Report: Sustainability of London 2012 Olympic Games
In 1996, the Olympic Charter was amended by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to commit the movement to a policy promoting sustainable development, effectively adding concerns for the environment as “the third pillar of Olympism, alongside sport and culture.” (“Focus: Sport And Sustainability” Apr 2011). Then in 1999 the IOC added education to its initiatives to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability.
This report provides an overview of the sustainability plan put forward by the London 2012 Olympic Games organisers, including all five of the suggested aspects of sustainability. Those five key areas were: Climate change, Waste, Biodiversity, Inclusion, and Healthy living. (“Sustainability Through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21”, 2012, pp. 47-48). The consensus view is that plan was with a few exceptions a great success.
The report also provides a detailed review of Waste – one of the five aspects covered. Also included in the report is a summary of the outcome of a short opinion survey with regard to that aspect, carried out almost one year after the London 2012 Olympics, with the assistance of London students. (See Survey proforma in Appendix One to the report).
The Conclusion to this report considers the evidence gathered from the research undertaken and provides a critical evaluation of the sustainability of the London 2012 Olympic Games, focussed primarily on the Waste aspect reviewed as part of the report.
The London 2012 Olympics Sustainability Plan
As stated in “Sustainability Through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21”, 2012, (p. 46), the philosophy of the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) when bidding for and planning the 2012 Olympic Games was to embrace the “One Planet Living” concept of sustainability, which essentially means that globally we stop using more of the Earth’s resources than can be supported indefinitely. Lord Coe, the LOCOG Chairman, stated that “the committee is committed to hosting the world’s first truly sustainable Olympic Games.” The philosophy was claimed to extend from the tendering stage right through to the sponsors of the event and to go beyond the “buildings and infrastructure” and to not only raise awareness of sustainability as an objective, but also to “promote new thinking and behaviour” in the five areas of sustainability outlined in the plan.
According to the article “What is One Planet Living?” (n.d.), the term means living “within the natural resources of the planet.” The article claims that currently we (the human race) are consuming resources at a level of 40 percent higher (equivalent to “1.4 planets living”), but that Western Europe’s rate is “3 planets living” and North America’s rate is “5 planets living.”
The five key areas nominated in the Sustainability Plan (“Sustainability Through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21”, 2012, pp. 47-48) are outlined below:
- Climate change: LOCOG first acquired an understanding of the causes of carbon emissions, so that their impact could be mitigated. In addition, awareness of climate change was taken into account at the planning stage so that the buildings, the infrastructure, and the lifestyles of the participants would be appropriate for the longer term. An initial target of generating 20 percent of the energy requirements for Olympic venues from renewable sources proved to be unachievable, although other policies facilitated a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gases. Those included using sustainable transport for half the construction materials, making the London Games totally accessible by public transport, and making sure all cooling systems used were HFC-free (hydrofluorocarbons).
- Waste: Targeting a zero-waste Olympic Games began in the planning phase, the target was to recycle and use 90 percent of the demolition material derived from clearing the area for the Olympic Park, and to recycle construction waste to avoid creating more landfill. Similarly, temporary structures used for the Games were designed with maximum recyclability in mind.
- Biodiversity: The objective here was to conserve a diverse range of ecosystems and “create green urban spaces” by enhancing the ecology in the Lower Lea Valley and at other venues used for the Olympic Games. The 250 hectares of the Olympic park was transformed from a low quality environment into “the largest new city park in Europe.” In addition, a minimum of 45 hectares of wildlife habitat were created, potentially to become designated as “Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation” (SINC). Overall, the plan claims that the area has been regenerated from the previously-existing “polluted and derelict post-industrial landscape.” By using recycled soil and materials in the design, the new landscape not only absorbs and makes use of rainwater, but uses the new wetlands to minimise the risk of flooding in a potentially rich and diverse ecology.
- Inclusion: LOCOG aimed to make the London 2012 Olympics “the most inclusive Games to date by promoting access, celebrating diversity and facilitating the physical, economic and social regeneration of the venue and surrounding communities.” Supporting that claim, the plan reported that by the end of 2010 there were circa 12,000 working on the Games. Those included 200 women who were helped to find work. Also, it was reported not only that of the previously unemployed people taken on, three quarters of them were local, and 400 apprentices were used in the construction workforce. As part of the educational initiative, over 125,000 people were able to visit the Olympic Games construction site, and health & safety workshops were attended by circa 7,000 schoolchildren.
