London 2012: the ‘greenest’ Olympics ever
On 27 July, the curtain rises on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. London makes history in being the first city to host three Olympic Games and promises to be the greenest ever. This is according to today’s guest columnist British High Commissioner, ARTHUR SNELL who tells us just what this means.
With memories of the spectacular opening ceremony to the 2008 Games in Beijing still clear in our minds, it is easy to understand why the Olympic Games is considered by many to be the greatest show on earth. The opening ceremony for London 2012 promises to offer its own brand of razzmatazz, after all its concept is choreographed by British film director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Trainspotting), but the real story to London 2012 is the assertion that the games will be the first truly sustainable Olympics in their history.
The scale and scope of the project is hard to imagine. Working on the principle that the world should live within its means, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) set their sights not only on the immediate area of the games in London (a rundown area of East London), but on influencing the viewing audience.
The Olympics are watched by four billion people around the globe and involves over 200 countries. There are five themes which underpin London 2012’s sustainable aspirations: Climate Change, Waste, Biodiversity, Inclusion and Healthy Living.
A carbon footprint for a Summer Olympic Games was calculated. London 2012 is on target to reduce this footprint by 100,000 tonnes of CO2—the equivalent of taking 65,000 cars off the road for a year. The use of venues and the site for the Olympic Park has played a significant role in this reduction. Where possible, existing venues have been used—Wimbledon and Lord’s being just two. In the East End London area of regeneration, new venues have been constructed—the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and Velodrome.
Where necessary, temporary venues have been built—for example, the Beach Volleyball arena at Horse Guard’s Parade. The techniques used in construction of the venues were important and, in some cases, groundbreaking. The site of the Olympic Park had to be decontaminated prior to any building work, with two million tonnes of soil cleaned.
The wetlands area surrounding the park was carefully studied and impact assessment on the ecology and environment undertaken to ensure that wildlife could adapt and survive, and in some cases, be relocated as happened with 2,000 great-crested newts.
The materials used are either lightweight or recycled, but often both, and the architectural design enhances energy efficiency. The velodrome is 100 per cent naturally ventilated, the rainwater collected from the roof used for toilets and irrigation.
Sixty per cent of construction materials were delivered by rail or by water, reducing vehicle movement and, by association, carbon output. Local materials were sourced for large construction projects, such as the aquatics centre’s steel, sourced from South Wales. Recycled waste products from the demolition of old construction were used in the creation of the new venues—ninety per cent of construction waste diverted from landfill.
This included the Olympic Stadium, the roof of which is supported by 2,500 tonnes of old gas pipeline. The venues are only part of the UK side of the story, with the London travel network benefitting from a much-needed revamp, and promotion of walking and cycle routes throughout the city. The key redeveloped route, The Greenway, also makes use of salvaged material from demolished sites—bricks, paving stones, manhole covers and tiles all incorporated into its fabric.
Accommodation, provision of food and disposal of waste have all been examined to ensure services adhere to the sustainable mantra. Green energy such as biomass fuels have been brought online at the Energy Centre, and the Combined Cooling Heat and Power plant on the Olympic site captures heat generated as a by-product of electricity production—a 30 per cent more efficient way of producing energy than traditional methods. Even the Olympic flame is zero-carbon.
When talking about London’s East End, an industrial landscape springs to mind, but the Olympic site has transformed the urban landscape from brown to green. The Parklands area has seen 45 hectares of new wildlife habitat created. 4,000 trees have been planted. Reed beds, grasslands, ponds and woodlands are now teeming with wildlife not seen in this part of London for decades, encouraging otters, badgers and bats to return.
The waterways have been overhauled and dredged, with flood reduction measures like river widening, natural defences and drainage systems have given this area a resilience and reduced risk in the face of possible climate change effects like sea-level rise. So the world holds its breath for July 27 and the beginning of the Olympics, followed closely after by the paralympics.
Medals will be won; dreams fulfilled, or dashed; records broken; and memories created. And the opening ceremony will come and go, as will the Olympic Games. But what remains after will be an Olympic legacy, the regeneration of London’s inner city and the concept that sustainability is essential, yet achievable, in a world of dwindling resource.