Part of London’s strength throughout the Olympic bidding process, and consequently their win over Paris back in 2005, was the promise of regenerating London’s East End and the strong sustainability pledge put forward to make it the ‘greenest Games ever’, in the words of David Cameron.
Five themes offered a framework through which to implement the sustainability strategy, so here’s a snapshot of the main objectives…
Aim: To deliver a low carbon Games
- London 2012 is the first games to attempt to measure its carbon footprint. All activities, including building work and the sporting events, will incur a ‘carbon cost’ that will contribute towards a running total for the games. See, now even the Olympics has started to benchmark its sustainability progress!
- Over £10m went towards active travel policies. If the horrific numbers taking to the roads and tube wasn’t enough to attract people towards more sustainable forms of travel, 75km of upgraded cycling and walking routes should have helped.
- More than 4,000 trees were planted around the Olympic Park area, not only to improve the aesthetics of the area, but to account for emissions produced throughout the Games.
- This may be the most successful Olympics yet in terms of sustainability, but the CO2 emissions created by the event are the equivalent of adding a city the size of Cardiff to the UK, highlighting that there is still a lot of progress to be made before the games are carbon neutral.
Aim: To conserve biodiversity and create new urban green spaces.
- A major triumph has been to remove, clean and reuse over 2 million tons of soil in order to create new habitats. This includes a huge area of wildflower meadows, the largest ever sown in Britain and also the largest rare wetland in the country.
- In addition to over 300,000 wetland plants, organizers have planted more than 4,000 trees and 130,000 plants and bulbs. This will hopefully attract local wildlife into the area whilst also proving to be a pull for tourists and Londoners alike in the years following the games.
- The European eel; smooth newt; kingfishers; bats; and grass snake are all amongst the species that the biodiversity plan aims to attract – all sounds very exotic for inner-city London!
Aim: To host the most inclusive Games to date.
- It would be difficult to find any culture unrepresented on the streets of London and the organisers wanted to ensure that diversity and social cohesion were a prominent part of the Games, as expressed in the Opening Ceremony.
- Volunteer participation in the ceremony, and throughout the Games, was one of the most endearing points of the whole celebration. Over 15,000 volunteers offered up their time for the production of the Opening Ceremony alone.
- The Games collaborated with 6,075 people to transform the Olympic Park area. Volunteers performed all sorts of tasks, from planting trees to removing waste. The hope was that, by participating, local residents would retain the feeling that the area is there to improve their wellbeing and happiness.
Aim: To inspire people across the UK to take up sport and develop more active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.
- The Games was committed to improving eating habits and the natural environment, and trying to engage people in physical activity, from the workforce behind the Games, extending out to the whole population of the UK.
- One of the themes of London 2012 was ‘Inspire a Generation’. The Games supported numerous UK-wide sporting programmes attempting to encourage fitness and competitive sport amongst young people.
- There were strict guidelines on catering – strictly free-range eggs and sustainably sourced fish, amongst other criteria. Despite this, McDonalds opened its largest (pop-up) restaurant in the world in the Olympic Park, hardly nutritious and responsibly sourced but presumably a vital source of funding through sponsorship.
Aim: To deliver a zero-waste Games
- Recycling was a prominent feature at the games. Two thirds of the steel used to build the Olympic stadium was recycled, much of it comprises of old and abandoned gas pipes. The stadium used only a tenth of the amount of steel used to create the impressive Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing.
- Some 200 largely derelict buildings were demolished and 98.5 per cent of the resulting waste was reused or recycled.
- For the first time in the history of the Games, no waste will go to landfill. Also, water reclaimed water from a local sewer was treated, and used for irrigation and toilet flushing.
- All of the uniforms worn by staff were fashioned from recycled polyester and the trilbys worn were made of responsibly sourced paper.
These are but a snapshot of the ‘green’ credentials of the Games, and impressive they are!
Watch this video to get an idea of the overall sustainability pledge:
But there is still a way to go to make the Games truly sustainable… As The Sunday Telegraph has revealed, 350 tons of ore must be mined to produce each gold medal. And, most damaging of all, sponsors Dow Chemicals and BP have been widely attacked for tarnishing the Games’ green credentials.
All these objectives form part of a long-term plan to regenerate a deprived area of London. The Games were a huge success, but down the line we shall see if these actions can really transform not just one area of London, but the rest of the UK.