The legacy of London 2012 1

The London 2012 Games officially closed on Sunday evening with an amazing display of culture, music, and entertainment. In 16 days, the world watched a whirlwind of superb athletic skill and witnessed emotion that many will not likely forget. But what will the legacy of London 2012 be?

Throughout the planning phase, the Olympic Committee considered sustainability in the truest sense – meeting current needs while also planning for the future. As the website states, “our aim is for the Games to leave an amazing legacy – for the Games to be remembered not only as a summer of fantastic sport, but as the catalyst for the regeneration of one of the most underdeveloped areas of the UK.” As the first blog in our Olympics series discussed, the area of the games was transformed from a brownfield to the site of Olympic Park. And notably, Olympic Village, that formerly housed the athletes during the Games, will  now be used as housing for thousands in London, including affordable housing.

 We can see how sustainability surrounded the Games by looking at the 3 pillars of sustainability and the practices in London:

Social: community engagement, equality and inclusion, jobs and training

Economic: business, increase in GDP

Environmental: health and safety, new infrastructure (energy, water, transportation), and green building/environmental efforts (reduced energy use, wildlife habitat, rainwater collection, renewable energy, zero waste goal)

 But the Games are over. Can the full circle recycling effort elicit a behavioral change like the Olympic Committee intended? Will those practices leave a lasting impression on residents of London and global visitors? Without a doubt, London set the bar high, accomplishing so much related to sustainability for such a massive event. The future story for London is yet to be told. Only time will tell if London will pass the sustainable torch and legacy to Rio and beyond.

Photos courtesy of

Going for the Gold with Zero Waste 1

Continuing our discussion of sustainability at the London Olympics, recycling is another important and visible practice at this year’s games.

 The London 2012 Olympics webpage states, “We want to host the very first zero-waste Olympic and Paralympic Games – but we can’t do it without you.” First, it is certainly a lofty goal for such a massive event to achieve zero waste. But like every athlete at the games, the Olympic Organizing Committee is aiming for the Gold, or should I say, the Green! The second interesting part about the statement is that it requires active participation from the spectators and visitors. People have to make the decision to recycle appropriately. The organizers have made it easy with a color-coded symbol system located on various items:

As part of this process, black bin waste doesn’t go to the landfill. Instead, the non-recyclables are sent to an energy recovery plant.

 Notably, to reach the zero waste goal, the Olympic Organizing Committee is receiving more help than from just the patrons. Coca Cola, one of the major sponsors for this year’s Olympics, is collecting all of the clear plastic bottles and recycling them into new bottles. It is estimated that 80 million new plastic bottles will be made within 6 weeks of the Closing Ceremony!  

 The Zero Waste Games Vision document describes the methodology and vision behind ts arduous task. This includes the Guiding Principles: waste hierarchy (shown in the image), proximity principle, national/regional context, sustainability, risk management, regulatory compliance, operational deliverability, and legacy.  Not only is this zero waste goal the first of its kind for the Olympics, but the vision is “to deliver a Zero Waste Games, demonstrate exemplary resource management practices and promote long-term behavioural change.”

 While much controversy surrounds this zero waste goal, and even around the sponsors of the games, will the Olympic Committee’s vision be met?  What will the legacy of London 2012 look like? For more on the legacy, look for our next blog.


Sources/Additional info:

From brown to green 1

It isn’t the awe-inspiring Opening Ceremonies, the medal count, or Michael Phelps that make this Olympics unique. London 2012 is considered the greenest games in history.

For the next couple of weeks, Olympic Park is home to about 9 million visitors, and nearly 19,000 athletes from around the world. There are criticisms that the Olympics can’t possibly be green when so many people from the around the world travel to one venue. But the history of Olympic Park in northeast London is often overlooked.

Olympic site in 2006 – Courtesy of CNN

In 2006, the site contained a landfill, and contaminated industrial sites like plastic and glue factories, an oil refinery, and a tar distillery. In just three years, the littered, neglected, brownfield became the home to some of the most sustainable buildings in the world. Notably, the remediation project included soil-washing plants to treat and reuse 2 million tons of soil on the site. After remediation was complete, the riverbanks were redesigned to have sophisticated flood management systems which support biodiversity in the area.

As with any sustainable development, the site will also meet the needs of the future. As part of the United Kingdom’s industry standards, there will be a 50% reduction in carbon emissions over time. The energy infrastructure was planned to support development around the area over the next 25 years.  The official site of the London 2012 Olympics states: “Throughout the construction programme and planning the Games themselves, we have been thinking of tomorrow: our aim is for the Games to leave an amazing legacy – for the Games to be remembered not only as a summer of fantastic sport, but as the catalyst for the regeneration of one of the most underdeveloped areas of the UK. “

The visitors and spectators in London and across the world revel in the journey of the athletes from a childhood dream to the Olympic Games. The same can be said of the site of the games itself – from brown to green.

 Continue to follow our blog posts for more on the London 2012 Olympics and sustainability.



 McNicholas, M., Lass, M., and Mike Vaughan. (2012). Gold Medal Legacy. Civil Engineering, 82 (7/8), 60-67.