- Healthy living: As part of a policy of encouraging more people to participate in sport and to “develop more active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles”, LOCOG emphasised walking or cycling, particularly as – according to LOCOG – “almost three quarters of all journeys in the UK [are] less than 8km.” They have also established a project called “Changing Places” which seeks to find out from youngsters their likes and dislikes with regard to their local environment, in order to then work with them and others to see what changes can be made.
Overall, the aims are to make the Olympic Games such that any negative environmental impact is minimised, and to be able to use the Games as an example of what we as members of the human race and as individuals can achieve in terms of sustainability.
Review of the Sustainability Approach to Waste
The “London 2012 Post-Games Sustainability Report: A legacy of change” (Dec 2012), provides summaries of the achievements against sustainability objectives. With regard to the objective of making the London 2012 Olympics a “zero-waste” Games, Page 59 of the report lists the various Waste objectives and whether they were achieved. Taking each waste objective in the order listed on page 59 of the report:
- In tandem with Games suppliers and others, LOCOG endeavoured to align waste management policies at open sites with those prevailing at the closed venues. Status: Target achieved. The detail (p.30) was that by thorough planning and close working with contractors, plus providing clearly identified and categorized waste streams, success was relatively easy to achieve.
- Work in conjunction with Games partners to develop initiatives and tools and education programmes to encourage lifestyles featuring a low-waste approach. Status: Target achieved. The detail is provided in the “London 2012 Pre-Games Sustainability Report: Delivering change” (Apr 2012) (pp 142-143). That report indicates that extensive effort were made to have a standardised “look and feel” for everything associated with the Games, whilst emphasising to the likes of local authorities and suppliers that all items constructed or created for the London 2012 Games would be reusable or recyclable. That concept was followed through for the Paralympics Games too – wherever possible with minimum adaptations / adjustments. Food and food packaging was particularly targeted under a project called WRAP.
The above assessments of the success of the waste aspect of sustainability were those presented by LOCOG, the event organisers. But what are the views of those outside of the organising bodies? Gray (3 Aug 2012), writing for the Telegraph, offers views that were less supportive for some aspects. Whilst she heartily applauds the sustainability aspects of the buildings, the wildlife habitats and the focus on legacy, she is less enthusiastic about other aspects. She is supportive of the recycling approach, although criticises the recycling bins, stating that segregation of the waste is still a problem. Gray also slates the renewable energy objective, which she claims was a complete failure. She refers to a wind turbine that was never installed and claimed that little effort was put in by the organisers to make use of biofuels or solar energy for the Olympic venues.
The failure of the renewable energy objective was also cited by Bateman (Dec 2012), in her greenwise article “London 2012 success pushed up spectator carbon footprint by more than a quarter.” Whilst Bateman reports that the overall carbon footprint of the London Games was calculated at 3.3 million tonnes of CO2 (equivalent), less than the original estimates, making the event “the greenest Games ever”, she also notes that the renewable energy objective was a failure, due to the abandonment of plans for a nearby wind turbine. However, she does report that according to David Stubbs – head of LOCOG’s sustainability team – the energy used at the venues was substantially lower than predicted, giving savings of £9 million in fuel use and 40 percent water savings compared with predicted levels.
Although the organisers were criticised for failing to install the planned wind turbine at the Olympic Park, an article by Percy (Feb 2013) in the Journal of Environmental Science (pp. 76-81) explains the valid reasons why the wind turbine never materialised. Percy interviewed Richard Jackson (RJ), a former sustainability manager for the Olympic Delivery Authority and Shaun McCarthy (SM), Chairperson of the Commission for a Sustainable London. SM explained (p. 77) that although research had shown that the intended site for the turbine could provide sufficient wind energy, the risk of ice falling from the turbine blades meant the creation of an 80 metre safe zone around it. That and other requirements caused the intended supplier and all other bidders to withdraw. The alternative of using more solar energy by mounting panels on building structures was also not possible because the structures had been made as lightweight as possible in the interests of reducing “embodied carbon”, so would not support the addition of those panels.
Lessons learned from the London 2012 waste policy that could be of benefit in the future were itemised in a report published 15 November 2012 by the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 and reported the same day by North on the letsrecycle.com website. These were:
- Integration by LOCOG of their waste policies showed that the stronger the links between the various policies, the less residual waste will result.
- The eradication of any food packaging that either requires recycling or cannot be recycled or composted could avoid confusion over which bin to use.
