LIVING GREEN for Aug. 9, 2012

Greenest Olympics ever?

When London bid on the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, its leaders vowed to host the most sustainable, eco-friendliest Olympiad. With an audience of roughly four billion people worldwide, the Olympics are a catalyst for change and London provides the perfect opportunity to present something sustainable and green for the rest of the world to witness. It is definitely positive publicity for the Games as well as the city of London, but with all that positive, there's always room for the negative and the critics.

Honestly, going green, whether you are recycling or buying local, always seems to bring about a certain level of opinion and criticism. There is no perfect system. At least London is making the effort to be sustainable and let's face it; sustainable event management is a massive undertaking. It is only as successful as the people participating. Here is a snapshot of examples in how London planned to go greener and reduce its carbon footprint for the Olympics this summer:

Recyclable Facilities

A major feature facility of the Olympics is the Velodrome Olympic Stadium and the good news is that it is 30 percent more energy-efficient than other buildings its size. Plus, it has other green features such as water harvesting, natural daylighting and natural cooling. The Velodrome was built using 2,500 tons of steel tubing from recycled pipelines. Other buildings in the Games that are sustainable and energy-efficient include the Water Polo Arena, which will be torn down after the Games and recycled; the Aquatics Center, which will be given to the London community; the Basketball Arena, which is temporary and the Copper Box, made from recycled copper. It's great that these buildings were built knowing that they only had one purpose and were constructed to be recycled or repurposed after use. However, some permanent facilities were built with the community in mind, which adds sustainable value to the city. After the Games, there are plans to transform the Olympic Park into the largest park in Europe, with at least 100 acres of natural habitat. Some of these areas used to be abandoned industrial land, so they went from brown to green just because of the Olympics. Overall, the facilities and structures will probably have the largest environmental impact for the London Olympics.

Green Travel

Cycling and walking are encouraged so much so that London invested more than $10 million in improving walking and cycling routes inside and outside the city. They are also offering free bicycle parking and bicycle maintenance at some venues. Mass transit will be at capacity, so additional trains, trams and buses are supposed to be running. The VIPs of the Games will be escorted around in BMWs, which brings in a plethora of opinions, but at least 200 of those will be electric cars.

Local Food

All food served at the Games is supposed to be locally sourced, including from places such as McDonald's, which claims its beef is from British farms and chocolate from fair-trade. As a part of the London Olympics, McDonald's opened its largest temporary restaurant in the world in Olympic Park in London and it was built to be reused and recycled after the Games. While critics claim that McDonald's isn't the healthiest choice, the fast food giant is a major sponsor, too. Also, vendors are required to serve their food in compostable containers and source food with the least environmental impact. The London Olympics is also serving British dishes and multi-cultural items to cater to the wide diversity of the audience. Sustainability isn't just about being environmental; it also includes bolstering the economy and encouraging social change.

Waste Reduction

The target of the Games is to achieve a 98.5 percent reuse rate and 99 percent recycling of materials in demolition and construction. Through intensive planning, the London Games is hoping to deliver a zero-waste-to-landfill commitment. More than 200 recycling bins have been placed throughout the city center, sponsored by Coca-Cola, in hopes of a high diversion rate. Of course, with all that recycling, it only would be successful when it is convenient and visible. In addition to recycling bins, there are composting bins for food and compostable packaging. The goal rate will only be achieved when the public participates.

Sponsorship Thrives

The Olympics would not be possible without the sponsorships from mega-corporations. However, with McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and BP as major money donors, it seems rather contradictory to many environmentalists. In fact, the London Assembly tried to ban McDonald's and Coca-Cola from the Olympics for their high-calorie and potential-for-obesity products. But on the other side, Coca-Cola has been a major sponsor since 1928 and McDonald's since 1976, so it’s not exactly the best idea to cut them out entirely. McDonald's attempts to offer healthier choices on its menu, such as smoothies, grilled chicken and fruit and believes it is up to the consumer to make the healthy choice. And Coca-Cola did provide the recycling bins. But there seems to be little green hope for Dow Chemical and BP, which are involved in major environmental lawsuits. But according to The New York Times, David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London Olympic Games, believes sponsorship in this year's Olympics gives these companies the opportunity to gain new perspective in their processes.

Greener Than Greece?

It would seem that the 1896 Olympics held in Greece may be a bit greener with less waste, zero commercialism, and fewer construction projects. According to historical records, swimming competitions took place in the ocean and only 14 countries participated. However, the first modern Olympics in Athens are no comparison to today's Olympic Games, which has more than 200 countries participating. The world is a different place today compared to more than 100 years ago. At least London is making a valiant effort in publicizing and carrying out its greening of the Olympics and hopefully, the world will take notice.

For more about sustainability at the London Olympics, visit