that staging the 2012 Olympic Games was always being to be a challenge, but to make it the most sustainable Games ever held and a blueprint for future events seems a tall order, one summed up succinctly by Jonathon Porritt, chair of the London 2012 sustainability ambassadors. "Invite 14,700 of the world's finest athletes to compete together, watched by millions of spectators from all around the world in the presence of the world's most demanding media," he says.
"Locate the whole show in one of the most under-developed areas of your capital city, on some of the most contaminated and derelict land it's possible to find. Undertake to make sure all the buildings and all the infrastructure required, and all the services provided to stage such a jamboree meet the highest possible sustainability standards. Give yourselves just seven years to marshal all the money needed, employ the best possible staff, procure billions of pounds worth of goods and services and mobilise thousands of volunteers – with sustainability at the heart of the entire operation – and that's the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games!"
Only history will record the success of the sustainability strategy but the early signs are encouraging. "Our ambition is to rejuvenate neglected communities in London, promote healthier and better lifestyles across the UK and beyond, change the way people everywhere perceive disability, and inspire an entire generation to participate in sport," Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) says. "By building the stage and hosting the Games, our construction, catering, hospitality and events companies show the value of incorporating sustainability practices.
"This summer the eyes of the world will be on London – we have spent the last seven years working hard to make sure the immediate and lasting impact of the Games is as positive, inclusive and sustainable as possible.
"In considering sustainability in its full sense, there is rarely an obvious right answer. What I can say with confidence, however, is that sustainability is firmly part of the mix in the decisions we do make. In many respects we are trying to address sustainability in areas that have not been considered before, especially in the context of major events and their supporting industries. It is therefore important that we share the learnings of what has worked well and what has not been so successful."
The final pre-Games sustainability check came back in April with a report covering London 2012's delivery of the entire Olympic and Paralympic programme. And the verdict a resounding thumbs up.
"I witnessed the thoughtful approach to bringing sustainability issues into the planning and development of a mass scale event," Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), upon seeing the Olympic Park says. "Efforts such as the greening of the supply chain, regeneration of an inner city area and bringing energy efficiency measures to local homes, can build the confidence to wider society that sustainability is not theory but infinitely do-able with the policies and technologies available today not tomorrow. Once the Games are over, I look forward to analysing the achievements and lessons learned.
"As inevitable challenges have arisen during the planning and implementation, solutions and compensatory measures have been found – these are important lessons that can be handed on to future mass spectator events. It puts London 2012 within the tide of positive case studies from major sporting events that are shining pathways towards a sustainable century and a transition to a Green Economy in advance of Rio+20."
David Stubbs, LOCOG head of sustainability, points to the intricacy of the planning as one of the biggest challenges. "The complexities of trying to address sustainability in areas that have never been considered before was a constant challenge, but we are thrilled with the outcome of our programme," he says. "Achieving the BS 8901 Standard and an 'A rating' for our report are real demonstrations of our commitment and success in delivering sustainability across all the areas that matter to our stakeholders."
Porritt also points to the success in managing the detail of such a huge project. "The scale of ambition involved in what will undoubtedly be the world's most sustainable Games to date is gob-smacking... it's such a good story that emerges, as this report spells out with as much detail as any stakeholder might reasonably require," he adds.
Pride of Britain
Sustainability experts have also been lining up to pick over the accomplishments of the Olympic programme but also cast a sheen of reality over exactly what has been accomplished. "For the last three summers, I have stood in the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing with Cranfield MBAs during our International Business Experience in China and watched the pride of Chinese tourists as they visit the stadium of the 2008 Olympics that signalled China's re-emergence on the world stage," David Grayson, professor of corporate responsibility at Cranfield School of Business says.
"In contrast, London has staked its pride on making the 2012 Olympics 'the most sustainable Games ever' – transforming the Olympic Park site and its surrounding communities into the biggest regeneration project in Europe.
"The London 2012 'sustainability journey' is both inspirational and helpful for busy managers working to embed sustainability in their own organisations."
