They sold me a merry Christmas

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 …

All things must pass

October 4, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

This week saw the announcement that David Higgins is to leave the ODA in early 2011 to take up a post as Chief Executive Officer of Network Rail. David leaves the ODA in good shape, the facilities to stage the Games will be constructed on time, within budget and to exemplary sustainability standards. It is true that many challenges remain but the team David leaves behind are highly competent professionals with capacity to resolve them in an appropriate and timely manner. Taking on a project of this magnitude requires a highly pragmatic and single minded approach. David could have seen the sustainability agenda and the intervention of an independent commission as an unnecessary distraction but he did not. He considered sustainability to be one of many business objectives to be delivered through a world class management process and he gave appropriate attention to the subject. I met David informally every six months and more frequently in our formal reviews and reporting programmes. I found him decisive and dynamic, he got things done. He is single minded and needs to be persuaded by a strong case to divert from his planned course of action. However, I can point to several examples …

Take me to the river

August 2, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

East London has a proud history of using waterways to provide prosperity and leisure and London 2012 is making a contribution to reviving this tradition.  I joined British Waterways’ board recently in a review of the potential for the rivers and canals around the Olympic Park to contribute to the Games and a sustainable legacy. Various presentations took place during the day to start to illustrate the potential of this water city region. One of the most compelling was by Councillor Paul Brickell who neatly linked past and present by telling the audience that his great-grandfather had drowned in the Thames before setting out his perspective on the huge potential of the area for regeneration. The best stories however were from the rivers themselves. We travelled very slowly from Old Ford to Limehouse and very quickly from Limehouse to Canary Wharf. The trip from Old Ford gave a unique perspective to the Olympic Park, taking in the Forman and Field salmon smokery, a 100 year old business that was on the Olympic Park site, relocated just over the canal and now boasting an art gallery and swanky restaurant. They have purchased a plot of land next door to provide canal …

Achtung Baby

July 27, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

Siemens AG recently hosted a meeting of their main board and CEOs of all their global business divisions in London. The event was themed around urban sustainability and they invited a small group of movers and shakers on the London sustainability agenda to get involved. I was honoured to be part of that group. It seems to me that this global corporation totally understands the relationship between the success of their business, their relationship with stakeholders and the sustainable development agenda. However, the key to this success is their willingness to listen and properly engage with their client base. They have worked out that sustainable urban infrastructure has an important role to play for their business and they want to understand the context of sustainability for the world’s great cities, starting with London. They learned a lot, heard speeches from Boris Johnson (and Ken Livingstone), visited the Olympic Park and facilitated discussions with a very wide range of stakeholders, including the Carbon Trust, Forum for the Future and London focused organisations. All this will influence the objectives they set and the way in which they expect their supply chain to behave. There are eight people in Siemens’ management board and …

Olympic wind turbine cancelled

June 8, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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Wind turbine

Gone when the morning comes… Like a bat out of hell it was gone when the morning comes. On 3 June 2010, the ODA announced the cancellation of their proposed wind turbine for the Olympic Park. With it came a little media storm with headlines such as “what hope now for the Green Games?” and “Olympic chiefs scrap wind power plan”. The first question I was asked by one journalist was “What other environmental targets are the ODA going to ditch?” Words like “scrap”, “ditch” and “abandon” appeared in most headlines. The fact is, the ODA are ditching nothing and …

Is there anybody out there?

May 25, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy


May 2010 will see the publication of the Commission’s 2009/10 Annual Review. We are feeling increasingly optimistic about the delivery of sustainable venues by the ODA and we are impressed by the plans being developed by LOCOG to deliver a sustainable Games. We were less impressed with LOCOG’s management systems and we expect these to be improved in the coming months, but in general things are going well. Or are they….? If London 2012 had just promised to deliver sustainable venues and Games we could publish a very positive report. But much more was promised in the bid and in …

London calling

May 10, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

I was a child when England won the football World Cup in 1966 but I remember it vividly. I could still name the entire team and remember the drama unfolding at Wembley Stadium: the dodgy Russian linesman giving us the goal that never was, the extra time, Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick and the immortal commentary line “They think it’s all over…it is now!” These were more innocent times and the kids in our neighbourhood celebrated by charging round the street on our bikes singing the praises of “World Cup Willie”. Willie was the mascot for the 1966 World Cup, as I recall, a proud looking little cuddly lion wearing a union jack vest. Forty-four years later, another World Cup is upon us in South Africa and mascots are now part of the event. Some could argue they are something that nobody needs, manufactured for no purpose other than profit for the organisers. For others, it is an essential part of the experience and a lasting memory of the event. I wonder how many of today’s eight year olds will remember the 2010 mascot when they are in their fifties? The mascot for the World Cup in South Africa came under severe …

What a waste

April 5, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy



The Commission’s recent waste review highlighted some great practice but I can’t help feeling disappointed. Good practice is transitory and of little benefit if it does not inspire change. The ODA have performed in exemplary manner: 97% waste diverted from landfill during demolition and 90%+ during construction. The second edition of the London 2012 Sustainability Plan introduced a new target to use “reasonable endeavours” to achieve 90%+ reuse or recycling after the Games. This is a remarkable target for the event management industry, which is usually very wasteful, particularly after an event, the period known as “bump-out” by the industry …

The man who sold the world

March 1, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

It could be said that the Corinthian Spirit sold her soul many years ago, that amateur elite sport has not existed for 30 years or more and that the Olympics these days are all about big money and sponsorship. How can the Games be sustainable if it is all about money? The structure of London 2012 reinforces this. The organisation responsible for investment in facilities is a public body (ODA) and funded with public money, whereas the organisation responsible for staging the Games (LOCOG) is a government-owned private company required to raise from private sources all of the £2 billion needed to stage the Games; mostly television rights, ticket sales, sponsorship and licensing merchandise. Everything is for sale. Companies are invited to pay cash, provide services for free, or both, in return for various levels of brand recognition to a global TV audience. Doubters question how such a hard-headed commercial environment could possibly deliver sustainable outcomes. Our most recent report on LOCOG’s procurement and commercial partnerships demonstrates that they are doing rather well. This starts to demonstrate that naked capitalism and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, and that profitable and sustainable solutions are there to be had for smart companies. …