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Right now, in every water cooler conversation, every dinner table discussion, every chance meeting on the street, the Olympic Games will come up. Without bloodshed, the world is battling to decide who’s the strongest, fastest, most graceful, and most nimble at table tennis. We’re all hooked into the sports soap opera, which is why it’s the perfect venue to get people talking about sustainability. And the London Organising Committeee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), has worked hard to make that happen this year.
Hosting the Olympics is an undertaking that leaves its mark on the purse, politics, culture and environment of the city. Venues to hold events in 26 sports with widely different needs must be built to accommodate throngs of global athletes and spectators, with an eye towards what will happen when the site is deserted in just about two weeks. And ever since the International Olympic Committee made the environment the third strand of Olympism in 1994, cities are expected to uphold this pillar as host. It’s almost an insane decision to place a bid to host the games, given the standards to uphold while in the international spotlight, which may be why London caught the bouquet when it pledged to create the greenest Olympics in history. Since 2003, David Stubbs, the Head of Sustainability for the LOCOG, has worked to get the London games as near to goal as possible. And despite the doubters and naysayers, the LOCOG was largely successful in making the games, and those watching, more environmentally conscious.
In an interview with the New York Times, Stubbs said that the committee saw a “massive opportunity to transform a large part of East London, an area that has been an industrial waste ground for centuries.” According to the LOCOG Construction Sustainability Leaflet (2009), surveys of plants and animals living in the Olympic Park were conducted, and 45 hectares of wildlife habitats will be left on and around the Park after the Games.
Garbage that included tires, trolleys and cars were taken out of the 8.35 km of waterways that run through the park. Soil washing machines washed, sieved and shook out pollutants like petrol, oil and tar from the soil so that it could be reused, and construction materials were reused or recycled. For example, the steel used around the top of the Olympic Stadium (the lightest constructed to date), is made of gas main pipes that were surplus from a northern England project.
In contrast, the Sydney games closed off a section of popular surfing beach, closed a public pool, and converted a public park into a private leisure facility. Beijing’s Bird Nest used 9/10 more steel than London’s Olympic Stadium. And in Montreal, a new airport and new roads were built just for the Games.
The LOCOG are also the first to be judged by an independent body, the Commission For A Sustainable London 2012, which published regular reports on the committee’s progress that were overall positive.
Rainwater is being collected during the Games to reduce the amount of potable water being used in the buildings. According to David Stubbs, an estimated 14 million meals will be served during the games by contracted caterers that have adopted the London Games’ “food vision.” While those contracts have been under the most scrutiny (and include companies like Coca Cola and McDonald’s), Stubbs has insisted that companies have used their sponsorship to begin addressing their own problems in sustainability. The “food vision” principles being followed include fair trade, M.S.C.-certified (Marine Stewardship Council-certified) and Fish and Farm Assured Red Tractor (a program that assures the safety of food production, from the farm to packaging).
Sustainability even found its way to the artistic vision of the London Games, with the first low-carbon cauldron. Compared to Beijing’s cauldron of 300 tons, the London cauldron is 16 tons and includes multiple burners, which allows for gas flow to be turned down overnight. Each nation has their own burner with their name inscribed, and will be able to take home their piece of the torch at Games’ end.
Legacy strategy for the Olympic Park has been in place since 2009, the earliest of any games, with the creation of the London Legacy Development Corporation. Considerations for future use of the Park went as far back as the construction phase, where only those structures that were part of Legacy plans were made permanent. All others, like the shooting range, hockey, basketball, and equestrian events, were made temporary structures.
In July 2013, the North Park will be the first post-Games attraction to open, which includes a community hub, parks and footpaths. Also to open is the Multi-Use Arena, a 7,500 capacity indoor entertainment venue that will host a yearly program of sports, concerts and community events.
Second to open in Easter 2014, will be the South Plaza, which will include the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the Aquatics Centre, adapted for aqua-fitness classes, family swims and lane swimming. At that time, residents and visitors will also be able to access the entire Park. The athletes’ village will also be converted into an eco-friendly housing development.
While the London Games are indeed the greenest of them all, they fell short of some of the initial goals, and point to where future cities can improve on Olympic sustainability. As the Commission For A Sustainable London 2012 reported last June, “Not everything is perfect and there are some issues which will not be resolved by London 2012 and need to be addressed in future. These include: a low carbon fuel source for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park; addressing labour standards in the supply chain, particularly for merchandise; and dealing with wider stakeholder concerns about the corporate behaviour of commercial partners.” Looks like the judges give London 2012 a solid silver in Green.
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