Government departments must harness the sustainable expertise gained from building the 2012 London Olympics

Shaun McCarthy

As Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, I am frequently asked whether London 2012 will really be the most sustainable Games ever. In short, it’s quite easy to answer “yes”, as there is frankly not much in the way of competition from previous Games.

However, if we are to truly answer the question, we need to address some more difficult points:

Is London 2012 on track to deliver its sustainability commitments?
With a few exceptions, yes. The Commission has yet to receive details of how the GLA propose to deliver sustainability through City operations and we have been asking questions about the ArcelorMittal Orbit. In the main, things are going well.

However, we are looking closely at the ODA’s plans to deliver 20% renewable energy to the Olympic Park post-Games, in legacy, following the cancellation of the wind turbine. We have also always considered LOCOG’s target to deliver 20% of the electricity demand during the Games from renewable sources challenging.

Will London 2012 deliver a sustainable legacy?
Probably. Our initial engagement with the Olympic Park Legacy Company has been very positive and much more open and candid than before. However, we have yet to see the details of the Legacy Masterplan Framework and believe there is much more work for us to do in this area. We plan to take a closer look at legacy at least twice between now and the Games.

Will London 2012 actually make a difference?
Right now, I would have to say “no” or, if feeling charitable “not much”. We were promised that London 2012 would “set new standards of sustainability”, that it would “act as a catalyst for new waste management infrastructure in East London” and that the Olympic Park would be a “Blueprint for sustainable living”.

As a Commission, we believe that holding an Olympic Games at all is an inherently unsustainable thing to do. The net amount of benefit to the environment or society of staging the Games needs to be greater than the damage done. This means capturing the intellectual property created by the London 2012 team before the Games and using it in a way that provides benefits for society and competitive advantage for UK PLC.

As a Commission, we believe that holding an Olympic Games at all is an inherently unsustainable thing to do.

There are signs that some professional institutions and other learning and knowledge transfer organisations are doing their bit to disseminate the lessons to their members but my concern is that Government has done very little to date.

The British Standards Institution is one organisation that is making a contribution. They introduced the BS 8901 sustainable event management standard, which is being applied to LOCOG’s suppliers and has been adopted by the industry.

The public sector should be insisting on this minimum standard for all events but this is still patchy, despite the standard being available for more than two years.

There is light at the end of the tunnel however. Since the General Election there has been renewed interest in applying the lessons from central government departments, despite the general feeling that there are very limited resources available.

If government takes a positive stance to signal improved standards of sustainability in key industries, such as construction, then the industry will invest in applying the knowledge in the expectation that less work for a large number of suppliers will lead them to seek competitive advantage from their sustainability, neatly turning adversity into advantage. In these days of austerity, Government needs to get smarter.