They sold me a merry Christmas

Shaun McCarthy

December 17, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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Christmas – season of goodwill or orgy of conspicuous consumption of useless tat?

As we approach Games-time the push to sell London 2012 merchandise is hotting up. You can see the offers available on the London 2012 website at  

When I was at the Beijing Games in 2008, I commented on these pages about the huge appetite Chinese people had for the Games and the cheap merchandise that went with it. I tried to describe the huge retail outlets piled high with all manner of stuff carrying the Beijing 2008 logo and the hot, tired shoppers queuing outside the door to get their hands on these items. At the time I expressed a desire that London 2012 would be different.

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I commented on the horror stories coming from China about the labour and environmental standards employed at the factories making the mascots for the event. Claims of excessive profiteering were abundant, damaging the reputation of the event.

This was shortly before LOCOG gave the world Wenlock and Mandeville, the twin Olympic mascots for London 2012. I must say I was quite impressed with the way sustainability messages were weaved into the introductory video, that they were made from scrap metal and presented to the children in old shoe boxes. –   

The Commission will review merchandise with LOCOG in 2011 but early signs are encouraging. For example, a London 2012 branded Hornby train set can light up the eyes of your offspring on Christmas morning for £150. This is an expensive gift but there is a great story behind it. We understand that as a result of engaging with LOCOG and needing to comply with their packaging requirements specified in the sustainable sourcing code, Hornby has revised its entire packaging strategy, minimising the amount of packaging used and maximising the recycled and recyclable content. We eagerly await more examples like this.

Such a high profile project will inevitably attract investigative journalists hungry for a story like the one for the World Cup mascots. We will be making sure LOCOG continue to pay great attention to labour standards in their supply chain. The role of adidas as apparel sponsor makes us more confident; I have been very impressed with their experience in this area.

There will even be attention paid to the way we take this stuff home. I have been assailed by various groups recently advocating the banning of single use plastic carrier bags. They want a “plastic bag free Games”. We are sympathetic to this cause and aware that LOCOG are working on it but you need to be careful what you wish for, especially at Christmas. Some of the alternatives can have very negative impacts. Our merchandise snapshot review will cover this and at the moment I am confident that LOCOG have the issue under control.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a prosperous but sustainable 2011.

Shaun McCarthy

December 2010

2 Responses to They sold me a merry Christmas

  1. Dave Cook says:

    Hi Shaun, whilst plastic bags may not be perfect, how we use them is a more relevant issue. First of all, we’ve all been to events where “green” bags were handed out – how many of these bags do we actually see being re-used? And if we’re supposed to use them again and again, why do we get them at so many events? Why not hand out either plain plastic bags or plastic bags with a neutral or likeable logo on them? At an event in Scotland bags were handed out with simply the St Andrews saltire – people were more than happy to reuse them in their private lives.
    And that brings me on to my second point about how we use plastic bags. Accepting that people expect to get them, we should be asking customers to use more bags, but put less in. If I use 4 bags a week and cram them full, they will last a couple of weeks. So in a year I will use about 100 bags. If I use 6 bags and fill them less full they will last 4, 5, maybe 6 weeks. So I will use a maximum of about 75 bags a year – a reduction of 25%.
    We should make the buying of heavy duty bags much easier – lets give away 2 for every £20 spent with a charge of 10p each thereafter. Someone would have to do the arithmetic but if people can be persuaded to reuse bags supermarkets will surely save costs in the long run.
    Best wishes

  2. Use a branded folding bag, not plastic … Woolworths and Coles supermarkets have just launched them here or there is a more stylist Eco brand (more expensive though and probably not for giveaway) … More people now reuse these as they are easier to have in your handbag or men in their pocket.

    I concur with Dave on how many do not get reused, but don’t on plastic.

    Love your work Shaun on Action Sustainability, London 2012 … Jeni (Melbourne, Australia)