The ODA is taking lots of flak for its sustainable development policy. But Jennie Price, outgoing WRAP supremo and incoming Sport England chief, thinks we should cut them some slack

‘The greenest Olympics ever”. It’s a great headline. But is it a fair assessment? And if it is, is the “greenest ever” green enough?

The Olympic Delivery Authority’s sustainable development strategy, published two weeks ago, has already elicited a strong and varied response. Darren Johnson, a leading member of the Green party in the London assembly, said London 2012 had “a long way to go” to live up to its billing.

Greenpeace was more overtly critical, awarding the proposals a wooden spoon, with the policies on carbon emissions and timber coming in for particular criticism.

The construction industry’s reaction is perhaps best described as “polite”, welcoming the thrust of the strategy but unable to resist quibbling over some of the detail.

I am tempted to put the case for the defence.

For a start, at least the ODA has published a sustainability strategy. And it has done so at the start of 2007, early enough to have a genuine and powerful influence over what happens during the construction process, as well as during and after the Games.

The strategy contains a series of quantified and measurable targets, many of which go well beyond current legislative or policy requirements and will engender at least some innovation.

I think the ODA deserves a pat on the back rather than a slap in the face for taking sustainable development seriously

The targets on waste and the use of materials, which is the area I know most about, certainly strike the right balance between being achievable but stretching the industry. In particular, the target for at least 20% of the materials used in the permanent venues and the Olympic village to be reused or recycled is set at just the right level. It will not drive the design, but it will challenge the supply chain to think carefully about recycled content when selecting materials, and to ask questions of their manufacturers.

The fact that the strategy was announced with a fanfare at No 10, with all of the highest-profile people associated with the Games round the table, is also important. This will be useful later on, when the resolve to be the greenest Games ever might waver if cost and time overruns loom in the distance.

The appointment of a separate commission to monitor progress against the strategy is also a smart move. Having worked with him closely on the sustainable procurement taskforce, I can say from personal experience that Shaun McCarthy is no pushover when it comes to sustainability. He is not afraid to say what he thinks and is passionate about tackling climate change.

I don’t have detailed knowledge of Sydney, Seoul, Athens et al, so I couldn’t say whether the claim to be the greenest Games ever is fair. But I think the ODA deserves a pat on the back rather than a slap in the face for taking this issue seriously.

I should confess to more than a passing interest in London 2012, as I shall be leaving WRAP at the end of March to take up a post as chief executive of Sport England, the body responsible for handling government funding of community sport in the UK.

In my new job, I will have a particular interest in the legacy issues, particularly as a key principle of the bid was that it would secure a strong community legacy. Just as important as the physical facilities will be the inspiration of a new generation of sportsmen and women and the engagement of many more people across the country in sport and active recreation. If we fail to deliver that – and we will fail if we raid the funding for community sport to meet the construction costs – we will have missed one of the best opportunities the UK has ever had to weave sport into the fabric of our lives.

If you look at what the great sporting nations do – Australia and New Zealand spring (reluctantly) to mind – there are common themes of good clubs, good coaches and good sporting culture. We can use London 2012 to deliver those things, or we can let it slip through our fingers. I know which I would choose and if you took a vote at Twickenham, Wimbledon, Lord’s or just about any school or sporting club in the country, I think I know which they would choose too ...