With the size of the event increasing, also the scope and amount of sustainability measures rises. When the Olympic torch is lit in London in 2012, it shall be a symbol of the explosive development of East London. One of the most neglected parts of the city today, it shall shine when hosting the most sustainable Olympic Games of the century.
“We need to deliver the games in a way that stimulates regeneration and changes behaviour,” says Shaun McCarthy, Chief of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL).
“The whole bid was based around the idea that the Olympics would be in East London. The purpose was to get that particular region out of the poor situation it is in.”
Including not only the stakeholders but also visitors and residents in that process is the way to achieve actual change, according to McCarthy. “The responsability for urban regeneration is with the five affected boroughs, which have a wider regeneration plan. “The Olympics are not going to fix all of East London’s problems, but hopefully the investment will act as a catalyst.”
London 2012 focused their bid on sustainability because they want to improve the living conditions in a deprived area of the city, East London. Sustainability is the means to advocate regional development. East London is a region with high unemployment, high crime rates and a low education level. More than a quarter of its residents were born outside the EU. This group in particular shall be included in the wider regenartion plan.
LOCOG Sustainability Plan
To emphasize their aims, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) issued a comprehensive Sustainability Plan in 2007 that covers the Games from preparation across event staging to building a legacy.
Its second edition, published in 2009, consists of roughly 100 pages, focusing on five chapters: climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion, and healthy life style.
There are a lot of list, key areas, focus points and priorities that sound rather technical and theoretical. In the end, it all comes down to going the extra mile to set an example and to hope people will follow. Hopes and expectations might be the most important key words of the London Olympic Games.
The overall objective is to reduce the carbon footprint of as many constructions, venues, and events as possible, and not only for the period of the Games. “I hope that we are able to deliver a zero carbon energy solution by 2016 or before which is in line with the current government policy,” says McCarthy.
The politically independent CSL is likely to be in place until 2014, but will cease to exist later on. The Commission id working closely together with the company responsible for the legacy of the Games. McCarthy is looking forward to overseeing the transition and to plan through for them.
Separate Guidelines for Events
Besides the large scale Sustainability Plan, the LOCOG also issued a thin dossier in February 2009 on how to stage sustainable events. The paper is directed to the Olympics but can be used as a guideline for many other big events, too.
In ten chapters, the Guidelines describe what needs to be considered when organizing corporate or public events. Details go as far as to the kind of cloth that should be used for cleaning.
Sustainability Guidelines for Corporate and Public Events
1. Venue Selection
Venues should a.o. be accessible, comply with health and safety regulations, and provide “evidence of sustainability policy in place and in use,” like recycling facilities or energy efficient lighting.
2. Impacts on venue and area
Events should a.o. communicate with neighbouring landowners or communities, monitor and manage noise, and minimise light spill from event and security lighting.
3. Transport and Travel
Events should a.o. prioritise public transport, utilise low emission vehicles where possible, and reduce distances or travel time.
4. Sourcing products & services
Events should a.o. try to use less material, hire or reuse items. All products should comply with the LOCOG’s Sustainable Sourcing Code, asking for five criteria: origin, producer, material, wrapping, and legacy/disposal.
5. Health, safety and security
The focus here is on risk assessment and appropriate insurances and protection measures.
6. Energy Consumption
Events should care for advanced planning and try to use low carbon fuels or renewable energy, care for energy efficiency of all appliances, and ensure that equipment is switched off when not in use.
7. Catering provisions
Events should a.o. provide free tap water, fair trade food from environmentally responsible sources, and provide recyclable dishes
8. Waste and cleaning
Events should treat waste as a resource. Waste streams should be seperated and maintained at all stages. Cleaning products should be environmentally friendly.
Communication offices should a.o. print double-sided, on light background, and use vegetable ink when possible. Information should be provided on posters rather than leaflets.
Organizers should define need and quantity, type and packaging of give-aways. Products should be useful and re-usable.
Make People Change
Any event is carried by the people attending it, the visitors and residents. This is particularly true for the London Olympics as they strive to change a whole area of the city. Motivate them to care and change their lifestyle is one of the biggest challenges.
