Going for Green

By Walters, Michael | Geographical, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Going for Green


Walters, Michael, Geographical


Sydney's 2000 Olympic stadium is one of the most environmentally-friendly buildings ever created. In sticking to stringent green guidelines, its creators have had to clean up wasteland, recycle roof water and re-house frogs.

WHILE THE ANTICIPATED 4.5 million visitors to Sydney's 2000 Olympics might notice recycling bins dotted around and wonder why they had to leave their cars at home, few will be aware of the extent to which the environment has featured in all aspects of the games. When the city made its bid to host the event it submitted the most comprehensive set of environmental commitments ever proposed by a bidding city. It was this environmental consideration that, according to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch, saw the games awarded to Sydney, rather than close contender Beijing.

A year earlier, in 1992, the IOC had formalised its commitment to the environment by resolving to make it the third pillar of `Olympism', complementing sport and culture. "United by and for sport, the Olympic movement can and must mobilise itself to make its contribution to the protection of Planet Earth and the well-being of mankind," Samaranch said. The 1992 Lillehammer Games, the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 1998 Nagano Winter Games saw an increasing number of environmental measures added to building procedures. These ranged from recycling waste and using solar energy to planting trees.

Wanting to see the green trend continue, Greenpeace drew up environmental guidelines for the companies bidding to build the Sydney stadium. These included rules stating which chemicals could and could not be used, and guidelines for minimising traffic pollution. "The organisers have done well on most issues," says Greenpeace spokesperson Michael Bland. "The stadium's a very modern design and it's very well thought out in terms of ventilation. It's pretty impressive."

The environmental challenges began as soon as the city was declared the winning bidder. The central site chosen for the games, Homebush Bay, had been used for a salt works, an abbattoir, a brick works, a naval armaments depot and a waste dump. An estimated nine million cubic metres of domestic, commercial and industrial waste were spread over 160 of the 760 hectares. Before any new sporting venues could be built, the site needed a spring-clean.

Waste not, want not

Applying AUS$137 million (56 million [pounds sterling]) committed by the government, contractors consolidated the waste into four safe containment areas on site and capped each with one metre of compacted clay and topsoil. In places, the waste was landscaped to create `hills' around the relatively flat Olympic Park. Scientists then called upon Mother Nature to lend a hand by using microbes, grasses and reeds that fed off pollutants to naturally break down the waste left behind by an old gas plant.

In the process of cleaning up, the builders discovered an endangered green and golden bell frog, which had made its home in the site's brick pit, once the set of Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome. They soon realised the site was home to 300 frogs, and was one of only 12 known breeding colonies in Sydney. As a result the brick pit was left untouched and extra habitat developed. Today, frog-proof fences and miniature underpasses protect adventurous frogs from entering heavily trafficked areas of the site.

Frogs and figs

The frogs were not the only ones rescued. Century-old native Morton Bay fig trees were painstakingly saved by transplanting them to a holding nursery. The trees will be returned home to the Olympic Park when the building work is finished. Further landscaping at the park will see several hundreds of thousands more native trees planted. The games have also inspired a community tree-planting scheme across other parts of Australia. This began in 1994 with the aim of planting one million plants by 2000, but the target has already been exceeded and will be at least doubled. …

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