It seems ironic that my first experience of an Olympic Games starts with my first experience of Heathrow Terminal 5. I worked for BAA for 11 years, joining in 1995, the week the T5 enquiry started. This turned out to be the longest public enquiry in English legal history, nearly 7 years, eclipsing the enquiry for Sizewell B nuclear power station. I was involved in various elements of T5 up until I decided to leave in 2006 to pursue a more independent career but up to now I have never experienced T5 as a customer. The environmental achievements of T5, using 70% non-potable water, use of waste CHP heat from an existing facility, high standards for construction and schemes for local employment were best practice at the time. We expect these to be matched or surpassed by the ODA and there are encouraging signs that this will be achieved.
However, T5 was not all success, the building is nowhere near as energy efficient as it could be and early ambitions to eliminate materials such as non-sustainable timber, HFC and PVC were not wholly successful. An independent environmental advisory group (EAG) was set up to challenge and recommend targets for T5. This was a success in setting standards for best practice but it had no teeth and was disbanded during the design phase. This has inspired my work with the Commission. I wanted a long term, highly informed and committed body to hold the various organisations delivering the Olympics to account for their sustainability performance. We continuously monitor and review hundreds of objectives targets and recommendations. We do not let anybody off the hook. In doing this I want to deliver much more than a sustainable event and facilities, I want the Olympics to change behaviour in a number of industry sectors in the longer term.
This is starting to happen in construction where concrete will be delivered with half the embodied CO2 emissions of T5, demand for diggers and tipper trucks with Euro Cat 6 engines is at an all time high (from a very low start) due to the stringent air quality standards set by the ODA. Other enlightened construction clients are starting to follow this example and the smarter suppliers are gearing up to differentiate themselves around their sustainability. Less enlightened clients are not. In the longer term, these are likely to end up dealing with less smart suppliers. I would like to see similar changes in the event management, hospitality and merchandising industries.
In building T5, BAA did not have to address the issues surrounding one of the most deprived areas of Europe. Communities are not built of concrete, glass and steel, they are built of people, with emotions, hopes, fears, ambitions, families and friends. The legacy plan needs to reflect this and create the conditions in which a community can thrive. This is the biggest challenge of all and one we will face long after the closing ceremony in 2012.
This post also appears at www.building.co.uk