The London Olympic Games have been a fantastic success in far more ways than meets the eye. The London Olympic planning committee wanted to make the 2012 games the greenest to date. Their focus on the environment has not only saved the city money, it has also left a legacy of greener energy production, cleaner water and greater biodiversity for Londoners to enjoy for years to come.
The area earmarked to house the Olympic stadium was contaminated with chemicals from the leather works, chemical storage plants, soap and perfume factories it once housed. Heavy metals, hydrocarbons, arsenic, cyanide and oil had leached from these factories into the soil and groundwater. Before construction of the venues could begin, the area had to be decontaminated and the soil and groundwater restored. Five soil-washing machines from Belgium were employed to remove chemicals from the contaminated soil. By cleaning the soil onsite, 95% of it could be reused thereby reducing transportation and removal costs. ‘You could then reuse the washed soil on site, you didn’t have to bring in vast quantities of material from outside and we didn’t have to transport vast quantities of material off site either,’ explained Lord Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency.
Once the soil was cleaned, building commenced and the extensive gardens were landscaped. This endeavour included more than 4 000 trees, 74 000 plants, 60 000 bulbs and 300 000 wetland plants representative of all the continents participating in the games. This was the largest landscaping project ever undertaken in the UK and it will create a 45-hectare wildlife reserve in the heart of the city; thereby helping to improve the biodiversity of the area.
Green building techniques
Many green building techniques were employed to reduce the carbon footprint, cost and environmental impact of the Olympic Park:
95% of the material resulting from the demolition of 200 buildings was recycled. Foundations for the Olympic buildings were created from this recycled material.
The Velodrome is 100% naturally ventilated while rainwater collection from the roof is utilized to flush toilets and to irrigate surrounding gardens.
Materials used in the construction of Olympic buildings are environmentally and socially responsible. “A panel of timber suppliers was set up for contractors across the Olympic Park to supply legal and sustainable timber with appropriate supporting evidence,” said a spokesperson for the Olympic planning committee.
A concrete batching plant was set up on the building site to provide low-carbon concrete to all the venues in order to reduce their embodied carbon footprints.
Energy utilized by all the Olympic venues is low-carbon. Biomass boilers onsite provide some of the energy and the Combined Cooling Heat and Power plant reuses the heat created by the biomass boilers, making them 30% more efficient. 11% of the energy used to power the Olympics comes from renewable sources including the biomass boilers and a small amount of solar. This is a fairly disappointing figure mostly thanks to the scrapping of plans for a huge wind turbine due to health concerns.
The 800 concession food stands offered sustainable and ethically sourced food (this does not include contributions from the main sponsor; McDonald’s). All of the containers for food and drink were compostable and will not be adding to landfills. Recycling was made easy by a color coding system and receptacles that were readily accessible to the public.
Without a doubt, the London 2012 Olympics will be a great success for the environment. With the athlete’s village converted to sustainable housing, a new wildlife sanctuary, a cleanup of ground water, a restoration of banks along surrounding canals and a dredging of waterways to improve water quality, the city of London will be left richer for having hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.