Everywhere you turn, the Olympics are touted as a shining example of a groundbreaking sustainable project. It was a particular shame, then, to have to report last month that the park will probably miss its target to take 20% of its power from renewable sources in its legacy phase in 2013. According to Shaun McCarthy, head of the Commission for a Sustainable 2012, which monitors the sustainability of the Games, the failure to install a wind turbine last summer helped scupper the targets. Add to this that LOCOG, who will actually run the Games, have already said they will miss an identical target for during the Olympics itself, and you are left wondering just how green they will be.
Still, McCarthy is right to point out that what really matters is the overarching target for the park to emit 50% less carbon than a project would if it was built to 2006 standards. The whole purpose of renewables is to drive down carbon, and if this can be done in other ways, such as through a really zealous focus on energy efficiency, then it doesn’t matter one jot whether the park is festooned with eco-bling or not. Having said this though, according to a recent report by the ODA, 80% of the park is now constructed, so it’s not clear quite how many more measures you can put in place. And in the age of austerity the pressure to find a commercially viable future for the park could force sustainability off the stage.
Plans, then, to turn the media centre into a giant, Dubai-style indoor ski slope could not have been revealed at a more ironic time. How much of London would you have to cover with solar panels to air-condition that? The Olympic legacy committee is coming under ever more pressure to find tenants for various parts of the park, like the media centre, where no actual media tenant has yet been found. It will find it harder and harder to resist offers from companies like Acer Snowmec, whose proposals are not quite in the spirit of sustainability to say the least.
All of which is relevant to what McCarthy has said about biodiversity in the Park. The ODA has promised that the park will contain 45 hectares of wildlife rich land. The problem, he says, is that because West Ham’s successful bid for park doesn’t shrink the stadium down to a capacity of 25,000, biodiverse land can’t be put where the stadium used to be. Which all means that more space will have to be found elsewhere in the park, but with the legacy committee under pressure to claw back as much developer money for the public as possible from the site, we could be left with “a pocket handkerchief [of land] with a few frogs in it” as McCarthy puts it.
So are the Games’ green credentials in tatters? Well, it depends on whether the 50% target is hit, and a report is due out in April which should reveal all. But it will be an uphill struggle as commercial pressure begin to bite.