One Planet Olympics: London 2012

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Thursday, July 26, 2012

<p>Changes to the design of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium allowed for a reduction of 35% in embodied carbon (Image by the Olympic Delivery Authority. Supplied by London 2012)</p>

Changes to the design of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium allowed for a reduction of 35% in embodied carbon (Image by the Olympic Delivery Authority. Supplied by London 2012)

The concept of “One Planet Living” has been applied to the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games in order to ensure that the 2012 Olympics are the most sustainable to date. The agencies delivering the Games, including the International Olympic Committee, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), together with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Bioregional developed a framework when they bid for the Games to deliver a “One Planet Olympics”. 

Mega sporting events, like the Olympic Games, have a large impact on the environment. Venues need to be built, athletes and fans flown in from around the world and an enormous amount of energy used to sustain a large visiting population.  One Planet Living is based on ten principles including: zero carbon, zero waste, sustainable transport, local and sustainable materials, local and sustainable food, sustainable water, land use and wildlife, culture and community, equity and local economy, and, health and happiness.  Planning an Olympic Games within this framework recognises that the planet has ecological limits and that these limits can be taken into account to decrease the environmental footprint of a mega sporting event.   

Developing a carbon footprint

In order to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the London 2012 Games, a carbon footprint was compiled prior to the Games which looked at both the pre-Games and Games stages. This was termed a “reference footprint” as it was compiled before the event and used estimated data. From this exercise reduction strategies could be put in place that focused on the highest areas of emissions.  The development of a methodology to calculate the carbon footprint for the event has been made available and can be used to calculate the carbon footprint of future Olympic Games. This was the first time that a carbon footprint has been calculated for the pre-Games and Games phases and included embodied emissions.

Venue construction

The carbon footprint report revealed that the majority of emissions were from the construction of venues and therefore strategies to reduce this impact were put in place.  Firstly to prevent the construction of multiple new venues, existing venues, such as Wimbledon and Lords, were identified and upgraded for use during the Games.

Where new venues were constructed low carbon concrete mixes were used. Using low carbon concrete mixes resulted in a reduction of between 35-38% of carbon from the use of concrete in venue construction. Furthermore structures were designed using fewer materials to reduce embodied carbon emissions.  Redundant elements in the original designs were excluded and lightweight materials used. Use of this approach resulted in a 35% reduction in carbon emissions associated with the construction of the Olympic stadium.

In addition temporary seating, barriers and other infrastructure were hired rather than buying them new. The basketball stadium is a temporary venue constructed out of steel and PVC.  It will be dismantled after the Games and parts re-used at other locations. 

The Basketball venue is one of the largest temporary venues ever built for the Olympics. (Image by Anthony Palmer. Courtesy of London 2012).

Transportation

London 2012 is aiming to be the first public transport games. All ticket holders will receive a Games Travel card to use public transport. An active travel programme has been designed to encourage non-motorised transport (NMT). Seventy-five kilometres of walking and cycling routes have been developed as well as a bicycle hire system.  Secure cycle parking for spectators can also be found at every venue. 

To avoid higher carbon emissions associated with road and air transport 63% of materials for venue construction were transported to the Olympic Park by rail or water.  

75 kilometres of walking and cycling routes were developed to encourage non-motorised transport to Olympic venues in the city (Image by Steve Bates. Supplied by London 2012).

Food

A sustainable food policy, London 2012 Food Vision, was developed for the first time for an Olympic Games. Five core themes make up the policy: Food safety and hygiene; choice and balance; food sourcing and supply chains; environmental management, resource efficiency and waste; and, skills and education.  Caterers that have been procured have had to agree to this food vision in their contracts to ensure that food served has minimal environmental impact and meets high ethical standards.

Waste

London 2012 aims to be the first zero waste to landfill Olympics Games.  Some of the achievements in this area include:

  • 98% of waste in the demolition phase was reused or recycled
  • 99% of waste created through the Olympic Park construction was recovered, reused or recycled.
  • Designers and contractors were required to identify ways to design out waste and were required to complete a waste minimisation action plan.
  • Waste separation facilities will be at all venues and public spaces for the Games.

Biodiversity

Another goal of the Olympic Delivery Authority was to enhance the biodiversity and ecology of certain venues and areas. One hundred hectares of former industrial land has been transformed into parklands.  Ponds, wetlands, and woodlands have been designed to serve as habitat for wildlife. In addition, targets were set to provide habitats for priority species such as kingfishers and bats. 

Former industrial land has been rehabilitated to serve as habitat for London’s wildlife and restore biodiversity (Image by David Poultney. Supplied by London 2012).

Renewable Energy

One of the areas where London 2012 has not met its initial targets is in the energy sector. London 2012 aimed to source 20% of the energy required for the Games from new onsite renewable sources but was only able to source 9%.  A 2MW wind turbine was planned but due to changes in health and safety legislation was not approved by authorities.  Successes include the installation of a 3MW biomass boiler, large Solar PV installations, and small scale renewable installations such as solar PV and small vertical wind turbines.

Legacy Documents

A series of lessons learned documents have been developed in order to provide future host cities with advice on running an event of this magnitude.  Successes and challenges experienced have been highlighted with the view to improve the sustainability of these events in the long term. A learning legacy website has been set up which provides a platform for these documents.

For more information on London 2012’s sustainability strategy and progress an in-depth pre-games sustainability report and Bioregional and the WWF’s Towards a One Planet Olympics Revisited progress document are available online.

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Amanda Botes