The sustainability games | Corporate Knights

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Categories: Amy Huva, Environment, Society

The sustainability games

Amy Huva is an environmental chemist by training. She works at the North Growth Foundation, a boutique investment firm in Vancouver. Follow her on twitter.

London 2012 set out to be the most sustainable games, which is no mean feat when you’re trying to organise and coordinate the world’s largest sporting carnival in one of Europe’s grand old cities. As countries work to rapidly slow and reduce their carbon emissions, significant emissions from the buildings, lights, media, transport, food and everything else associated with an Olympic Games will be increasingly scruitinized. So if the Olympic Games wish to continue in their current format, green is the only way to go.

I just came back from an excellent two weeks in London to see the games. I’m an avid sports fan and went to Sydney for a family Olympics in 2000 when I was 15. Then came Vancouver, so London seemed like the only logical next step.

(right to left) Sydney, Vancouver, London

I was interested to see how truly green the London games were going to be, because saying you’re green is significantly different from implementing it into your supply chains and practices.

It was evident that London had made the typical logistical decisions, like not allowing personal cars to events, and ramping up public mass transit, allowing it to be used for free by Olympic event ticket holders.

Wind turbines at the Olympic park (photo Amy Huva 2012)

The significant green spaces were one feature that stood out, despite being located in an old, densely-populated city. Green spaces have all kinds of benefits, including providing shelter, and keeping the area surrounding them cooler (nature’s air conditioners). The plants provide ground stability so that less soil erosion occurs.

Another benefit of green spaces, not only for attendees but for athletes as well, is that trees and plants provide valuable air filtration services, and increase the quality of the air around them. For a city like London, which deals with significant air pollution, particularly in summertime when warmer temperatures speed up the atmospheric chemical reactions that create harmful pollutants, this could only be a positive. Especially when there were reports in the lead-up to the games suggesting that lower air quality could mean that athletes would perform at a substandard level, as their respiratory systems struggled to adjust. There were even fears that no outdoor world records would be set in London.

A hazy-looking London skyline (photo Amy Huva, 2012)

The green spaces not only made the venue more attractive, but was also exclusively watered using various forms of recycled water.

Sustainability Planning at 2012 London Olympics

Although I had seen for myself some of the initiatives that the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) had implemented, I decided to look beneath the surface.

LOCOG worked with the WWF to create a plan for a ‘One Planet’ Olympics that tied into the ecological footprint ideas originally developed by UBC professor Bill Rees. They created the Commission for a Sustainable London that oversaw all of the sustainable practices they were trying to implement, and they aimed to leave a planning and logistics ‘legacy’ for future event planners. The Olympic Games is one of the largest peacetime logistical operation in the world, so if London can make their games sustainable, it will be much easier for the next concert, sports event, or tour that wants to as well.

They built sustainability plans for suppliers, materials, biodiversity, power cogeneration, resource management, carbon footprint and aimed for a zero waste games. Then, they made sure they educated everyone in what was required for those plans, teamed up with the local events sector and even the Eco Schools England program and aimed to learn as much as they could from the process.

LOCOG aimed to avoid waste upfront as well as promote sustainability. So they required contractors to create and submit resource management plans, and gave contractors product and materials ‘lookbooks’ to choose from so that their options were automatically all sustainable. They even developed a new ISO standard for sustainable event management.

The end result has tried to encourage zero waste lifestyles and business practices, built an event planning zero waste model, a food vision, and forced companies that may not have previously thought too much about sustainability to incorporate it into their systems in order to get a games contract.

Across the board, LOCOG aimed to set the bar and set it high, with the intention of other events following.

They didn’t get everything right. The Guardian reported on how sponsorship deals with Dow Chemical and BP threatened to derail the Olympics' sustainable aims. The lofty goals set out eight years ago during the planning stage to be zero carbon and zero waste, completely powered by clean energy and conducted in a London with significantly improved air quality all fell short. A report by WWF and BioRegional issued after the games was particularly critical.

Sue Riddlestone, executive director of BioRegional, who was involved in drawing up the original strategy, said: "London 2012 has set the sustainability bar high for future summer Olympics [but] there were some promises made in 2005 which London 2012 didn't keep, even though we know they tried. We were especially disappointed about the failure to meet the renewable energy targets. So the journey to deliver a sustainable Olympics will continue."

I can't wait to see what Rio 2016 will have in store for us.