London 2012’s sustainability legacy
- By Helen Craig -
- Aug 13, 2012
As an Olympics sports fanatic, I’ve been in heaven over the past few weeks! Not only has there been sport on TV non-stop (and not just football for a change) I’ve been lucky enough to watch Volleyball, Athletics and Basketball and I’ll be heading off to see some Paralympics too. In addition, London 2012 promised to be the “greenest games ever” so as a sustainability professional, this was music to my ears but when I visited the main park last week, I wanted to see some evidence…
Most of the sustainability elements of this project will have been planned years ago when “being green” was still not at the top of the agenda and how to go about creating positive impacts was not fully recognised. That said, there have been many ways throughout this process to put sustainability at heart of the event. As a true fan of London 2012, it pains me to say this, but on the surface, I was disappointed to see so many missed opportunities.
Although every bin station had all the different options for disposal (recycling, compostable, general waste and a special poncho recycling bin) for the millions of guests using them, it was not clear enough what should go where and the products from the catering outlets sold on site, did not easily tally with the bins so contamination was inevitable and obvious at each station I saw – hardly surprising.
Moving onto the food, there was no obvious sustainability efforts made. It is always easy to blame McDonalds and Coca Cola who were two of the main sponsors but in all honesty, they have been doing some very exciting work regarding their packaging, procurement and waste as a company in general; it was the generic, unbranded catering outlets that really let the side down.
The temporary nature of some of the arenas made it hard to judge just from a quick glance, if the full life cycle impact of products had been taken into consideration (i.e. for the hand dryers) but more importantly I felt there was a very big educational message missing across the park. This event was a real opportunity to deliver some exciting, interactive and innovative behaviour change messages to the thousands of people visiting the park but there was no information around sustainability anywhere to be seen. Thankfully London has an excellent public transport system to show off and Barclays Bike hire figures have increase hugely over the course of the games. I suspect use of low carbon transport was just a coincidence rather than fully planned in, considering the IOCs insistence on using regular cars to transport officials around in special lanes.
But it is not all doom and gloom!! Although the day to day operations of the park were very “business as usual” for an event billed as being the “greenest ever”, I think the long term legacy is what will count and it is where I think London 2012 has come up trumps.
One of the positive and exciting things the park has done really well, which is often overlooked for new build is biodiversity. Having cleaned up the land and waterways of the site following on from its industrial past, they have managed to create a fantastic opportunity for flora and fauna expansion in the area. This is all set out in the London 2012 Biodiversity Action Plan and it is one of the fantastic things that are really noticeable when you walk around the park. It was nice to see that it wasn’t the usual manicured show off gardens but a lot of thought had gone into the planning of the species planted and what purpose they all serve.
As you can see from this picture below, the wildlife is already moving in…
On the broader sustainability agenda is the legacy of health and wellbeing that 2012 should leave. Over the course of the games, interest in all sorts of sports has sky rocketed, even amongst the sceptics who had written off the games as an irritating waste of money that would make them late for work. Walking around London there has been such a buzz created by all the volunteers, TV and social media is full of Olympic references and even I have even been persuaded to sign up to an indoor volleyball team despite not really understanding the rules! What would be great is if London 2012 was the changing point to get the UK more active and improve the wellbeing of the nation and we don’t lose momentum on this issue.
Are the long term impacts within Great Britain more important than showcasing how to run a sustainability event to the world? Will London 2012 create a sustainable legacy? We will have to wait and see but I really hope it is not just the bumblebees and bugs that benefit from this summer of wonderful sporting brilliance.
Images: Helen Craig