Will the London Olympics Live Up to Its Green Ambitions?

Everywhere you look, London's 2012 Olympics have scrapped or hedged on some aspect of their environmental goals, casting doubt on whether there's even such a thing as Green Games.

Aquatics Centre

 Last month, it was the little wind farm. A week ago, the waste management infrastructure. Now, it's a 427-foot wind turbine once slated for Olympic Park. Everywhere you look, London's 2012 Olympics have scrapped or hedged on some aspect of their environmental goals, casting doubt on whether there's even such a thing as Green Games.

London won the Olympic bid in 2005 on a platform of sustainability, pushing itself onto the International Olympic Committee as a model of eco-chic and onto the British public as a chance to redevelop the seedier parts of the city. The government vowed to "transform the heart of East London" and "make the Olympic Park a blueprint for sustainable living." It would be, they said, the "greenest games in modern times."
Velodrome
Five years on, there've been plenty of incremental successes -- Hopkins Architects's velodrome (above) is light as a feather and NORD's recently completed substation (below) made clever use of demolition scrap from Kings Yard -- but there've also been plenty of failures. Olympic Park's energy hub will run on gas, instead of biogas. Wind-power ambitions have been scaled back. And the roof of Zaha Hadid's feted aquatic park (top image) is made out of ungodly amounts of steel, each ton its own little environmental nightmare. Same story with Anish Kapoor's Orbit tower (bottom image).

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 released a report last week (which you can download here) applauding the Games's progress on environmental issues at the same time that it expressed serious reservations. With few exceptions, there is "no comprehensive plan" for new waste management in east London or for Olympic Park's so-called "blueprint for sustainable living," the report says -- which were big selling points for London in the first place. "Having an Olympics is an inherently unsustainable thing to do. To build all this stuff to watch some people run around – what's sustainable about that?" commission head Shaun McCarthy told the UK Guardian. "We have to ask ourselves is it good enough just to have some great sustainable venues and put on a sustainable games which we are increasingly confident about, or will the Olympics really make a difference?"

In many ways, it's an old story. Ask anyone in Montreal or Athens, and they'll tell you, the Olympics are a high-stakes gamble, and the house almost always wins. London, with its lofty environmentalism, was supposed to be different. It still might be. But time's starting to run out. And Almost Green Games just doesn't have the same ring.

[Via UK Guardian]

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • Andrea Larson

    Greenwashing is endemic. It’s the sad reality of marketing people combining forces with the ill-informed, and jumping on the bandwagon of “green” when there is usually only a shallow understanding about the topic. It’s too bad about the back-pedaling in London. Each effort could represent a tremendous opportunity for education, and for experiences that can be improved upon and duplicated in the UK in subsequent years. It’s not as though the issues are going away, but the salesforces for greenwashing still treat it as though it were a flavor of the month.

  • david wayne osedach

    I plan on being there for the London, Olympics. Have friends in Bagshot, Surrey who will put me up. I will be sure to email Fast Company my most interesting adventures...