London Olympics weakens commitment to renewable energy

Green watchdog supports a shift from renewable energy to energy efficiency to achieve the Olympic project’s carbon reductions

A fresh row over the environmental legacy of the London games has been sparked by an Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) decision; to rely more on energy efficiency and less on green energy to save carbon.

The ODA has announced it is abandoning its long-standing target for 20% of the Olympic park’s energy to come from renewable sources. The target had been in doubt since June last year when the ODA cancelled its plan to build a wind turbine at the olympic park.

It will instead provide 9% renewable energy on-site after the games from a solar photovoltaic (PV) system at the media centre and a three-megawatt biomass boiler at the energy centre. “Despite exhaustive efforts we have not been able to find a cost-effective solution to deliver a large percentage of renewable technology on the park,” admits ODA sustainability manager Richard Jackson.

Further carbon savings will be achieved by investing more than £1m in energy efficiency measures for local housing and schools, such as draught proofing, low-energy lighting, insulation and standby switches. These retrofitting measures will deliver 7% of the olympic project’s 50% planned carbon savings.

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, the games’ green watchdog, backed the ODA’s decision. “It’s unfortunate that the renewable energy sector was unable to deliver a workable solution for the Olympic Park,” said Shaun McCarthy, chair of the commission.

He added: “The ODA’s alternative arrangements are robust and we are extremely pleased with their overall sustainability performance.”

The commission’s latest review of the games found it will deliver “unprecedented” levels of sustainability.

Darren Johnson, Green Party London Assembly member and Environment Committee chair, disagreed: “This really is a miserable result… it makes a mockery of the idea of a green Olympics.”

He maintains that the 20% renewable energy target was feasible and, due to its importance to the green legacy of the games, achieving it should have been given priority by the ODA, the Mayor of London and the government. Reneging on this promise was also partly a failure of the government’s energy policy, he told ENDS.

Shaun McCarthy insisted the ODA’s decision was “best for the environment, society and the use of public funds". He said he regretted that “the ODA has been hung out to dry as a failure” over its decision on renewable energy.

The London Organising Committee of Olympic Games (LOCOG), in charge of organising next year’s event, has published a report on progress towards making it the "greenest games in modern times", a goal it set in 2007 (ENDS Report, February 2007). The report says London 2012 is on track to be a sustainable, low-carbon games.

Embodied carbon in construction materials accounts for about 50% of the 400,000 tonne baseline carbon footprint used by LOCOG. Selecting low-carbon options for venue design, choice of materials and procurement for the Olympic park has resulted in a carbon saving of more than 100,000 tonnes to date, effectively halving the largest single segment of its carbon footprint.

Reuse and recycling of 90% of demolition material at the Olympic park, using concrete with 25% recycled aggregate and delivering building materials by rail or water has improved the sustainability of venue construction. The sustainability of supply chains and business partners is being monitored through a sustainable sourcing programme, reports LOCOG.

Timber used in construction and furniture in the Olympic village is required to be certified by either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification. Paper, merchandise packaging and licensed products must be FSC certified too.

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