After the gold rush

August 28, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

Imagine the proud athlete standing on the podium receiving a gold medal in the London Olympic Stadium. The tearful pride during the national anthem brings a lump to the throat of hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world. As a sustainability nut, the lump in my throat will be for a different reason. My thoughts would be “I wonder what happens to the podium after the games? Where does it go? Where did the flowers come from? Were they from a water-stressed region of the world? Were they grown by people employed under decent conditions? Maybe they are not flowers at all but something that looks like flowers made from recycled paper?” (a serious suggestion made by the London Wildlife Trust). Waste is a massive subject for London 2012 and the indicators to date are really good. The ODA has achieved a ground-breaking performance during the demolition and remediation stage of the project, comfortably exceeding the 90% target for waste diverted from landfill. The construction stage is looking good too, the 90% target set by waste partner Veolia beats the previous best practice for Heathrow Terminal 5 and after a difficult start on site, this objective looks set …

Catch the wind

August 21, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

WPNSA Commission Meeting 010 - FREE - Credit Jane Durney

The National Sailing Academy in Weymouth did us the great honour of hosting a commission meeting in July 2009. Despite the Australian jibe that the Poms are only any good at sports that involve sitting down, we should be justifiably proud of our equestrian sports people, our rowers, cyclists and sailors. The sailing venue is finished and being used now. It is a brilliant venue, using the natural sweep of the bay surrounded by world heritage Jurassic coastline as a perfect competition space and natural amphitheatre. From a sustainability point of view, the venue has a great story to tell. …

A simple twist of freight

July 23, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

Logistics is the key to any successful major project and the London 2012 Olympic programme is the biggest in Europe. Making such a project safe, efficient and sustainable is a challenge for all involved. As Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, I am a frequent visitor to the Olympic Park construction site. This is the largest construction project in Europe to support the Olympic Games in 2012, which is the largest peace-time organisational effort in the world. At the peak of construction, the site will receive 1,250 vehicle deliveries by per day. The Olympic Delivery Authority is currently achieving 57% of deliveries (by weight) by rail. Freight is delivered to the Bow East Logistics Centre that can handle multi-modal product shipments like aggregate, sand, steel, cable reels, pallets and containers. Six trains per day can deliver up to 8,100 tonnes of materials, equivalent to 450 lorry loads. The ODA estimates that 4 million tonnes of goods will be moved by rail, saving 120,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide during the construction phase. British Waterways’ new lock (Three Mills Lock) is now open and the ODA will be removing the construction waste by barge (on 350 tonne barges) to …

Stadium rocks

June 5, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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I had the privilege of a VIP tour of the Olympic stadium construction site to mark the anniversary of the build phase. It is a very impressive building. The quality of everything from the concrete finish to the cable trays is superb. The design is very smart and minimalist. Only the bare essential materials are used above ground level to ensure the majority of the stadium can be dismantled after the Games. Below ground there are excellent facilities taking shape for athletes, officials and the media. Designs for the finishing touches are underway including very innovative use of sustainable plastics for the outer wrap and temporary pods to provide catering and merchandising facilities, these are a significant improvement on the tented structures we saw in Beijing. In common with the velodrome, there is much for the sustainability geek to admire, 15 percent better energy efficiency than building regulations, light, low embodied energy structure and I hope the decision will be made soon to eliminate HFC from the cooling system. My host pointed out that the London 2012 stadium will do everything the Bird’s Nest did with a quarter of the materials. Unfortunately we were also in sight of the aquatic …

Psycho Chiller

May 29, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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It is good to see that the ODA have risen to our challenge to review their chilling options for the Aquatic Centre. It was simply not acceptable to assume that HFC refrigerants with 2,000 times the global warming impact of CO2 could be used in the most iconic building in the “most sustainable Games ever”. There is no decision yet but it is good to see that they are examining the options. We have seen the case for chilling in the velodrome and we accept that there is a strong case for HFCs here. The building has many sustainable features including low embodied impacts and mostly natural cooling. The cooling load is very small compared to other venues. But what about the other venues? The ODA has fantastic process for managing their objectives but there is no policy for refrigerants despite our recommendation that there should be in our report of November 2007. In this case designers will revert to type and design things the way they always have done. We think it is time for the ODA to declare a “chiller amnesty” with their designers to establish exactly what is planned. It should be possible to look at these …

Can London 2012 set the agenda for sustainability?

