Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the London 2012 Sustainability Ambassadors Group, explains what the ambition for London to have organised “the most sustainable summer Olympics of modern times” actually means.
What does it mean for London to have organised "the most sustainable summer Olympics of modern times"? It's a claim, incidentally, with which our small group of Sustainability Ambassadors for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games feels entirely comfortable. But for all those who still remain sceptical about the idea of the Games and sustainability being brought together in the same sentence, here's how I see the nature of the challenge.
Invite thousands of the world's finest athletes to compete together, watched by nine million spectators globally in the presence of the world's most demanding media. Locate the whole show (well, much of it) in one of the most deprived areas of your capital city, on some of the most contaminated and derelict land it's possible to find. Undertake to make all the buildings and infrastructure required, and all the services provided to stage such a jamboree, meet the highest possible sustainability standards. Give yourselves just seven years to marshal all the money needed, employ the best possible staff, procure billions of pounds' worth of goods and services, and mobilise tens of thousands of volunteers – with sustainability at the heart of the entire operation – and that's the London 2012 Games!
“An extraordinary quality of leadership”
Back in 2005, I was part of the team that presented the sustainability case for London to the International Olympic Committee, based on WWF and BioRegional's Vision of a One Planet Olympics (I was a Trustee of WWF-UK at the time). Eight years on, as the Olympic Park takes shape and some of the venues are put to serious use for the very first time, and I think people are, at last, starting to understand what's really entailed in hosting the Games.
There has been lots of recent coverage in the media about the ancient Olympics, and how "pure" and "uncluttered" everything was in those distant days. No sponsors required then! And there is, inevitably, something about the scale, cost and commercialisation of the modern Olympics that is difficult to deal with, raising inevitable sustainability dilemmas and trade-offs.
But one thing is not in doubt. The progress made in delivering these Games more sustainably than ever before has brought forward an extraordinary quality of leadership and shared purpose from everyone involved, including the sponsors, and particularly from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). We've set out to showcase some of that leadership in the Special Edition, 'Beyond the Finish', and to refer people on to other information resources, including the London Legacy Development Corporation, in order to get the fuller picture.
By 10 September, it will all be over. As Tim Smit says, Rio de Janeiro then picks up the sustainability baton, leaving Londoners with an impressive legacy and a sustainability story that does credit to that early vision.
Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director, Forum for the Future, and Chair of the London 2012 Sustainability Ambassadors Group. This Group of eight was established to bring the importance of sustainability at the Games to people's attention.