McCarthy is convinced that the backbone of the Games needs to be completely sustainable, “but in a way that people don’t notice. It needs to be easy for them, the way the food is packed and sold, the waste disposal, that should just work in the background. People should not need to put an extra effort.”
On the other hand, methods to raise spectators’ awareness can be subtle. “You might print information about sustainability on sponsorship advertising or ticketing, you can find ways to have information at a constant disposal, and use big screens instead of leaflets,” Mc Carthy says.
There will be free public transport for visitors, and initiatives to encourage walking and cycling. “We make sure that everything we do has a sustainable side to it and it is not only green washing.”
Decentralized Energy to Stay
Among the numerous sustainable projects in the Olympic Park there is a decentralized energy system with a combined heat and power plant. The system is going to remain in place after the Games have left the city. “The plant will supply most if the electricity and all of the heat to the Park and quite a lot of the cooling,” says McCarthy. It will be linked to the Olympic Village and newly developed areas east of the Olympic Park.
He thinks they could have done better. “My concern is that the energy is going to be centered around gas. With a little bit of extra effort, one could have done an organic waste disposal for example or a center for biogas. That way we could have gotten close to zero carbon emissions.”
The LOCOG calculates carbon savings of 42% for the Olympic Village and the Park compared to the reference carbon footprint. McCarthy keeps the legacy in mind and says he will push for a biogas solution in the long run to drive towards zero emissions.
Sponsoring to Stimulate a Dialogue
Sponsorship is a major part in staging events of the size of the Olympics. According to Sustainability Consultant Meegan Jones, for a business today it is impossible to ignore sustainability issues. “A couple of years ago, it was a moral and ethical decision on behalf of the event producer, but today not to consider the environment will definitely have a negative impact on your reputation.”
EDF Energy is one of the main partners of London 2012. Louise Poole, Deputy Group Director for the 2012 Programme at EDF, confirms the trend. “Yes, it is a mix of improving our sustainability credentials, increasing visability and contributing to our own business. We also want to raise awareness with our business and consumer customers.”
She admits that people usually are not very interested in energy issues apart from when they receive their bills. “To actually increase the possibility to engage in a dialogue with our customers, was one of the reasons for us to partner with the London Olympics,” she says.
EDF proudly call themselves the lowest carbon contributing energy company in Europe. Still, a number of their power stations in the UK run on fossil fuels. According to Poole, an action plan for the next twenty years shall take care of that.
For the Olympic Games, EDF is working on a low carbon fuel for the Olympic torch, and will install a smart grid electrical network in the Park.
All the Way Down the Supply Chain
A great deal of attention was paid to the food strategy on the Olympics, as McCarthy explains. According to him, they go all the way down the supply chain. “We are very interested in the way food is sourced and where it is sourced from, how fresh it really is, or how the labour conditions in the country are.”
With big sponsors like Coca Cola or McDonald’s scepticism seems justified. McCarthy admits, “McDonald’s is not necessarily known for being an ethical or sustainable company. But I have been very pleasantly surprised by how sustainable they actually are.”
Steve Heywood, spokesman for McDonald’s UK, points to their long lasting involvement with the Olympic Games. For the 2012 Games they are still working on their sponsorship plans, he says. “Our aim will be to bring once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and to build excitement as we take part in such a significant event.” However, “at this stage” of the planning process, he did not want to specify these opportunities.
Like Louise Poole of EDF Energy, he emphasizes the importance of sustainability in people’s everyday lives and the opportunity to “maintaining open lines of communication with key stakeholders.”
No Compromise on Sustainability Standards
On his blog, McCarthy is wondering, “How can the Games be sustainable if it is all about money?” With highly developed technology needed for a lot of energy efficient projects, the question usually is, How can the Games be sustainable if we don’t have the money?
“We dont compromise on sustainability standards,” McCarthy says and mentions an example. “The Olympic Stadium originaly was planned £40Mio. over budget. To reduce the costs we would have had to reduce standards. That was out of the question.” The designers went back behind their desks and come up with a lighter construction and a cable supported roof, that is being built at the moment.
“Not only was the new concept cheaper, we also ended up with all the sustainability features planned in the first place, but actually using less energy. The embodied carbon footprint was naturally reduced,” McCarthy is proud. “We were also able to keep the high sustainability standard of the Olympic Village.”