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London Olympic Games Aim for Sustainability

The London Olympics are still training for sustainability gold

Submitted by: John Elkington

Posted: Sep 04, 2011 – 09:47 PM EST

Tags: sustainability, london olympic games, green, supply chain, environment

 
Elkington

By John Elkington

Seven years ago, I interviewed David Stubbs, now head of sustainability at LOCOG (the London Organising Committee), about the sustainability elements of the proposal they were putting together for the 2012 Games. Then, a few weeks back, David and his colleague Felicity Hartnett guided me around the site.

My first question was how progress to date measures up to the original vision? "When we won the bid," David replied, "the IOC's environment advisor said to me that if we achieved even half of what we had promised it would be way ahead of any previous Games. Well, we are amply past that halfway mark."

The biggest surprise along the way? "Not a surprise, but a pleasant outcome," David offered. "And that's how we have been able to turn round the perception that sustainability costs more. We have found that by making our requirements very clear up front, the market has responded. We are getting some of our best deals from suppliers who are taking sustainability seriously, and our stance has helped draw in significantly stronger interest from commercial sponsors."

Knowing how polluted the site had been, I was interested in how the soils had been cleaned up. Nearly two million tonnes of contaminated soil were cleaned for reuse on the Olympic Park in the UK's largest ever soil-washing operation. Six 'soil hospitals' successfully cleaned most of the one million cubic metres of soil contaminated with oil, petrol, tar, cyanide, arsenic and lead.

And other lessons for sustainability champions? “To be effective, sustainability has to permeate across all departments,” David suggests. “There are two particular avenues where you should concentrate your efforts in large projects: procurement, where you need to stamp your authority on what the organisation buys, and how it buys; and, second, workforce training—if you can get sustainability strongly profiled in induction and training modules, you reach the whole organisation.”

As we walked past huge signs calling for 'Zero Harm,' Felicity noted that various suppliers had pushed back against the LOCOG specifications. Told that zero waste was the target, one came back to say they had got down to just four skips of waste—only to be asked, in effect, 'What is it about the zero waste target you don't understand?'

The sheer scale of the Games means dramatically greater supply chain leverage. “The numbers we deal with are huge,” Felicity noted. “Fourteen million meals to be served, four billion people watching it on TV, 10 million tickets sold. And they are matched by the challenging targets: for example, 100% access via public transport, cycling and walking, zero waste to landfill and sustainably sourced meals.”

There have been criticisms, like this Bloomberg post. David’s immediate response: “Old news.” Pressed, he noted LOCOG’s carbon reduction focus has shifted from offsetting to avoidance, by “refining scope, design efficiencies, materials choices and procurement strategies.” The Games will over-deliver in terms of carbon reduction, he said, but via a range of methods. I look forward to the carbon post-mortem.

About John Elkington 

John Elkington is Executive Chairman of Volans (www.volans.com) and Non-Executive Director at SustainAbility (www.sustainability.com). His latest book is The Power of Unreasonable People (Harvard Business School Press). He blogs at www.johnelkington.com and tweets at @volansjohn.

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