Monday, July 16, 2012

Has the London Olympics Really Gone Green, and What can the Gold Coast Games Gain?

by Colin Hunt, Honorary Fellow in Economics at University of Queensland, The Conversation:

Upper ring of Olympic Stadium made from 2,600 tonnes of surplus gas pipes

For seven years, the London Olympics Organising Committee has been striving to live up to the sustainability vision it set itself.

It’s been a long, honest fight. On the eve of the Games, how well have they done?

The case was made for a sustainable London games and Paralympics back in 2005, based on WWF’s Vision of a One Planet Olympics.

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has tried to instill sustainability into every facet of construction and delivery. The Committee set sustainability objectives, standards and tools. There is even a powerful watchdog on the LOCOG - the Commission for a Sustainable London (CSL).

It's not easy being green

Despite the commitment, failures in delivery have already attracted a good deal of attention. The most conspicuous is in energy, where the CSL criticises the lack of an effective plan. The renewable energy target will not be met, because a wind energy project was cancelled, and the carbon footprint will not be reduced by much.

London does not meet all EU air quality standards. This together with the need to cut greenhouse emissions prompted the development of impressive public transport infrastructure and links.

However, diluting this is the provision of 4,000 cars to transport the “Olympic family”; and congestion on an ageing road network could still pose a problem. Rail transport from Europe is being encouraged. But the greenhouse emissions of international travellers are not accounted for and will be only marginally ameliorated by carbon taxes and airline offsets.

Sustainable fuels such as biogas could have been used much more for combined heating and cooling. Instead, fossil fuels will be prominent; 169,000 litres of diesel be used in power generators. The indirect energy consumption of offices and operational sites will be around 25 million kWh, sufficient for town of about 160,000, drawn mainly from the grid.

Materials reuse is very low. While nothing reaches the dump, recycling isn’t a perfect solution: it costs money and uses energy.

Some PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which contains the dangerous pollutants cadmium, lead and phthalates, is still being used on site; and some cooling systems still use HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), a powerful greenhouse gas. LOGOC makes the point that that future event organisers need to engage suppliers early to ensure safe alternatives are available.

CSL has also criticised the sustainability of merchandise. By last month only one games partner, Adidas, had disclosed the location of its factories. And the consequences of appointing the Dow Chemical Company as an Olympic Partner have rebounded and continue to dog games organisers, taking the focus off achievements.

Delivering a physical legacy for some purpose built venues may be a headache. How will they attract users and revenues?

Games' green achievements

It is inevitable that in a project of such ambition and scale there will be failures; but when measured against the impressive successes they seem relatively minor.

Some parts of the Olympic complex have been very well planned. The block that housed the construction offices is to be taken over by games administration; then post-games it will become commercial. The games village will become sustainable housing. And a 20-year programme will follow to deliver new homes and development to the precinct.

A hundred hectares of the Lower Lea River Valley, once a degraded industrial area, will be transformed to parkland, with an emphasis on encouraging the return of biodiversity.

But perhaps the most impressive of the green initiatives is the commitment to sustainably-sourced supplies. Sea freight and delivery by rail and water are mandated. Paper consumption is minimised.

No food packaging will go to landfill and all food waste is to be composted. Water reclaimed from sewage is used for irrigation and toilet flushing. Moreover, all timber used in construction was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Much food will be from certified sources. The fish with your chips - whether from ocean, river or ponds - will be Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified; London became the first “sustainable fish city”.

There are no less than 100,000 contractors involved in supplying the games, and all of them are subject to sustainability standards and tests. Innovations wrought among suppliers are expected to have a lasting effect.

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