London 2012: Embedding sustainability from the outset

The London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG)’s Head of Sustainability David Stubbs talks to about London 2012 and its sustainability actions.

Q. Can you outline some of the work you’ve done to make London 2012 as sustainable as possible?
A. Embedding sustainability principles into the vision and the policies for delivering the Games was a crucial starting point. The big piece really has been the transformation of the Olympic Park site – taking what was a large, derelict, polluted and largely inaccessible area and transforming it into the largest new parkland in the UK or Europe for around 150 years or so. That really is a massive transformation - sustainability on a large scale.

You can look at it on another level, and where we’ve done a lot more than perhaps previous Games, is really look into the sourcing of all the materials and Games operation areas. So we’ve looked at the types of materials used for construction, merchandise, food and even workforce uniforms – everything from the micro details to the really big stuff, such as building the venues.

Then we’ve done some innovative things around carbon footprinting, developing a methodology that allows us to predict the carbon emissions associated with the Games so that we can use it as a tool for managing those down as much as possible, rather than traditionally just reporting on them. We’ve used it as a forward-looking estimate and that’s quite an interesting approach that other projects may adopt.

Q. How much did you look at what past Games had done?
A. A fair amount, even going back to Sydney, which was before our bid. I spent a couple of months working with their environment team before and during the Games, so there was a lot of pre-bid work, looking at how the Olympic Movement was addressing these issues. There was a lot of observations and analysis. So we did pay a lot of attention to previous Games, but it is a new and emerging area and we were looking at a lot of topics that hadn’t been addressed before.

Q. What challenges have you faced?
A. Well the biggest challenge is that you’ve got to do all of this on time. There is an unforgiving programme and it is done under intense public scrutiny. You’ve got to deliver on time and on budget and there’s a massive amount of stakeholder interest. Then you’ve got the engineering challenge of taking a site that really was a big mess and in that tight programme time cleaning it up, demolishing the old and building the new.

Q. What would you consider to be your biggest successes?
A. I think the park itself is stunning and we really have taken that poorly developed site and transformed it. We’ve got great venues and the parkland looks superb. We’ve actually got a real park within the site. We’ve got rivers and parkland that are well established. We’ve had three growing seasons, so a lot of the trees and wetland vegetation look like they’ve been there for ages. It’s got a really great parkland feel to it. That’s going to be something quite special.

Q. What sustainable legacies do you hope the Games will leave?
A. That’s a really interesting area because it goes way beyond the physical stuff, such as buildings, infrastructure and parkland. There’s a massive amount of new understanding of how events can be managed in a more sustainable way. Probably one of the biggest successes in that respect is that we’ve helped inspire the development of a new international standard – ISO20121 – which is a management system standard. What’s nice about that is that it’s a process rather than a prescriptive thing. It’s more about how you go about putting sustainability into the organisation, understanding the issues and dealing with stakeholders.

It’s a great tool for helping future organisers manage these things relevant to the situation they’re in, but for us it’s a great legacy. Before, there was no appropriate standard that addressed sustainability in events and could be audited. It gives you something that you can become certified to and that will help stakeholders believe that you’re doing something properly.

Q. How much input have you had from the IOC?
A. I think it’s important to stress that it’s a two-way thing. In the early days, they facilitated technical briefings with people from previous Games and through things like the World Conferences on Sport and the Environment you get the opportunity to meet and work with your peers from other Organising Committees. It’s also two-way – all the things that we’ve learnt are reported back and they can help the IOC guide future OCOGs more effectively, which can shorten the learning curve. Organising Committees start from scratch, so if you can fast-track some of the learning and avoid some of the pitfalls then that is immensely helpful. Working with the IOC to improve and develop knowledge transfer is really critical and that is what we’ve been doing a lot.

Q. What advice would you give future Organising Committees?
A. The key things are starting early and having a clear vision. You can’t do sustainability looking backwards; it has to be done looking forwards. It has to be part of the culture of the Organising Committee and the whole programme. And the final point would be to plan for legacy. Legacy doesn’t happen after the Games – it only works if you think about it in everything that you do.

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