diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 03, 2009

London 2012  Olympic update

One of my least favourite words is "sustainability". It's a very 21st century word, popularised by well-meaning bureaucrats with something to prove. It embodies an excellent concept, crucial to our civilisation's future survival. But it's also a buzzword of the very worst kind, liberally attached to visions, targets and mission statements, and invariably accompanied by unmeasurable greenwash jargon. Whenever I see the word "sustainability", there's invariably bland consultant-driven waffle close by.

So I trembled on hearing that the London 2012 team had issued an updated version of their Sustainability Plan. Nevertheless, I forced myself to read all 102 pages, because I'm a masochist like that. I'm pleased to be able to reassure you that there are many well-motivated plans and inspirational aspirations within. But sorry Seb, I'm not going to dwell on those, I'm going to concentrate on the drivelly bits.

Let's start with the headline claim in the press release.
"‘Green build’ on track with 15 per cent reduction in carbon emissions already achieved as carbon footprint published"
Unlike most companies or communities, the London 2012 Games are a one-off project. Building a stadium only happens once - you can't build it a second time - so no actual reduction in carbon emissions can occur. Reading further down the press release it turns out the ODA are merely "reducing potential emissions", i.e. they're crowing about a 15% reduction on what might have happened. Yes, this is indeed "an innovative approach to carbon footprinting: to use the methodology as a forward-looking impact assessment." Highly creditable for sure, but phrased as headline-grabbing drivel.

OK, to the report proper. What's it called?
"Towards a one planet 2012"
Oh good grief. What is an Olympic Games if not a "one planet" event. Even the 1908 Games were aspirationally "one planet", and there wasn't a sustainability consultant to be seen. Yes, I'm well aware that this phraseology is "derived from the WWF/BioRegional concept of One Planet Living®", but the term is woefully misplaced here.

Reading through the early part of the report, I was struck that London 2012's sustainability focus appeared less about cutting overall emissions and more about inspiring people to behave more sustainably.
"We believe that the cumulative benefits of the legacy developments, wider adoption of our methods and practices, and behavioural change initiatives will fully justify our ambition to deliver a truly sustainable Games."
The ODA clearly realise that digging up a huge chunk of East London could never be genuinely carbon-friendly. But at least using recycled water in the stadium toilets might inspire a few families to make "more sustainable purchasing and consumption choices". So that's alright then. And there are a few other quick wins...
"London 2012 Sustainability Partner EDF is committed to providing low-carbon fuel solution for the flames of the Olympic torch and the cauldron and is currently reviewing the technical feasibility of different options."
There's maximal sustainability drilldown for you. Meanwhile you may remember that, during the bidding process, London 2012 committed itself to being a "zero waste" Games. Alas this turns out to be not quite as fantastic as it sounds.
"For the purposes of London 2012, zero waste is defined as ‘zero waste direct to landfill from Games-time activities’"
Throw away a crisp packet in the Velodrome on event day and it should get recycled. But as for pre-Games waste disposal via sustainable transport, that's not currently quite so impressive.
"The waterways are used to transport timber, plasterboard, plastics, mixed recycling, cardboard, paper, glass, and cans, and general waste out of the Park. Currently one barge per week removes waste from the Park."
I could go on. I could despair that one of London 2012's six Sustainability Partners is car manufacturer BMW. I could weep at any document which rhapsodises about "telling the carbon story". And I could try to prop your eyelids open during the bit about "incorporating sustainability considerations into the material aspects of post-Games dissolution strategies". But you get the idea.

Actions speak louder than words, but Sustainability Plans usually exemplify quite the opposite. They're written by people who should have stopped on page 8, but instead went on and on and on and on. I trust that this wasteful document exists only as a pdf, and that no overpaid consultant has dared to print out umpteen copies on sheets of glossy rainforest.

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