Going for Gold: How the London Olympics Will Set the Record for Sustainability

Article excerpt

For the international community, the Olympic Games represent a rare opportunity to bring the world together in celebration of human discipline and achievement. For the cities that host them, however, the honor of staging this global spectacle often comes at a high social and environmental cost. From forced displacements to ostentatious, overbuilt stadiums, the Olympic legacy is viewed by many as more of a curse than a blessing. Departing from this unworthy tradition, the organizers of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London have decided to use the games as a model for sustainability, seizing their Olympic moment to become a most unlikely leader in social inclusion and the environment.


In the eastern outskirts of the world's second-largest financial capital, one comes across a very different London. The people look and speak different. The soil, polluted from years of industrial activity, permits the growth of only the harshest and most unsightly weeds. And the old canal system, a tourist attraction in the city's western boroughs, sits here in isolation, hidden beneath a carpet of moss.

Yet, it is in this neglected stretch of city, beyond the outer reaches of tourist maps and public transportation, where new business and investment will soon be abuzz and where scores of tourists from around the world will suddenly blanket the streets in anticipation.

Londoners of all locales and ethnicities will become newly united and imbued with pride; more than a million tons of soil will be dug up, treated, and replanted with more inviting foliage; and the canals--too long an emblem of neglect--will begin to glisten and grow, becoming a "blue vein" coursing throughout and restoring life to East London.

In two years' time, London will play host to the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, in the process becoming a staging ground for best practice in urban regeneration, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. While these two mega-events will come and go in the time span of just over a month, London aims to extend its leadership on these issues long after, using the games to set a new precedent for responsible and forward-looking action for the future of the planet.



In 2004, the International Olympic Committee voted to award the 2012 Summer Games to London, a city that had already hosted the event twice and seemingly had little to add to the Olympic movement. Yet, in spite of the odds against it, London was able to win the bid by adopting a novel approach to games planning. Instead of viewing the games as a three-week global spectacle, London bid organizers chose to highlight how the entire Olympic planning process could be used as a means to catalyze positive social and environmental change, thereby inspiring other cities around the world to follow London's lead.

Amanda Kiely, sustainability projects manager for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), summarized London's ambitions in an interview with the author, "This will be the first time that an Olympic host city has adopted a fully integrated approach, bringing together the goals and planning processes for the environmental, social, and economic programs" Realizing that 2012 would also mark the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, the London Olympic team sought to marry its Olympic program to the global policy agenda of cutting worldwide carbon emissions and reducing energy consumption. The motto of the London Games is "One Planet Olympics," drawing attention to the fact that the resources of three planets would be needed if London's current level of energy consumption became the global norm.

In recognition of this dire forecast, the LOCOG is striving to make this the first ever sustainable Olympics by incorporating legacy planning into each phase of the Olympic life cycle, measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of all aspects of staging the games, and using the Olympic context to generate greater public interest in environmental stewardship and social inclusion. …