May 8, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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 …

I can HFC for miles

March 23, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

Last week I was invited to discuss our design and procurement reports live on BBC Radio 4. They opened with questions about the most controversial issue: the use of HFC refrigerants in building air conditioning systems. HFCs are particularly potent Greenhouse Gases. 1 Tonne of HFC in the atmosphere is equivalent to 2,000 tonnes of CO2. Unlike most key environmental impacts, the ODA have never had a policy on this issue despite our recommendations that they should. This has come home to roost in the architecturally impressive aquatic centre. Although no decision has been made at the time of posting this article, the use of 1.5MW HFC chilling capacity is under consideration. The rationale being that significant extra costs are involved and offsetting the emissions would be much cheaper. Offsetting is appropriate only if there is no other option available, like flights for competitors. In this case an option is available and could have been considered earlier. Had the ODA developed a policy and incorporated non-HFC cooling earlier in the design phase I suspect much of this additional cost could be avoided. Even if additional costs are required, government needs to decide if they wish to use this as an …

Plastic bags, air quality and dog poo

March 4, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

Dog statue

It is always a pleasure to meet Simon Birkett, he runs the Campaign for Clean Air in London with a mixture of passion, commitment and efficiency that is difficult to ignore. He is an incredibly effective communicator, his message is simple. Parts of London are in breach of EU air quality laws and this will continue unless something is done. He regaled me with a mind-boggling array of technical information about areas of poor air quality and information about public opinion. This included a sort of league table from Westminster Council detailing residents concerns. This placed air quality at the …

Beijing’s ‘green’ Games

August 28, 2008   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, there was no shortage of criticism on the sustainability front – thousands of people were displaced to build the Olympic Park, while the smog, algae, choking traffic and alarming increase in demand for energy were all pointing to an environmental disaster. However, there is a positive sustainability story to be told here, and many lessons to be applied to London 2012. Beijing has a much publicised air-quality problem. The efforts to resolve this issue during the Olympics received some cynical press in the UK, but measures to manage air quality in the city have been in place for seven years with some success given the phenomenal increase in car use during that time. All cars are monitored for emissions and the decision to ban vehicles not complying with Euro 3 standards (Euro 4 after 2008) will be adopted permanently. The Beijing Metro is highly efficient and mercifully air-conditioned. The capacity of this system has risen from 1.57m passengers per day to over 3m during the Games. Ticket prices for the public transport system have been reduced for the Olympics, and free transport is provided to ticket and pass holders. The low prices will …

Corinthian spirit or corporate junket?

August 22, 2008   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy


London 2012 needs £2bn of private money to stage the games. LOCOG, the organisation charged with this responsibility, is a private company chaired by Lord Coe. The government owns the shares, but LOCOG is a separate organisation from the Olympic Delivery Authority, who are using public money to build the facilities that will be used for the games and beyond. Much of this money will come from corporate sponsorship partners. I have been spending some time with sponsors in Beijing to understand their potential contribution to a sustainable London 2012. I visited Coca-Cola and GE Eco-Imagination pavilions, and had a tour of McDonald’s outlets at the various venues. The pavilions are huge, two-storey buildings the size of several football pitches, housing exhibition areas open to the public, as well as VIP areas for corporate guests. The Chinese people are keen to soak up the whole experience and there are long queues outside many of the buildings. The Coke experience is particularly inspiring for the local people, as it celebrates the stunning recent achievements of China and honours its past by showcasing each province of China individually. Whilst there is a strong environmental section in the Coke pavilion, the GE Eco-Imagination …