How Green Are The Olympics?

With sponsors like McDonalds, Dow Chemicals, and BP it may seem like there is no way the olympics are green. But lets be realistic, this years olympics are probably the greenest olympics ever… I am sure there is LOTS of room for improvement too.

The Olympics usually involve a tremendous amount of new construction and new materials. Luckily London had some major sports venues that were “reused” for the olympics like WimbledonExcelLords and Earls Court.

The 550 acre Olympic park was constructed on a neglected part of East End. 200 buildings were demolished. The materials from many of those buildings were ground up to gabion walls (steel mesh filled with stones and rubble). Olypmic park also has more than 4,000 trees, 74,000 plants and 300,000 wetland plants.

That commitment has carried over to many of the Games’ buildings, including the main Olympic Stadium, the lightest ever built. The 80,000 seat stadium boasts a bevy of sustainable construction features, including rainwater harvesting, a fabric roof and recycled materials.

London Velodrome

The London Velodrome, part of the Velopark bicycling center in east London, anchors the northern end of the city’s Olympic Park. The velodrom is constructed using just a tenth of the steel required to build Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest”, the stadium weighs in at just 4,500 tons, becoming the lightest Olympic Stadium ever built. Both the indoor velodrome and nearby BMX racing track will remain after the games conclude in August. The Velodrome’s 6000 seat structure benefits from natural ventilation instead of a reliance on air conditioning thanks to the exterior’s timber cladding. The use of artificial light is also minimized because of the velodrome’s rooftop skylights. A rainwater harvesting system also reduces the amount of water needed for toilet flushing (including low-flow appliances and waterless urinals) and grounds irrigation. The park’s biggest water-saving device opened earlier this year: a new treatment plant which helps cut water use in the first place. The olympic organizers said the costs of installing such a system far exceeded the financial benefits but not the environmental ones!

Basketball Arena

The Olympic basketball arena was completed last year on time and under budget, the arena is the Olympics’ largest temporary venue. The flatpack design will allow for dismantling and future reuse elsewhere in the world. I have read (and tweeted) rumors for a long time that the arena could even be sold to the organizers of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro or be reassembled in a poorer country in the future. Its lighter design also meant less steel and concrete were used in this 12,000 seat facility. London’s basketball area is the first olympic venue that really shows that the games can be more responsible and sustainable which has lead to so much buzz in the press about what future olympic cities will do to keep this trend alive.

Aquatics Centre

Standing out with its wave-shaped roof, the Olympics’ second-largest building after the main Olympic Stadium is the first structure visitors see as they approach the Olympic Park.  The completed Aquatics Centre has stunning ceiling, which soars over the two 50-meter pools, were built out of sustainably sourced Red Lauro timber. The exterior was constructed with precast modular blocks of concrete, which not only reduced the amount of emissions required to build the facility, but also eliminated the need for painting. The interior stands are made from steel and phthalate-free PVC wrap that will be recycled after the games. And most of the building materials, including the 866,000 tiles needed to line the pool and locker rooms, were delivered by train (more environmentally friendly mode of transportation) instead of truck. When the games are over most of the seating will be removed and a 2,500 stand venue will remain for the local community.

Beyond the structure as David Stubbs head of sustainability said, “you’ve got 10,500 athletes; double that number of media; a workforce of 200,000; 11 million ticket(ed) spectators plus all the broadcast interests and sponsors, so it’s a massive undertaking. On food alone, it’s 14 million meals.”

By working with the site’s caterers, packaging suppliers and waste-management providers, Stubbs and his colleagues are confident that they have an “end-to-end process” that will give them a precise idea of what comes into the park and what goes out of it.

The key to the Olympic disposal and recycling lies in the 4,000 or so color-coded bins that dot the park – and, later at a waste-sorting site where it will all be processed.

“The bins are very striking and are hard to miss,” he says. “We’re hoping that people will just take half a second to read the labels on them and realize that the orange mark on their cup or plate actually represents the orange of the compostable stream and that goes in there with the food waste and then the bottles and any dry paper go in the recycling bin.”

Once the bins are full, the color-coded sacks are taken to a “materials recovery facility” which is the dedicated destination for all olympic waste.

I have to say researching this topic was more difficult than I imagined. There is not that much written in the press now that the games are here about what efforts the London Olympic committee took to make this the greenest olympics ever. I will be curious to see how Rio takes London’s lead and makes the 2016 olympics the greenest and most sustainable ever!


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