The Olympics: it's not all bad news

14 Apr 2011, 11:40

Darren Johnson is a member of the London Assembly for the Green Party

This week I criticised the Olympics' organisers for their "miserable" failure to deliver 20 per cent of the energy used on the Park in the legacy stage from renewable sources. The public can understand wind turbines, solar panels and wood boilers so it's important that the Olympics organisers show us a glimpse of the future with this technology, not another compromising climb-down.

We expect new housing developments to meet 20 per cent of their energy from renewable sources, so it's not a terribly stretching target. If the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had pushed for the energy centre to be fuelled by wood or food waste and for solar panels on every spare bit of roof space in the early planning stages, they could have easily met
the target.

Blaming the energy market and the troubled wind turbine just shows what a mess our governments have made of energy policy. It also shows how risk-averse the ODA have been on sustainability, playing it safe so they can concentrate on delivering a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games.

High profile failures on delivering new waste facilities in east London, and questions as to whether air pollution along the "Olympic Route Network" for officials might result in a £300m fine have further tarred the image of the "greenest Games ever".

So it's a shame that some of the ODA's greatest achievements aren't better known.
You won't read many newspapers cheering about their work reducing the embodied carbon of construction because only a handful of people know what it means. But the carbon footprint of building all the stadiums, roads, energy infrastructure and so on would have caused seven times as much carbon to be emitted as all of the spectators travelling across the globe to the Games.

The ODA took up the cutting edge practice of trying to reduce this embodied carbon at every stage, starting with the designer's blank sheet of paper, working through the choice of materials and choice of contractors, down to polishing the final product.

We're still waiting for the results of this work to come in, but by making the main stadium lightweight with reused gas piping; redesigning the temporary stands in the Aquatic centre to save 475 tonnes of steel; and lots of other clever tricks we can expect big reductions in carbon emissions.

The Commission for Sustainable London 2012 described the ODA's work on construction as "exemplary" in their recent report.

This unglamorous attention to steel girders and recycled concrete can also be applied to future projects. The £16bn Crossrail project to run a new line across London has a carbon footprint equivalent to a year's activity by 288,000 Londoners. But so far they aren't taking up the best practice from the ODA.

The equally unglamorous BS8901, a new standard for sustainable events management born of the 2012 Games, could set a new benchmark for major events around the world. But the Mayor's team tasked with running "live sites" in parks and public spaces to coincide with the Games still haven't set out any plans for using it.

I hope the Olympics' organisers will receive more praise for these less well known successes, if only to ensure they really set a greener standard for the future.

Darren Johnson is a member of the Green Party and chairman of the Environment Committee for the London Assembly

  
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