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London Olympics: The Greenest Games Ever?

Last Friday kicked off the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.  Nine years of planning went towards minimizing the carbon output of this event.  An all-encompassing goal of “sustainability” was set for the 2012 Summer Olympics.  
The organizers of the event aspired to make this international event socially and environmentally considerate.   Though critics are quick to point out that the event did not meet its renewable energy target of 20%, the 2012 Summer Olympics’ holistic sustainability efforts set new standards for large-scale events to build upon.  With spectators pouring into London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games by the thousands every day, all efforts to minimize the environmental impact of the Olympics are commendable.

All ticket-holders receive a one-day pass for public transportation on the day of their event, and have access to trails in Olympic Park and reduced rates for England’s coach and train services.

The goal for the Olympic’s food initiative is to produce “zero waste,” so all food packaging at the events is recyclable. This is an achievement in itself because an expected 14 million meals are to be served at the events.  Overall, the 2012 Summer Olympics aims to recycle 70% of the anticipated 8,000 tons of waste produced at the events.

A great deal of planning went into the design and construction of facilities to house the Olympic Games.  Embodied carbon in the construction of buildings was a serious concern for David Stubbs, head of sustainability for London’s Olympic organizing committee.

Before they could even begin building, 2 million tons of soil had to be decontaminated, as it was packed with petrol, lead, tar, arsenic, and oil.  London’s Olympic Park is now a lush park with wetlands, trees, and flowers to support biodiversity in the area.

Temporary structures were built from materials that will be repurposed after the games.  The baseball arena, for example, is essentially a huge tent with steel frames, covered by PVC fabric.  The materials used for this building will be disassembled and reused after the Olympics.

The Copper Box

Permanent structures like the Copper Box are designed to be used for many years after the Games.  The Copper Box is home to events like handball, martial arts, and wheelchair rugby.  The structure is equipped with 88 light pipes, filling the inside of the building with natural light during the day.  The outside of this modern building is made from largely recycled copper cladding, which will corrode over time to an inorganic compound called copper patina, accenting the building with shades of earthy turquoise.  The sloped roof of the Copper Box collects rainwater for the toilets, reducing the building’s water consumption up to 40%.

The Aquatics Center

The Aquatics Center, which is composed of 50% recycled material and has two removable wings to accommodate up to 17,500 people.  After the games, the Aquatic Center will serve as a public facility.

The Velodrome, affectionately called “The Pringle”

The Velodrome is composed of lightweight materials and sustainably sourced timber.  Constructed for passive solar, the building utilizes natural light during the day to reduce energy consumption.  The Velodrome also makes use of natural ventilation to cut out AC use and rainwater to reduce water consumption up to 70%.  According to the ODA, it is 30% more energy efficient than comparable buildings constructed today.

Though the original target was to produce 20% of its energy from on-site renewable sources, the 2012 Olympics are now expected to produce about 9% of its energy from solar, wind and biofuels. The Energy Centre contains biomass boilers, one of which is 3 MW.  A small amount of solar panels were also added on top of the the car park to help offset energy consumption.

The previous plans for the 2012 Olympics included a 2 MW wind turbine, which was scrapped in 2010 due to health and safety regulations.  Without the original 2 MW turbine, only 9% of the 2012 Summer Olympics were powered by renewable energy.  There are now 8kW of vertical axis wind turbines that provide about 7,500 kWh a year, yet they only provide enough energy to power 40% of the high-powered streetlights.

All efforts combined will only amount to a 40% reduction of carbon output.  Moreover, the very concept of the Olympic Games is not eco-friendly.  Yet given its rich historical, cultural, and political significance throughout the world, the Olympic Games are not going anywhere.  This is why, despite its shortcomings, London has set us on the right track by providing template to work on and mistakes to lean from.

Even though the 2012 Summer Olympics may not be remembered as the “greenest games ever,” this high-profile, international event shows that sustainability should be a global priority.  It established a precedent for future Olympic Games to improve upon.

Author: Tom Jackson

I believe in a future that’s powered by clean energy.

“Idealist” should not be a dirty word.

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