The London Olympics strive to be the greenest games in history.
This summer, as the world’s elite athletes descended on London to compete in front of a global audience, the United Kingdom also had an opportunity to showcase its progress as a leader in sustainability. For the U.K. government, which has long supported efforts to draw attention to the dangers of global warming and bolster green initiatives,the 2012 Olympic Games offered a platform to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability. For instance, the London 2012 Games will reuse almost 100 percent of demolition waste, send zero waste to the landfill and its venues will use 30 to 40 percent less drinkable water than standard.
The effort to manage waste responsibly began with London’s bid for the Olympics back in 2003. “Our vision is to use the power of the Games to inspire lasting change,” says David Stubbs, head of sustainability efforts for the 2012 Olympic Games, who has held that position since 2003. “For six weeks in the summer of 2012, the eyes of the world will be on London. But for seven years before, and for many years afterwards, we will have changed and will be changing the way we impact on people, industry and the planet.”
Built to Last
According to Stubbs, the Games’ biggest achievement in sustainability was the transformation of Olympic Park itself. The park is located on 500 acres of former industrial land in East London, which Stubbs says was “polluted, contaminated and in dire need of regeneration.” London’s Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) spent six years demolishing and rebuilding the site, and a final year creating naturally appealing places such as rolling meadows and forests.
The soil was so contaminated that a bioremediation plant and soil washing machines were brought to the site to clean nearly 2 million tons of contaminated soil. A 30-foot rubbish pit was cleaned out and refilled with clean soil, eventually becoming the site of the velodrome that hosts the London Games’ cycling events.
Throughout the demolition process, the goal was to reuse 90 percent of demolition waste, but ODA achieved 98.5 percent reuse. Materials from existing buildings such as processed concrete, cobbles, yellow stock bricks and broken roof tiles were reclaimed and used in the new athletic facilities and landscaping. For instance, reclaimed yellow stock bricks and sandstone were used for paving, building rubble found new life in the foundations of new buildings, and broken roof tiles were used to create habitats for invertebrates in the site’s natural areas.
During construction, ODA met its goals for reclaiming and reusing construction debris by providing a park-wide waste management framework and requiring all contractors to use it; implementing an on-site waste consolidation center to maximize opportunities for recycling; offering incentives for contractors to maximize segregation at the source to make subsequent reuse or recycling easier; and implementing a strategy that facilitated the reuse of construction materials between project teams and local community and arts projects.