- If three separate streams of waste are required in future, there needs to be training and the use of incentives to encourage correct disposal by consumers.
However, the article repeated that London 2012 was the most sustainable Games ever, showing that by and large the waste aspect of the Sustainability Plan was a success.
Coca-Cola GB participated in the LOCOG waste initiative. In an article entitled “Our London 2012 legacy: helping to deliver a zero waste Games” (n.d.), the international soft drinks company demonstrates the part that suppliers and sponsors played in contributing to the zero waste objective. The article describes how an efficient recycling system was established, facilitating the recycling of 15 million Coke bottles from the Olympics and Paralympics, converting them into new bottles within 6 weeks. Even the uniforms worn by the Coca-Cola employees at the venues were made of a fabric that included recycled plastic bottles material. There was also a Coca-Cola vehicle used on the Torch relay route that rewarded recyclers using its receptacle by playing music and taking their photo – a way to incentivise people to recycle.
In order to test the awareness of others about the London 2012 Sustainability Plan, and in particular the waste aspects, the survey template shown at Appendix One to this report was created, and offered to other students within the campus. Each student was asked to complete the single-page survey (anonymously) and place the completed survey proformas at a central collection point for subsequent analysis. The questions used were designed to determine:
- If people were aware of the London 2012 Sustainability Plan;
- If people realized that a zero waste objective was one of the aspects of the Plan;
- If people understood how such a policy contributed to sustainability;
- If people were aware of the outcome following the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics;
- If those surveyed actively participate in recycling.
The results were as follows:
Of 140 survey questionnaires handed out 107 were returned to the collection point. Of those, five were “blank” and four were “spoiled” (defaced or in some other way rendered unusable). That left a total of 96 on which to base the survey findings. Referring to the template at Appendix One, the answers to the questions were:
- 43 Yes and 53 No.
- 20 Yes and 76 No.
- a) 21, b) 37, c) 38.
- 6 Yes, 23 No, 67 Don’t know.
- 49 Yes, 47 No.
- 48 Yes, 22 No, 26 Don’t know.
Bateman, Louise. (Dec 2012). “London 2012 success pushed up spectator carbon footprint by more than a quarter.” Greenwise. Retrieved from http://www.greenwisebusiness.co.uk/news/london-2012-success-pushed-up-spectator-carbon-footprint-by-more-than-a-quarter-3701.aspx
“Focus: Sport And Sustainability.” (Apr 2011). International Olympic Committee. Retrieved from http://www.olympic.org/documents/olympism_in_action/sport_and_environment/focus_sustainability-april_2011.pdf
Gray, Louise. (3 Aug 2012). “London 2012 Olympics: How green are the ‘most sustainable Olympics ever?’” The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9447915/London-2012-Olympics-How-green-are-the-most-sustainable-Olympics-ever.html
“London 2012 Post-Games Sustainability Report: A legacy of change.” (Dec 2012). LOCOG. Retrieved from http://learninglegacy.independent.gov.uk/documents/pdfs/sustainability/5-london-2012-post-games-sustainability-report-interactive-12-12-12.pdf
“London 2012 Pre-Games Sustainability Report: Delivering change.” (Apr 2012). LOCOG. Retrieved from http://learninglegacy.independent.gov.uk/documents/pdfs/sustainability/3-pre-games-sustainability-report-neutral.pdf
North, Amy. (15 November 2012). “ London 2012 Games ‘most sustainable ever.’” letsrecycle.com. Retrieved from http://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/waste-management/london-2012-games-2018most-sustainable-ever2019
“Our London 2012 legacy: helping to deliver a zero waste Games.” (n.d.). Coca-Cola GB. Retrieved from http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/olympic-games/sustainable-games/olympic-games-legacy-zero-waste.html
Percy, Jemma. (Feb 2013). “Energy, carbon and waste – did London lead or follow?” Journal of Environmental Science. Retrieved from http://www.ies-uk.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/olympics_journal.pdf
“Sustainability Through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21.” (2012). International Olympic Committee. Retrieved from http://www.olympic.org/Documents/Commissions_PDFfiles/SportAndEnvironment/Sustainability_Through_Sport.pdf
“What is One Planet Living?” (n.d.). BioRegional solutions for sustainability. Retrieved from http://www.bioregional.co.uk/oneplanetliving/what-is-one-planet-living/
Appendix One: Student Survey Proforma