The Olympic Games in London promised to be the most sustainable Olympics ever. In fact, their bid for the Olympics revolved mainly around sustainability. They guaranteed green energy and technology, reduced water and waste consumption, increased green spaces and car-free games.
We are now half way between the 2012 summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, so I figured this was a good time to look at what worked and what didn’t in the London Olympics, and what we might see in Russia.
Perhaps the best way to review the environmental performance of the London Olympics is to use a familiar scoring system: gold, silver and bronze. We will not, however, use medals from mining company Rio Tinto, voted the worst company linked to the London Olympics, based on its high carbon emissions and toxins as well as air and water pollution.
The promise: The Olympic Stadium, which was constructed primarily to serve as the host stadium for the Summer Olympics, was christened by the committee as “the most sustainable Olympic stadium ever built.” It was constructed with a tenth of the steel that is normally used in Olympic construction, and made with sustainable timber designed to collect natural rainwater. It also boasts a temporary steel and concrete upper tier that could be dismantled after the games.
The score: SILVER Despite plans to make the venue sustainable, over more than half the CO2 emissions associated with the Olympics comes from the construction process. There is still no firm post-Olympics plan in place for the Stadium. The most likely occupant, the West Ham United Soccer team, is still negotiating the terms of a possible move and will not be able to move in until 2016 – two years behind schedule. The push to make the stadium reusable and transformable is admirable, but the execution has been slow-going.
The promise: For the first time in Olympic games history, no waste would be sent to the landfill. The Organizing Committee worked with all caterers on site to make sure they used the same supplier for compostable materials.
The score: BRONZE. The catch of the committee’s promise is that the zero waste goals are for closed venues, meaning areas such as cycling courses are left out. While there was a high level of recycling, some of this came at the expense of the reuse rate of less than 1 per cent.
The promise: To provide organic, free-range and locally and ethically sourced foods delivered at affordable prices, and to supply refillable water stations.
The score: SILVER. The biggest McDonald’s opened at the London Olympics. They made an effort to use British beef, chicken and free range eggs, and provided 10 per cent of the meals at the Olympics. Long lines at water bottle refill stations were an issue, though.
The promise: To reduce Olympics-related emissions from energy production and lay foundations for a sustainable energy legacy. Their goal was to have a 50 per cent carbon reduction to offset the construction for operating the Olympic stadium by 2013, and 20 per cent of energy to come from onsite renewable sources.
The score: DISQUALIFIED. Very few of the renewable energy plans were realized. A wind turbine was scrapped, and not enough work was done to find renewable biofuels for running the site.
The promise: All ticket holders would be given a Games Travelcard to use on public transit the day of the event. Walking and cycling venues were encouraged, and the absence of parking would make taking a car to the games virtually impossible.
The score: SILVER. The carbon emissions of spectators flying across the globe to see the games totaled about seven hundred thousand tonnes. Buses driving athletes around the sites kept their engines on while waiting for passengers, despite a policy of no idling. However, transportation chaos was expected; London deserves a congratulations for proving public transport can get the job done.
What does all this mean for the Russian Olympics in 2014? They briefly mentioned some environmental efforts in their Impact Report for water, air and green building standards. Although, as Sochi is the Riviera of Russia, it is less than ideal for winter sports so we may see extra infrastructure to accommodate. It looks like we have a long way to go before we see a green Olympics.
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