Editorial Feature

Going for Green: How Sustainable are the London 2012 Olympics?

The London 2012 Olympics is now finally underway after 7 years of preparation. It promises to leave a positive impact on many aspects of the UK and indeed the world, with benefits for the economy, small businesses and schools. Perhaps its proudest legacy though will be its contribution to sustainability.

The London 2012 Olympics are aiming to become the very first sustainable Olympics and Paralympics, and a huge effort has been made to ensure that every aspect of the games lives up to that claim. With a truly global audience, London 2012 has a unique opportunity to show developed and developing countries alike that sustainability can be successful.

Image Credits: Photos.com

Towards a ‘One Planet’ Olympics

The ‘One Planet Living’ initiative is a joint venture between the WWF and BioRegional, which has been running successfully for several years. Given that the human race is currently using resources at a much faster rate than the Earth can generate them, One Planet Living has set out 10 major principles to live by in order to be sustainable, including zero carbon, zero waste and sustainable transport.

The London 2012 Olympics has embraced these principals and is working closely with the One Planet Living initiative. The initiative is seen as a link between the Olympic Movement’s ‘Agenda 21’, Sport for Sustainable Development, and the OGGI (Olympic Games Global Impact) project.

Below are just some of the examples of how London 2012 is embracing the 10 principles of sustainability.

Sustainable Venues

There are several simple ways in which the host venues are sustainable. Firstly, when at all possible, existing venues have been used to host events. Classic London venues such as Lords Cricket Ground, Wimbledon and Earls Court are all being utilised. Furthermore, temporary venues have been erected in Greenwich Park, Hyde Park and Horse Guards Parade to reduce the carbon footprint of the games. For example, the Water Polo Area will be deconstructed after the games and the materials, which include PVC, will be recycled.

When new venues have been required, such as the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and Velodrome, these have been constructed in the most environmentally friendly way possible. For example, the Velodrome uses outside air in its natural ventilation system and also makes substantial use of natural light.

The Olympic Park has utilised sustainable or low carbon concrete and the structures have been design with as few materials as possible to reduce the inherent carbon in the structure. Throughout the planning, design and construction of all of the new venues the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) used the external CEEQUAL (Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment and Award Scheme) to examine the green credentials of the buildings, with many of the new structures achieving high ‘excellent’ ratings.

Sustainable Travel

Of course, as the Olympics is such as large, global event, a significant amount of carbon emissions from transport is unavoidable. However, steps have been taken to ensure that this is kept to a minimum as much as reasonably possible. The Active Travel Programme is the initiative put in place to try and encourage people across the country to utilise footpaths and cycleways as much as possible, especially while travelling through London during the Olympics. £10 Million was spent leading up to the games to improve walking and cycling routes in and around the Olympic Park and nationwide projects such as Get Walking For The Games, Walk the Torch and Strictly Cycling have also been implemented successfully.

There is also a carbon offset programme for international travel, a close-to-zero Olympic vehicle fleet and the Olympic Park itself is a ‘Low Emission Zone’.

Sustainable Food and Waste

In keeping with the One Planet Living principle of using local and sustainable food there has been a huge promotional drive to use as much local and organic produce for the Olympic Games as possible. Given that around 82 tonnes of seafood is going to be consumed at the Olympic Village during the course of the games, only sustainable fish is being served. This is part of a wider project to make London the world’s very first ‘Sustainable Fish City’, and other institutions around the city, including London Zoo, the Metropolitan Police and many London Universities, have also adopted the same guidelines as the Olympic Village.

As part of the ‘Zero Waste’ policy, there will be no waste from the Olympic park that goes directly into a landfill-it is all treated as a renewable and recyclable resource of some kind and all food waste will be composted. Furthermore, all venues have a ‘closed-loop’ waste management system.

Water recycling is a large part of the sustainability policy of the London 2012 Olympics, with much of the Olympic Park using rainwater collecting and wastewater recycling devices. For example, the Velofrome and Copper Box area both have rainwater harvesting facilities on the roof. This collected water can then be used for the washing of vehicles or irrigation. The largest waste water recycling plant in the UK is located right by the Olympic Park and it is hoped that this can be utilised to reduce potable water by 40%.


The general consensus on the green policies of the London 2012 Olympics is that they are ambitious, far-reaching and positive. On the eve of the opening ceremony, the UN praised the green efforts of the Olympic committee. Standout praise came for the monitoring of the carbon footprint of the games throughout its duration (the first time this has been attempted) and the use of temporary structures to cut carbon emissions.

Conversely, there has been some criticism that the London 2012 Olympics is not fully living up to its sustainable tagline. The main criticism is that there have been poor sponsor choices made by the committee, notably including BP as ‘official sustainability partner’. However, David Stubbs, the Olympics Head of Sustainability has defended the games, saying that the Olympics is not a “global policeman” responsible for every action taken by a sponsor.

Sources and Further Reading

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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