Can London 2012 set the agenda for sustainability?

Shaun McCarthy

May 8, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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In my role as Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 I have the pleasure of presenting our annual report today. It is a big read and addresses many issues but the central theme for me is the level of expectation for “the most sustainable games ever”. The London 2012 Games will be staged in the year that the objectives set by the Kyoto summit are expected to be achieved. It will probably also be the year of the next Earth Summit. The opportunity to show what can be done is too good to miss, failure is too horrible to contemplate.

Two particular quotes come to mind, one from Lord Coe, the chair of LOCOG “London 2012 will set new standards of sustainability…” and from Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell “The Olympic Park will be a blueprint for sustainable living”. The role of the commission is to put these promises to the test and report independently to the public and our political leaders.

Along with my small team of 3 staff and advised by 11 commissioners I have spent the last 4 months looking in detail at these questions. During this time we interviewed 40 senior people, referenced 43 different strategy documents, consulted numerous stakeholders and attended more than 30 meetings and workshops. The result is a report with 59 pages, 15 recommendations and a salmon on the front cover.

During this process we challenged the leadership of the 5 bodies primarily involved in delivering the London 2012 Olympics to say what new standards of sustainability they expect to set, for whom and how.

The iconic power of the Games can be used to influence many sectors, including construction, event management, sport, transport, catering, property development and the public at large. I do not doubt the commitment of the Olympic Board or their senior executives to do this and there are some encouraging early examples.

There is no doubt that the ODA are leading the way in construction, their standards for energy efficiency, waste, recycled materials and employment are significantly ahead of those set by recent major projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5. The targets are tough to achieve and construction industry is responding well. We have been pleased to report that sustainability standards have not been diluted in the interest of cost saving but we will continue to monitor this throughout the programme. We expect more to be done in areas such as waste to energy, disposal of temporary materials, use of plastics and application of HFC gasses in refrigeration but in the main, the ODA are doing a great job.

We are starting to see plans emerging for Games time waste management, transport, catering and sponsor engagement. These all have the power to make a difference and we have a high level of confidence that they will. We need to be mindful that all events and messages using the London 2012 brand need to display exemplary standards of sustainability and we will be looking more closely at events in the Cultural Olympiad programme to ensure consistency.

The ultimate objective is for the Olympic Park to be a “Blueprint for sustainable living” in legacy. We have looked closely at the development of legacy plans and we remain to be convinced that this is more than a commercial development with some green extras. The challenge for the new Olympic Park Legacy Company will be to emulate the behaviour of the ODA and to embed sustainability in the very core of its purpose and objectives.

Like a salmon swimming upstream, delivering sustainable solutions to a project with an immovable deadline in a recession is tough. The pressures on cost and resources are unrelenting. So far we have seen encouraging signs but we have a long way to go. I look forward to being proud to have been a part of the “most sustainable games ever”.

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