While the Queen’s skydive entrance to the Olympic Games is no doubt a hard act to follow, there is another aspect of the 2012 games which may have a greater lasting impact. Organizers for the 2012 Olympics promised the ‘greenest’ games ever, with goals of zero carbon and zero waste. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, these benchmarks were not met – but there is credit due both for setting the sustainability bar high, and the level of achievement which was accomplished. This becomes the new minimum level for the next Olympics.
Perhaps we can also read between the lines of ‘journalistic’ reports and identify some obstacles and lessons learned. “ opportunities lost … in part owing to the practices of the sponsors and commercial partners… to use locally grown food and Fairtrade products. “ There is no doubt that an endeavor like the Olympics is highly depended on the commercial sector, and trying to align them all is a bit like corralling herding elephants. But this is not a unique situation. Many a contractor will recognize the analogy to their first LEED projects. And the lessons learned from these projects is to make the expectations explicit and game changers from the onset.
The organizers set out to improve over the food disasters in Beijing (food ran out, quality was poor), and set out to establish a ‘Food Vision,’ which would reflect a change in diets and health, the state of the catering industry and the farm suppliers. There is certainly much to be questioned about the sole sourcing of a food chain vs. local vendors, and the nutritional value of fast food. On the other hand, this is also a massive undertaking of serving 14 million meals at 44 venues. It becomes a question of supply, reliability, coordination of transportation, permitting, and hosts of other complications. There is a reliability element of food and service which comes from contracting with international corporations.
It also brings up an challenging dilemma of business vs. health. Should McDonalds and Coke just shut their doors because their products have ‘unhealthy’ ingredients? That is not a solution, for many reasons – including the economic impact on employees, stockholders, etc. There are other, more realistic and productive solutions. The U.K. is undergoing a resurgeance of healthy living, but the infrastructure is not entirely well established. The outcome was a compromise between McDonalds agreeing to source the chicken from the U.K. While this is far from ideal, it is important to recognize the complexity of the matter.
The first step in any solution is an assessment of the status quo and dialogue between divergent viewpoints. For example, starting in 2007, CocaCola partnered with the World Wildlife Fund aimed at conserving seven of the world’s most precious water bains. Their efforts are horizontally integrated to include not only the bottling plants, but also the agricultural supply chain, to reduce the water consumption in the processing of sugarcane. Their goal is to return to nature an equivalent amount of water to what is used in the beverages by 2020.
|The "Pringle" - Olympic 2012 Velodrome|
At the Olympics, CocaCola joint ventured with a local waste ‘reprocessor’ to gather the bottles and bring them to a new recycling factory. The factory was already planned, but the business surge from the Olympics provided the economic justification to get the factory on board quicker than scheduled. On the other hand, U.K. Olympic organizers had promised to have tap water as the ‘drink of the 2012 Olympic Games.” But it appears that CocaCola wielded the corporate muscle and fountains can be found, but they are few and far in between. At least they are selling water and Powerade, in addition to the Coke products.
So let’s give credit where it is due, to the efforts in rain harvesting, reducing the amounts of steel used in the stadium, choosing FSC certified wood for the Athletes Village, the energy efficient Velodrome, the recycling efforts.
Perhaps the ultimate ‘green games’ would be to having all nations join together to build a facility in Athens. This would provide a bit of an economic infusion to a country that could use some income, and resolve the problem of finding realistic uses for the stadiums and arenas. It might reduce the cost of the games, thus relaxing the demand for corporate sponsorship and the resulting business demands. And it brings a host of other problems. So let's learn from opportunities lost, applaud efforts made - and enjoy the Games.