Will London’s post-Games sustainability plans bear fruit?

Will London’s post-Games sustainability plans bear fruit?

It will be some time before we know for certain whether the 2012 Summer Games in London has lived up to  its claim of being the most sustainable Olympics in modern history.  But organizers say their pledge to environmentally and economically transform a hard-hit area of the city, where many of the Olympic venues and facilities are located, was not taken lightly.

“Far from becoming white elephants, these iconic facilities will become a new generation of world-class sports facilities, serving communities and elite athletes for decades to come,” said a statement on the UK Trade & Investment web site.

Over £8 billion (U.S. $12.4 million) in public funding is reportedly going towards the reviving the East London area where much of the Olympics are being held.  The Olympic Park is being developed into more than 2,800 new homes. And according to UK Trade & Investment, the surrounding Lower Lea Valley area, a long-neglected and heavily polluted former industrial area, “has been transformed into the largest new urban park in Europe in 150 years, creating a new ecology of wildlife, plants and woodlands.”    

Experts say the Olympics forced London officials to get decades of major redevelopment and sustainability projects completed in less than ten years. The games became “a major opportunity to link the east end [of London] to more affluent areas of the city,” said Tony Travers with the London School of Economics, as quoted in the Globe and Mail.

“We also had to take down the overhead power lines and underground them, clean up the rivers, reprofile the riverbanks, and demolish all the old derelict buildings on site,” said David Stubbs, the head of sustainability for the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in an interview with the New York Times. “All that work was a vital part of making the site what it is today while fitting our longer-term vision. And about 90 percent of all the contracts awarded were to British firms, with 70 percent of these small to medium businesses.”

And that long-term vision includes the London Legacy Development Corporation -- to ensure the transition of the site into what is to become Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2013.

“The legacy company will do the transition work of getting the park ready for the public and breaking down the barrier between the new park and the old part of the city,” Stubbs said. “No previous games have had a legacy body formed well in advance of the events.”

Photo of London Skyline by Samot via Shutterstock.

British officials are also hoping the Olympics will help highlight their nation’s efforts in reducing its overall carbon footprint.  The “UK Low-Carbon Know-How” program, launched last year, is looking for innovative clean-tech partnerships on the U.S. West Coast, as well as in China, India and Brazil.

“The U.S. shares the U.K.’s commitment to green enterprise, rendering the two countries natural partners in the clean tech and renewable energy sectors,” said Danny Lopez, the British consul-general to New York and director-general of U.S. Trade & Investment USA. “U.S. engagement is an integral way to capitalize upon both countries’ strengths for a substantial commercial partnership, which in 2011 totaled nearly $207.5 billion in bilateral trade.”

But will the 2012 Olympics live up to their ambitious, pre-game sustainability goals?

The charitable organization Bioregional worked with the Games’ organizers on developing the Olympics’ sustainability plan. It recently issued its own report card -- and the grades were not stellar. The group praised the Olympics recycling and sustainability efforts, and in particular its management of carbon footprinting and carbon management, as a “decisive step with the potential to become a standard for all major projects.”  It was also optimistic about the creation and the legacy of new housing and new parkland, thanks to the Games.  But it was disappointed by London 2012’s failure to meet renewable energy targets and the relationship between the Olympics and some of its commercial sponsors -- arrangements, it said, that “need to be reviewed to ensure that future Games are able to deliver greater gains for sustainability.”

“London 2012 is the Olympics that sets a new sustainability standard for future Games,” the report opined.  “We just wish London 2012 had been able to push sustainability a little faster, a bit higher and with an even stronger focus on changes beyond the Olympic Park.”

Photo of London Skyline by Samot via Shutterstock.