Much media attention was focused on the failure to deliver a low carbon Olympic torch earlier this year. This was disappointing in terms of the symbolism of the Olympic flame and the message it could have given to the world about a sustainable Games. The actual carbon impact is very small indeed, LOCOG will save more carbon by limiting the number of vehicles in the inevitable motorcade that follows the procession and ensuring the vehicles that are allowed are as low carbon as possible. The torch was all about the message.
We should not forget that LOCOG also promised a low carbon Olympic cauldron; the flame that is lit during the opening ceremony and stays alight throughout the Games. This is about the message and the carbon.
We won’t know the details until the opening ceremony but I am encouraging LOCOG to think about this in a very holistic way. Firstly; conservation should be considered as the first design challenge, so we would expect the flame to burn much less fuel than its predecessors. If it’s anything like Sydney, London’s cauldron could use as much gas during the Games as 225 UK households use in a year – that is a lot of fuel and potentially a lot of carbon emitted. It would be nice to think that we could neatly offset the carbon emitted from such a potential gargantuan through capturing all the energy pounded into the pavements around the UK as the torch relay makes its way to light it. If only pizo-power were that advanced! If an alternative fuel can be found for the cauldron this will be great but the first objective must be to use less fuel.
We also need to consider the energy that goes into manufacturing the device. The monster in Beijing weighed in at 300 Tonnes, surely London can come up with something more elegant and not emulate the bloated excess that was a recurring theme in Beijing 2008.
Finally, have you ever thought about what happens to an Olympic cauldron after the Games? Presumably they become redundant museum pieces, a museum with a reinforced floor in the case of Beijing! Wouldn’t it be great if the cauldron could be used in some way after the Games, either in whole or in part?
There is more to a low carbon flame than meets the eye. I hope LOCOG can deliver the goods at the opening ceremony.