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For the 2012 London Olympics, The Winning Medal is Green

Words by Leon Kaye

With 15 months to go before the 2012 Olympics begin in London, the mega-event’s organizers have the goal of emerging as the most socially and environmentally responsible Olympiad ever.  That moniker will be easy to achieve:  after all, sustainability has not been taken seriously by any previous summer Olympics organizing committee.  The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), however, claims that it is embedding sustainability, governance, and social good throughout the months leading up to the Games.  To that end, LOCOG released its first Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)-certified report last week.

This report mostly focuses on the organizing and the construction of the Olympics’ events and venues.  LOCOG worked with The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the organization responsible for the construction of the Games’ sites.  Together both governing bodies claim to push for a low-carbon event, a near zero-waste Games, dedication to green space, inclusion, and a future legacy that will encourage healthy living.  The organizing committees already have reduced some of their lofty environmental goals, which is hardly surprising considering how expensive it is to host tens of thousands of athletes, journalists, and spectators from around the world.

For any Olympic Games, one of the biggest question marks is what will happen to the venues after the 17-day event is over.  Recent hosts Beijing and Athens have struggled with the upkeep of stadiums and other facilities after the athletes, journalists, and tourists leave; Vancouver, which hosted the most recent Winter Games, is stuck with high rise residential buildings in which individual units are not selling.  In London, some venues, like iconic Wembley Stadium, are undergoing some retrofitting.  Overall, however, the construction of other venues is remarkably efficient.  LOCOG and ODA claim that 90% of the materials used to build the Olympic Park have been reused or recycled.  Furthermore, about one-quarter of the construction materials are from recycled aggregate.  The focus on green building, together with the fact that the London Games should be among the most compact on record, will help the organizers’ goal to hold a low-carbon Olympics.

Despite some challenges, the London Olympics promise to be one noted for energy efficiency measures.  One building that is already completed, the Velodrome, offers a compact design that allows for air to circulate while also letting in natural light.  Other venues will be powered in part by biomass and fuel cells.  Not all of the organizing committees’ goals, however, will be realized:  the plan for having wind energy was scuttled due to some technical difficulties; other options were scrapped for not providing cost effective energy.  The goal for generating 20% of the Olympics’ energy from renewables, therefore, will most likely be half that percentage.  More work is needed as the International Olympic Committee has already criticized London for its excessive air pollution.

On the social front, London’s approach could be a model for future Olympics or World Cup organizers.  The LOCOG has committed itself to to supplier diversity, local and unemployed laborers to work on construction sites, and to involve local neighborhood around the Olympic Park for developing legacy plans after the Games end.

The 125-page report is crammed with detail and information and covers the activities of the Games’ partners and sponsors.  Host communities have often remembered past Olympics more for their cost overruns, debt, and unused infrastructure more than the pageantry or for world-record performances; Montreal, the 1976 Summer Olympics host, only a few years ago paid off the debt accrued over thirty years ago.  With two more of these reports in the pipeline, this report not only demonstrates the value of transparency, but could be a case study to which future planners can turn when planning an event of this scale.

Leon Kaye is the Editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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