LOCOG has developed a five-point plan to achieve its sustainability ambitions challenging five key areas: climate change – reducing emissions of greenhouse gases; waste – reducing total waste and encouraging recycling during construction as well as during the Games; biodiversity – minimising the impact of the Games on local flora and fauna; inclusion – access for locals to the Games as well as work, training and business opportunities; and healthy living – inspiring people across the country to take up sport and develop active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.
"Like any other organisation making a serious commitment to sustainability, LOCOG and its partners responsible for delivering the Games, have built sustainability into their core strategy," Grayson says. "They have scoped their material, environmental, economic and social impacts, prioritising these so as to minimise the negative and maximise the positive."
In addition to setting ambitious sustainability goals, LOCOG has been instrumental in developing the means to manage and measure progress against them. In 2007, the independent 'Commission for a Sustainable London 2012' (CSL) was established to monitor and support the commitment to a sustainable Olympics and ensure its legacy. The Commission was made up of experts in different aspects of sustainability such as diversity, housing, air quality and supply chain management.
Making it public
Recent Doughty Centre research, at Cranfield School of Business, into the governance of sustainability and corporate responsibility has found that using external expert groups, a growing practice in large companies, can provide a useful reality check to busy boards and senior management teams.
The London 2012 journey has instigated the British Standard 8901, which has been developed specifically for the events industry to operate in a more sustainable manner. LOCOG has also collaborated with the Global Reporting Initiative on creation of an internationally recognised framework for sustainability reporting by event organisations.
As far as the battle to win the hearts and minds of all stakeholders, both LOCOG and CSL have been very active through both traditional and new media streams. They have produced annual progress reports, supplemented with blogs, YouTube videos and other social media.
As many big companies have found, making public commitments and setting ambitious targets has spurred innovation throughout the LOCOG supply chain. Stubbs, head of sustainability at LOCOG, says"If you make sustainable innovation an important part of how you procure your contractors and designers, and you put it in the brief, people will come up with solutions."
Grayson adds: "LOCOG has encouraged their suppliers to share their sustainability learning. Some of the contractors have used this knowledge to win further work. Encouraging supplier knowledge exchanges around sustainability is becoming good practice amongst sustainability leaders."
LOCOG and the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) have also committed to a 'legacy for learning' programme that the IET have been heavily involved with, in a bid to maintain and replicate the high standards set by the London 2012 project.
"So far, the failings of Athens 2004 (worker fatalities) and Beijing (large numbers of people moved to accommodate the Olympic facilities) have not been repeated," Grayson says.
The world is watching
Progress against targets has been impressive: two million tonnes of contaminated soil cleaned on site; zero waste to landfill; 100 per cent sustainable timber (the Velodrome track, for example, is sustainable Siberian pine); and the creation of the largest urban parkland in Europe for more than 150 years. As Olympics sustainability ambassador Porritt notes: "London and the UK will be on show to billions of people during the Games and this is a precious 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to visibly display our leadership in sustainability issues."
Areas of concern remain, particularly over transport congestion and transport-generated pollution. It is also unclear whether the Games will create the desired behaviour shifts towards healthier and more active lifestyles. There was also criticism of the decision to award the wrap-around for the main Olympic Stadium to Dow Chemical due to its ownership of Union Carbide, a company that operated the Bhopal Plant in India where a major gas leak disaster killed several thousand people in 1984. Generally, however, sponsors appear to be reinforcing the sustainability message of London 2012.
While the sustainability journey is still underway, it is anticipated that when the Olympic and Paralympic Games conclude on 9 September, London 2012 will have helped to raise global awareness of how to embed sustainability.
When the diverse group of London school children who formed the centrepiece of the successful 2012 bid team approach their 40s in 2032, it is hoped they will be able to look back and see how London has encouraged Rio and each succeeding Olympic host city, to raise the sustainability bar still further. For them, sustainable development is not an optional extra but is essential to their future – and ours.
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