London Plays Up Sustainable Olympics to Lure Cleantech Industry

On Heels of Winter Olympics, London Looks to Green the Summer Games

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Stadiums, transportation, food and souvenir vendors, communications infrastructure … hundreds of elements go into planning the Olympic Games.

From the point of view of London’s economic development agency, Think London, that means hundreds of opportunities to test and showcase sustainable, energy-efficient technologies, products and services.

Perhaps more importantly, the Sustainable Games may be a way to attract green businesses and cleantech companies to London — permanently.

The intention to make these the first Sustainable Games was the foundation, and ultimately the winning component, of London’s bid to host the 2012 Games. The city’s organizing committee committed to setting new standards in sustainability that the rest of the world could follow.

Showcasing sustainability has become a trend for host cities. Vancouver similarly pledged to host a “green” Winter Olympics, and although the unseasonably warm weather at Whistler required that fresh snow be hauled in by helicopter or truck, the Vancouver Organizing Committee still expects to boast the greenest Olympics on record once emissions are tallied. Every venue was built according to Canada’s green-building standards, including the use of low-flow toilets and rainwater catchment; the city also designed and implemented a district-wide energy system that cut down on inefficiencies and wasted energy. Any emissions it couldn’t reduce — namely the 118,000 tons of CO2 produced during construction of new venues — the committee plans to offset by investing in clean energy projects. Canada’s David Suzuki Foundation, a leading environmental group, says it did well enough to earn a bronze medal.

For its part, London has also committed to green building practices, including early planning for the eventual use of any venues that won’t continue to be sporting venues. The main Olympic Stadium, for example, is being designed with two sections — a lower area with seating for 25,000 people that will be sunk into the ground, and a higher level, with seating for 55,000 people. The higher section will be removed after the Games and donated to Brazil, which will re-use it for the 2016 Games in Sao Paolo.

In addition to making the London’s Games the Sustainable Games, the London Organizing Committee and Olympic Delivery Authority (LOCOG) is working to make these the first fully Digital Games. The two aims may seem a bit contradictory — ramping up the number of digital displays in the city will come with increased carbon emissions — but according to Richard Stanaro, vice president of Think London in North America, the committee is working with partners to develop a Technology Sustainability Strategy.

After construction, IT services are the second largest contributor to the Games’ footprint, according to Stanaro. That fact is important because the London 2012 Games will be the first to map its complete carbon footprint.

“There is no universally accepted way of measuring the carbon footprint of an event, so the London 2012 approach assumes a business as usual approach — what would the impact have been before our efforts were put in place — and assumes things like basic legal compliance, comparison to past games, adoption of standard industry practice and standard sector emissions per pound sterling,” Stanaro explained.

The method adopted builds on existing greenhouse gas accounting principles, he said, particularly the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and the specifications developed by the British Standards Agency (BSI), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Carbon Trust, an independent nonprofit set up by the UK Government with a mission to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy.

The committee will measure the footprint up to the conclusion of the Games, and further work is underway to measure the legacy effect. The working estimate of the carbon footprint is in the region of 3.5 million tons of CO2, according to Stanaro, including all “owned, shared and associated” emissions.

The footprint has four principal components — venues, transport infrastructure, Game operations and spectators. In order to reign in emissions in each of these areas, the committee has over 1.7 billion pounds worth of service contracts currently available, with a stated preference for sustainable companies offering innovative low-emission products or services.

“Those with better credibility as sustainable companies will have a much better chance of winning contracts,” Starnaro says. The contracts are open to companies all over the world because “the committee realizes that innovation has to come from everywhere, and also opening contracts up to anyone in the world is a smart economic development strategy.”

So far, the LOCOG is working with partners (including heavy-hitters BMW, British Telecom, BP and EDF Energy) to address the energy efficiency of the Games. According to Stanaro, the committee is currently working to procure materials for venues that have low embodied carbon and high reuse or recycling potential, additional renewable energy sources, low-emission fleet vehicles and buses, green travel plans for ticketed spectators and workers, programs to encourage cycling and walking, low- or zero-carbon Olympic and Paralympic flames.

Think London is hoping that the lure of lucrative London-based Olympics contracts and the agency’s relatively new Touchdown program, which supplies foreign companies with free, fully-equipped office space in Central, West or East London for 12 months, and helps connect them with the partners they need to build their global business, will be enough to attract more companies — particularly green companies — to London in the coming years.

So far, a handful of companies, including LinkedIn, TerraCycle, Tesla, Trilliant, EnerNoc and RecycleBank, have taken the bait.

“[Foreign companies] will sometimes complain that London is expensive,” Stanaro admits. “But then I ask them about the return they’re seeing and they say ‘Oh, it’s incredible, just incredible.’”

It should be interesting to see which companies, and countries, “win” at the Sustainable Games.


See also:

Bringing Sustainable Transportation to the World

Cradle to Grave: Greenhouse Gas Protocol Adds Up Companies’ Lifecyle Emissions


(Illustration: London Olympic venues, London 2012)