Why London’s green Olympics might be outpaced in 2016

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Planners in London set out to create “the world’s first truly sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games,” and it is shaping up as the greenest Olympics ever -- at least until 2016, when Olympic host city Rio de Janeiro hopes to take the gold medal for being green.

Sustainability has become a more important concept with almost every Olympics host city over the past two decades, and there is little doubt that the trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

In its bid to be a host city, London created the “One Planet Olympics” concept, using the world stage to showcase its model for global sustainable communities. The plan’s holistic goals covered energy¸ carbon, water and waste reduction; biodiversity; access and inclusion; health and employment.

And the city has delivered on its plan. Although the energy used by the Olympics from renewable sources ended up being cut nearly in half, planners still managed to reduce overall carbon emissions by 20 percent over the past two years through efficiency strategies. Olympic venues are designed to use 40 percent less drinkable water and athlete housing 30 percent less than standard. And the original plan to reclaim and reuse 90 percent of demolition waste has been exceeded, with 98 percent of demolition waste reclaimed.

Planners have set up an effective governance structure that includes a strong focus on sustainability, including participation by the London 2012 Senior Responsible Officers Group, the London 2012 Sustainability Group, and the appointment of The Commission for Sustainable London as an auditing body since the outset of the project. The Athlete’s Village and elements of Stratford City participate in the BREEAM Communities pilot program, commercial buildings were designed to BREEAM Very Good or Excellent, and all residential buildings were designed to Ecohomes Excellent/Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 or 4. (BREEAM is a design and assessment method used for sustainable buildings).

In short, London set a high bar for sustainability and has done an admirable job of meeting its goals; however, it is not the first time that Olympic host cities have tried to be green. In looking back over recent decades, it’s easy to see the evolution of sustainability in Olympic cities.

Photo of sprinter provided by mezzotint via Shutterstock

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