“Sustainability was an important element of our bid and underpins our preparations and our vision for the legacy of London 2012.”
London 2012 Chairman, Seb Coe
The importance of that element was spelled out in some detail:
“The Olympic Delivery Authority’s Sustainability Principles are proposed to be:
- Energy – Maximise the opportunities for carbon efficiency whilst reducing the carbon footprint of the Olympic and Legacy development wherever possible.
- Waste – Maximise opportunities to design out waste and provide new waste infrastructure, whilst minimising off site disposal during remediation and construction, through an integrated approach to resource management.
- Materials – Identify, source and use environmentally and socially responsible materials.
- Biodiversity and ecology – Protect and enhance the wildlife and its habitat of the Lower Lea Valley, and enhance access to nature.
- Land, water, noise, air – Maximise positive and minimise adverse impacts on land, water, noise and air quality.
- Global, local and internal environments – Design and build in a sensitive manner for internal and local environments, adaptable to future climates.
- Culture, heritage and built form – Preserve and improve the heritage of the Lower Lea Valley.
Transport and mobility – Create accessible, pedestrian friendly Olympic Park and Venues, with good connectivity to surrounding areas.
- Housing and amenity – Create new safe, mixed use public space, housing and facilities appropriate to the demographics and character of the Lower Lea Valley.
- Education and employment – Provide new employment and business opportunities locally, regionally and nationally.
- Health and well-being – Provide for new health, recreation, sporting and cultural facilities in the Olympic and Legacy development.
- Inclusion – Involve, communicate and consult effectively with stakeholders, and communities surrounding the Olympic Park.”
Olympic Delivery Authority, Aug 2006
However the achievement of a truly sustainable way of life for everybody is not a matter of just minimising the environmental damage of certain aspects of new development and improving the outcome of some others. It is a matter of profoundly transforming our actually existing systems of production and consumption, which are vastly damaging, into ones which make possible more equitable practices and enhanced biodiversity.
“If the environment is polluted and the economy is sick, the virus that causes both will be found in the system of production. And that is where their cure can be found as well.” Barry Commoner, Making Peace with the Planet, (1992)
The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL) published its final report in March 2013, which looks at the sustainability achievements of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“Entitled ‘Making a Difference’, the report concludes that while there have been some excellent examples of action to embed the lessons learnt from the Games, for example, through the Government’s on-going support for the 2012 Learning Legacy web portal, there is still more to be done.
The Commission’s findings point to two main factors holding back widespread adoption of sustainable practice in the UK: firstly, slowness in government action in embedding sustainability in government procurement; and secondly, the need for more independent oversight to ensure that sustainability targets in all sectors are met. The Commission has recommended the Government revisit advice to embed sustainability into the construction sector, and that major projects open themselves up to independent scrutiny of their sustainability commitments.
Also examined are issues relating to corporate sponsorship, which raised some unresolved ethical concerns during London 2012. The use of forced labour and excessive working hours in supply chains remain a problem for many industries as a whole.
To combat this problem in the Olympic and Paralympic world, the Commission’s report recommends that the IOC and other sports bodies work together to develop an ethical framework as a means of encouraging sponsors to improve human rights in the supply chain.
Commission for a Sustainable London
These limited criticisms of the implementation of sustainability policies managed to be blind to many omissions and transgressions. These included:
- Knowingly submitting a narrowly focused and greatly underpriced bid costing of £2.375bn. Once the bid was won this costing could be amplified to include essential infrastructure and other hidden costs. For more detail download:
The opportunity costs of greatly expanded Olympic funding draining funds from all kinds of environmental and social improvement projects elsewhere. One notable example being the withdrawal of £1.5bn from National Lottery project funding.
Overbearing planning practises arising from the Olympic Delivery Authority being both the Planning Applicant and the Planning Decisions Team. Imposing a 10,000 page planning application for the public to submit objections to within six weeks thus rendering public consultation a shallow charade.
The net destruction through displacement, followed by inadequate re-instatement of pre-existing jobs, local businesses providing local services, housing, allotments, and biodiversity. These were a product of the clear felling of pre-existing facilities within the construction site in pursuance of land assembly.
Illegal and risky construction practices during the transformation of a contaminated site. These included; scant attention to dust suppression and noise suppression (from extended working hours) producing adverse health effects for people living next to the site; the illegal burial of 7,000 tonnes of soil contaminated with radioactive contaminants within the site; refusal of employment to workers flagged up for appearing on the blacklist held by The Consulting Association.
The impounding of a four mile stretch of the formerly tidal River Lee for fictitious reasons. This Prescott Channel project was first estimated to cost £8m and delivered a year late for £23m. It was and is still barely used. It caused the destruction of extensive riverine wildlife habitats including a unique spawning site for Common Bream.
Providing an exclusive advertising platform for a range of sponsoring multinational corporations engaged in highly exploitative practices of wealth extraction.
For more detail on these issues download Games Monitor Briefing Paper 1 Impact
“Excessive technological optimism in present-day society is tied to what might be called the “economics of exterminism”. In the modern economic system of monopoly-finance capital, in which concentrated capital, economic stagnation, and the growth of debt and speculation are the dominant elements of the accumulation process, technology is viewed first and foremost as a means with which to amass wealth. It is thus disproportionally directed at reducing labour costs and the maximisation of surplus. The system is energy-intensive as opposed to labour-intensive, even at the cost to the environment, employment, and human welfare. Economic efficiency in this system of production is seen as efficiency in generating profits rather than sustaining people and the earth. The accumulation drive of the system, as John Maynard Keynes noted, makes “avarice and usury….our gods.” In such an economy, no rational accounting is possible, since costs are everywhere socialised—imposed on the environment and the majority of human beings in order to maximise private gain. The penetration of waste within the production process, as Thorsten Veblen first pointed out, becomes “rational” insofar as it increases markets and hence the marketability of goods. Nature and human beings, insofar as they are not incorporated into the market, are valueless—and to the extent that they are incorporated into the prevailing economic system their value lies solely in their abstract existence as commodities. The quid pro quo that is supposed to underlie this mode of production—its abstract promise of equal exchange and the mutual benefit of all—is belied everywhere outside of its own abstract justification. “Capitalism”, as the ecological economist K. William Kapp wrote, “must be regarded as an economy of unpaid costs, ‘unpaid’ insofar as a substantial proportion of the actual costs of production remain unaccounted for in entrepreneurial outlays; instead they are shifted to, and ultimately borne by, third persons or by the community as a whole.
Where the treadmill of accumulation becomes society’s sole goal, nothing means anything but growth, and growth is primarily growth in profits and wealth for a relative few.”