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London 2012 - A Sustainable Event?

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The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 is the body responsible for assuring the sustainability of the London 2012 programme. London's bid promised the most sustainable Games to date and the Commission is there to provide independent assurance over this objective. I have had the honour to chair the Commission since 2006, reporting directly to the Chair of the Olympic Board. Early February saw the publication of our report "In sight of the finishing line" which looked into the preparations made by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the Greater London Authority to meet their Games-time sustainability commitments.

This is a highly complex task, organising the world's biggest event involves many activities from venue management to vehicle movements, from catering to cleaning, from technology to merchandise, the list goes on. The scale is breathtaking, 17,000 beds in the Athletes Village, over eight million meals, around 4,000 cars in the Olympic fleet. Sustainability is a complex subject too, with many social, environmental and economic impacts to consider.

LOCOG has a hard act to follow; the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) did a fantastic job of constructing sustainable facilities in a sustainable way. Can LOCOG deliver a sustainable Games in a sustainable way? There are some really good signs. The ambitious objective to send no Games-time waste to landfill with at least 70% of that waste re-used, recycled or composted has been severely challenged during test events, there is much to learn and improve but the overall picture is optimistic.

As I pointed out to the team at the rowing venue, if it was not tough it would not be setting new standards. Much of the waste will be from food and catering and painstaking attention is being given to packaging and in particular food packaging. Everything coming in to the Park has been scrutinised to make sure it can leave without going to landfill. The funky bins to be used will help educate people about recycling and make the process as efficient as possible.

Unfortunately, it is not all good news. Having failed to deliver the promised 20% of Games time electricity from new renewable resources, LOCOG decided they would deliver equivalent carbon reductions from energy conservation. This was over a year ago and although we have seen some worthy initiatives we have yet to see an overall energy strategy. We are getting close to the last responsible time to do this and I am somewhat heartened to see that LOCOG has responded to our concerns by putting some resource into resolving this issue. Will it will be too little too late? We will have to wait to find out.

LOCOG published their sustainable sourcing code several years ago and we were very complimentary about it at the time. It is a great document, setting out expectations clearly. However, we are starting to see some cracks in the compliance management, we were unable to be confident that compliance with the HFC policy could be policed effectively which gives us concerns for other aspects too. There is clearly no point in setting a standard if you cannot demonstrate that you comply so we will be looking for more effort from LOCOG in this area.

Sustainable Games - good progress but much more to be done and little time left to do it.