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.

 

 Sources:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/13/sport/olympics/index.html

 http://www.london2012.com

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

Which green labels and certifications are reliable? 4

In recent years, “green” has become a household term, used to describe a wide array of products and processes. But how do we know if something is truly environmentally friendly or sustainable?

Image from BuildingGreen.com

Various industries and companies have applied labels and certifications as a possible solution to inform consumer decisions. 

Wood, cotton, appliances, buildings, and restaurants are just a few of the areas with their own labels or rating schemes. The website, EcoLabel Index, currently tracks over 400 labels and certifications around the world! But just because certain products or locations have a label or certification, what does that really mean? How do we avoid greenwashing?  

Here are some things to consider:

  • How do you define “green”? Green is a color between blue and yellow. To be sustainable, you must balance the three responsibilities within your business model.
  • Do your research! Look into the ingredients on the label, the metrics used for certifications, and the background of the certification agency. Websites like the GoodGuide can be an excellent resource.

While many green labels and certifications have faced criticism, it is undeniable that they have motivated demand for sustainable solutions, and consumers are becoming more educated about the products they use. This has increased the competition among various industries, ultimately raising the bar for the best in the class. 

Tell us what you think – which labels or certifications do you find reliable and why?

Is Green Infrastructure an Effective Solution? 1

As discussed in our previous blog entries, water scarcity and failing infrastructure are important sustainability concerns. If you look around, you may notice areas where our infrastructure needs replacement or repair, but so few communities can afford the overwhelming costs. The EPA believes that green infrastructure offers a resilient and affordable solution.

Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier urban environments.  Offering highly scalable options, green infrastructure includes anything along the lines of harvesting rainwater, permeable pavement, green roofs, and land conservation. Following suit with the definition of sustainability, these applications aim to mimic or incorporate nature harmoniously.

A prime local example is the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway that sits above Boston’s infamous Big Dig I-93 tunnel. Prior to the Big Dig, this area was a dark, barren, hazard-ridden wasted space. But now, there consists a mile-long path connecting several parks and neighborhoods resulting in a green infrastructure including public open space, storm water management, composting, and reduced costs of water and electricity.

This project came together during the new construction of the Big Dig. Would such a green infrastructure project be as effective amidst failing infrastructure? Is green infrastructure a step in the right direction for sustainability? Is it a fair trade to pour “green” into infrastructure projects in order to reap the return in environmentally-friendly “green”?