London's race for a greener Olympics

London's race for a greener Olympics

Barely two months remain before throngs of athletes and spectators crowd into London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Along with the traditional, frantic last-minute preparations, the host city is also hustling to deliver on its pledge to make these Summer Games the greenest ever.

Whether or not the British capital lives up to its pledge won’t be truly known until after the Olympics conclude. But a new progress report issued in late April suggests the London planning committee is poised to meet or to surpass most sustainability goals both for the Games and for post-Games operations at the Olympics site.

According to that report, the event’s estimated footprint will be approximately 326,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, providing planners can pull off all their planned reduction activities.

One area where the committee was forced to backpedal, however, was its plans for having at least 20 percent of the energy used to power the Games to come from renewable sources.  It was forced to settle for 10 percent, instead, after a wind turbine project was scratched.

"The actual Games footprint will be determined from the quantitative measurement of Games-time activities," the committees wrote in their latest sustainability progress report, “Delivering Change.”

"There will always be debate on what counts as avoidance and reduction given the lack of a firm baseline at the start, but the data, coupled with narrative on the measures taken to minimize the projected footprint, will be a vital legacy setting a benchmark for future events."

Image of Olympics 2012 with running track and British Flag by WimL via Shutterstock.

The greening of the London 2012 games will provide a benchmark for future events. But it’s the plans for the Olympic site after the Games that are generating the most excitement.

The report by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) suggests the site will easily deliver on its goals for carbon management, water consumption, recycling and green building aesthetics after the crowds disperse.

Estimates suggest the post-Olympics park will create 58 percent fewer carbon emissions than comparable sites. The original goal was 50 percent.

Water consumption, meanwhile, will be cut by 60 percent -- better than the 40 percent reduction goal -- and approximately 98 percent of the waste created at the site can reportedly be reused or recycled.

All these data points should provide positive publicity for the close to a dozen multinational companies scrambling to associate themselves with the green games – including Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW), General Electric (NYSE: GE), McDonalds (NYSE: MCD) and United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS).

These companies and other long-term sponsors have put up close to $1 billion towards funding everything from alternative-fuel fleet deployments and sustainable commuter transportation, to new recycling and waste management infrastructure, to the Olympic stadium itself.

UPS, for example, is adding 10 dual-fuel methane diesel vehicles, five electric vehicles, bicycles and even a barge to manage the logistics of moving around the estimated 13 million items it must handle during the six-week Games.

"To continue UPS's Games legacy, UPS will continue to use the bicycles after the Games throughout the London area," said Peter Harris, UPS's director of sustainability, in response to questions emailed by GreenBiz.com. "The use of the barge for some of our Olympic deliveries is an effort to encourage London to think about the Thames as a viable supply chain delivery route, to showcase this under-used resource as a viable option beyond the Games."

Dow Chemical, meanwhile, is providing the decorative wrap for the Olympic Stadium. According to George Hamilton, Dow’s vice-president of Olympic operations, "Dow made a strategic business decision to partner with the Olympics because it creates a global stage to showcase the many ways we apply scientific solutions to make life more sustainable, safer and higher performing.”

“The Olympic infrastructure contracts offer Dow major business opportunities,” he added, “and every dollar invested in the Olympics is not only investing in the Olympics spirit, but in our business."

And General Electric has more than 100 Olympics-related projects under way in London. Those projects include the installation of 120 electric vehicle charging stations, as well as an LED lighting makeover for the city’s famed Tower Bridge -- estimated to deliver savings of 40 percent to 45 percent, compared to the original fixtures. Three GE Jenbacher CHP gas engines will also provide power, heating and cooling across the site. The engines, which reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 15 percent, will remain in place after the games.

It seems every Olympic Games has its controversies -- and that’s true as well for some of the top sponsors in London.

Just this week, a British doctors group criticized the choice of McDonald's as the sole restaurant sponsor within the Olympic park. The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges is taking issue with the health message a McDonald's sponsorship might send, particularly in a country where about one-quarter of the population is reportedly obese.

The London Olympic Committees' affiliation with Dow has also taken fire. Critics take issue with Dow's links to infamous 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India; an accident that killed thousands of people.. Dow didn't own the plant at the time, but that hasn't stopped some critics from suggesting the company should be dropped as a worldwide partner.

The committee, however, has reiterated its support of both sponsors; characterizing their involvement as business arrangements.

"Sponsors provide a huge amount of the funding required to stage the games," a London 2012 spokesman said in a press statement. "Without our partners such as McDonald's, the games simply wouldn't happen."

As the Olympic Games takes up the mantle of sustainability, their sponsorship choices are likely to be even more closely scrutinized and criticized in the future – especially if London 2012 doesn't deliver as planned.