Will the 2012 Olympics green credentials be medal winning?

Perhaps if empty seats at venues reflect an attempt to cut carbon omissions that otherwise might have been created by spectators travelling to the Olympics!

7 August 2012

Perhaps if empty seats at venues reflect an attempt to cut carbon omissions that otherwise might have been created by spectators travelling to the Olympics!

In transport terms "the greatest show on earth" is unlikely to ever be green in terms of travel and transport emissions but this does flag the difficulty of measuring "green" projects and whether "end-to-end" life cycle (i.e. inclusive of whole supply + product chain and all direct and indirect emissions including embedded carbon are all taken into account.  

A key focus of the 2012 Olympics is both sustainability and the legacy in the widest possible terms and a number of the venues have clearly laid the foundations for this.  The Olympic Stadium being the most sustainable asset according to the ODA Project Sponsor with the upper tier of seating being demountable to leave a legacy 25,000-seater stadium to benefit the local community.  

In judging green projects and credentials there is clearly merit in considering in absolute terms the full "end-to-end" carbon value, but also against relative benchmarks and whether the project positively moves forward the lower carbon trend towards a goal of zero (or lowest possible!). With a weather eye on the old adage about statistics lots have been thrown out about 2012 venues:

  • the Olympic Stadium uses one quarter of the steel used in Beijing's Bird Nest Stadium, including steel tubes fabricated from recycled material (although aesthetically they are very different with different planned legacies)
  • the Velodrome is on track for BREEAM "excellent" rating with 29% recycled content in the building, use of natural ventilation and day light and a steel cable net roof around 35% lighter than the next best comparable world venue
  • inclusion of local energy centres, which includes a Combined Cooling Heat and Power (CCHP) plant powered by natural gas and a biomass boiler that uses woodchip to generate heat providing 46.5MW of heating and 16MW of cooling through 16km Community Energy Networks across the Olympic Park. After the games the CCHP plant is planned to serve around 10,000 homes in the local community with heat and power. Whilst gas is a fossil fuel energy security is important for the Games and legacy residents, and fuel supply for biomass is a 'hot topic'!
  • plans for wind turbines could not be delivered although perhaps some late additions did make the starting line-up and plans for alternative fuel for the torch relay came to nought. How much these initiatives were designed to wrap a green flag around the Games may be questioned.

In the global race for green credentials the 2012 Olympics are in the final however the budget is a major factor behind such success.  In the "real world" (private and public sector) availability of funding and structuring green projects to meet pay-back periods can prove an impediment to going green.  The creation of good social infrastructure requires long term horizons - perhaps a 50-year horizon to ensure a legacy fit for generations to come but currently we lack political vision with horizons this time frame let alone corporate or financial markets being in the same Olympic Venue.  

Within the context of the IOC principles, "Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and London 2012 objective of sustainability and lasting legacy, the 2012 Olympics green credentials are in medal contention, However, whether it is gold, silver or bronze perhaps needs to be assessed once that legacy can be judged with the benefit of hindsight.