The various bodies involved in delivering the event have long aspired to providing "the greenest Olympic and Paralympic Games yet" and planned for sustainability, but judgments of their success depend a lot on how greenness is defined and how broadly those judgements are made.
Organisers LOCOG have taken a bit of stick over the 4,000 mostly fossil-fuelled BMWs that will be shipped to the capital to cart officials and dignitaries between sporting venues and their hotels using the road network’s dedicated "games lanes," in some cases with personal chauffeurs.
BMW is "proud" to be the enterprise’s "automotive partner." But Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly member who chairs its transport committee, has said that only electric vehicles should have been considered and Green Party AM Jenny Jones, who is also her party’s mayoral candidate, thinks more of the VIPs should use public transport as we mere mortals are being urged to do.
The choice of Dow Chemical to fund the Olympic stadium’s decorative wrap has prompted widespread protest and the recent resignation of a member of the watchdog Commission for a Sustainable London 2012. Meanwhile, the dark cloud of air pollution continues to float above the build-up to July’s sporting jamboree. All those gas-guzzling BMWs seem unlikely to help.
There is, though, a happier tale being told as well. Jenny’s Jones’s fellow Green assembly member Darren Johnson wrote in Business Green last spring that some of the "greatest achievements" of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which has been responsible for building the Olympic Park, have gone largely unrecognised. He praised the ODA’s work in "reducing the embodied carbon of construction" by, for example, making the main stadium lightweight by reusing gas piping and re-designing the aquatic centre’s temporary stands to reduce its use of steel.
The London Assembly’s Liberal Democrats applaud the widespread re-use of materials throughout the construction period, including for the park’s own combined cooling heat and power plant. They point out that the land the park has been built on was previously heavily contaminated and is now home to large quantities of greenery. The Environment Agency announced on Monday that the clean-up work is complete.
There has been political approval for all of the above, and for the improvement of the waterways that flow through and around the park. Labour assembly member Murad Qureshi is among those supporting a cross-party call for volunteers to help with tidying up the Lee Navigation canal in advance of July. He’ll be keeping company with Tory mayor Boris Johnson’s environment director and an environment minister at the launch of a campaign led by environment charity Thames21 at Hackney Wick on Wednesday.
But Qureshi also points to the disappointment of the games missing their renewable energy targets – it was announced last April that it will manage only 9% instead of their 20% target. Plans to build a wind turbine at Eton Manor were dropped in 2010. "It’s a real pity, because that would have symbolised very visibly what can be done," he says. (Darren Johnson has since persuaded the ODA to indirectly offset this by insulating homes around the Olympic Park).
Any green audit of the games would have to take into account everything from re-surfacing the local towpaths for walkers, cyclists and runners – I live nearby and am all three – to fundamental questions about the whole concept of the Olympics being held in a different place every four years, with all the draw on Earthly resources that entails. Qureshi would like serious consideration to be given to finding a permanent home for the Olympics. Alas, Greece, the obvious romantic choice, has a decaying stadium on its hands and other matters on its mind.
For London 2012 just avoiding that terrible fate will be a green triumph for a kind. But will it be as great it should have been?
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