EXPERT VOICES: Matthew Pencharz, Environment and Political Advisor to the Mayor of London

2012: London's sustainable Games leave lasting benefits

As we look back at 2012, I know that it will be remembered as a vintage year for London. We staged the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations followed almost immediately by hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games for an historic third time. Billions of people around the globe saw the very best of our city and its people. 

To quote Lord Coe, head of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), “when our time came – Britain we did it right.” This followed years of planning between Boris Johnson Mayor of London, the British Government, London’s boroughs councils, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), LOCOG, the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations and a myriad of other agencies closely working together to deliver what was acknowledged as a spectacular Games. 

But we did not just deliver what is for any city, the most challenging peacetime logistical feat, the London 2012 Games were also the most sustainable ever. London was committed to this principle from the very beginning as reflected in the initial candidature file through into planning, preparation, staging and now legacy work.

The very ethos of the London bid, with its focus on transforming a post industrial landscape in east London, surrounded by some of the capital’s most deprived communities, was to leave lasting economic, social and environmental benefits. 

Operationally this translated into a focus on carbon emissions, waste, biodiversity, inclusion and healthy living. To ensure we kept our promises, for the first time the Games were independently assessed for sustainability, being closely monitored by an independent body, the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012.

The achievements have been impressive. No other Games had predicted its carbon footprint, so a new methodology had to be designed and delivered, one that included all the emissions from winning the bid to the end of the Games. 

As a direct result emissions have been reduced by 400 ktCO2e equivalent to approximately 9% of the annual CO2 emissions from cars in London. The majority of this figure was achieved through reducing the impact of construction and the staging of the event. This ground-breaking methodology is available for use by future organisers of major events enabling carbon reduction on a significant scale. 

There was also a target to create zero waste. The ODA achieved on all its reuse and recycling targets. For example during construction the aim was to divert waste from landfill through recovery, reuse and recycling. A target of 90% diversion from landfill was written into the contract with the waste management contractor. Half of the construction material was taken off the road network and transported to the Olympic site by rail and water. During Games-time LOCOG diverted 100% of events operations waste from landfill, with brightly coloured three-stream waste bins being installed across London 2012 venues, helping to segregate waste. 

In addition, these were the first truly public transport Games. More than 9 million Games travelcards were issued with Olympic and Paralympic tickets enabling spectators to get to the venues in the most sustainable way. All LOCOG staff travelled by public transport, walking or cycling to the venues. 

London’s public transport system worked so well that many Olympic officials chose to use it rather than the cars they were entitled to. Even the IOC President Jacques Rogge was seen using the Docklands Light Railway!

A new 'sustainable events management system', with BS8901 certification, was created thanks to the Games culminating in the development of ISO 20121. Both LOCOG and the ODA were certified to BS8901. 

The Mayor’s own city operations unit, with a remit was to oversee Olympics and Paralympics preparation in London outside official venues, was issued certification in March 2012, making the Greater London Authority one of the first public sector organisations ever to achieve this. The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which is managing the Games’ long-term legacy, is also committed to the standard, ensuring the sustainability of events in the Olympic Park.

Our approach in London is to ensure that sustainability makes good business sense. Millions of pounds have been saved over the lifetime of the project through resource efficiency. An additional £15 million was generated by LOCOG through the development of a programme for 6 sustainability partners that sponsored the Games. 

Key to our strategy was to ensure that the Games delivered value to the surrounding community, particularly helping unemployed people get back into work. The ODA exceeded its target of employing 15% (delivering 17%) of the Olympic Park construction workforce from local areas and employing a workforce that included 10.2% of people that were previously unemployed against a target of 7%. Similarly at the peak of the Games 39% of the staff directly appointed by LOCOG were unemployed immediately prior to their recruitment and 23.5% of staff were resident in one of the 6 host boroughs. 

London's experience has shown that sustainability delivers environmental and social benefits and also saves money. Our focus now is to ensure this continues post-Games. The LLDC, under the chairmanship of the Mayor, is now transforming the Olympic Park into what will become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This will provide a rich legacy of sporting venues, new housing and green space for Londoners to benefit from for decades to come and all delivered with sustainability at the core. 

The lessons learned in London are available to the C40 network and the wider world. For more information, click here.