Raising the bar for sustainable events

8th April 2013


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Paul Suff on how the Locog sustainability team ensured London 2012 surpassed its targets

Delivering the most sustainable Olympic and Paralympic games ever was a key objective for London 2012. And, in November 2012, the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 reported that the games had largely achieved this ambition.

Locog, the body responsible for planning and delivering the games, issued its assessment in December 2012 and highlighted some notable achievements, including diverting all operational waste from landfill, reusing or recycling 99% of waste generated from installing and decommissioning venues, and saving 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent against the reference footprint.

The sustainability team at Locog – which numbered 34 at its peak and included secondees from the National Trust, Transport for London and Wrap, for example – was instrumental in ensuring London 2012’s sustainability aspirations were met. The systems and processes they developed, implemented and managed have set the standard for future Olympic and Paralympic games, as well as for the wider events industry. The approach the team adopted also provides transferable learning for other sectors.

During the games, Locog had a workforce of about 200,000 – comprising 6,000 staff, up to 70,000 volunteers and more than 100,000 contractors. The organisation worked with hundreds of suppliers, 70% of which were small or medium-sized enterprises, to deliver goods and services.

“The scale of the operation was unprecedented and the sustainability team was involved in every aspect, from design and procurement to staging the events and dismantling the temporary venues,” says Phil Cumming, who was Locog’s corporate sustainability manager.

A system that delivers

Locog’s sustainability management system (SMS) underpinned its sustainability strategy, and evolved as the organisation matured and grew. The SMS was first certified to BS 8901 and later its successor ISO 20121, but, as Cumming points out, London 2012 provided the opportunity to develop an SMS largely from scratch.

“The bid documents contained lots of sustainability commitments, but very little on how to deliver them. Establishing an effective management system was the only way to deliver on our sustainability commitments,” comments Cumming. However, the idea of adopting a conventional management system standard, such as ISO 14001, was rejected.

Cumming says the global environment management standard currently lacks the flexibility necessary for an organisation like Locog, which would undergo a massive change over a very short time. He also believes that 14001 fails to effectively drive delivery of sustainability objectives or sufficiently inform performance.

Cumming joined Locog in 2006 and was responsible for developing the SMS. At the time, 8901 was not available – it was published in November 2007 and revised in September 2009 – so he looked elsewhere for inspiration.

Cumming had been involved in the Sigma project – a collaborative initiative involving the BSI, AccountAbility and Forum for the Future, which developed the “sustainability integrated guidelines for management” in 2003 – and he relied heavily on the guidelines, as well as BS 8900 (guidance for managing sustainable development), to build the Locog SMS. “Sigma contains a lot of good information and excellent signposting for a management framework,” he says.

The scope of the SMS covered all key activities over which Locog had direct control and were considered material to delivering its 10 sustainability objectives. These included:

  • delivering a low-carbon Olympic and Paralympic games and showcasing how the games are adapting to a world increasingly affected by climate change;
  • delivering a zero-waste games, and demonstrating exemplary resource management practices and promoting long-term behaviour change;
  • optimising sustainability through procurement, licensing and sponsorship deals;
  • influencing behaviour change and promoting sustainable living; and
  • embedding sustainability in the planning and delivery of Locog venues and operations

Cumming says that, from the outset, the SMS was seen as a series of interventions to ensure action in key areas. “It provided a structured approach to delivering our sustainability strategy and associated objectives,” confirms Cumming, “triggering questions like: where do we intervene and where do we focus our activity?”

Delivering sustainability

To ensure sustainability was embedded throughout the delivery of the games, Locog made sure the concept was included in all standard contracts. “It was one of the first things we did,” comments Cumming. “Even before we’d developed our plans and policies we put sustainability into contracts.”

Locog spent around £1 billion on products and services for the Olympics and Paralympics. These included 1.8 million items of sports equipment; 200,000 temporary seats; the catering to provide 15 million meals; 5,000 flower bouquets for medal winners; 122km of security fencing; and more than 2,000 buses and coaches to move athletes, officials and VIPs.

Amanda Curtis (née Aukett), who was the lead sustainability manager for venues, wrote the procurement policy, which asked prospective suppliers product- or service-related sustainability questions. On seating, for example, the questions focused on materials, transport and their use after the games. “We didn’t want sustainability to be an add-on, but part of the process from the very start,” she says.

Tenders for contracts considered high risk – such as those across several venues; those for products potentially containing environmentally damaging substances, like HFCs; or those involving high energy/fuel use or significant vehicle movements – included more detailed sustainability questions and were very carefully managed.

The sustainability team operated a scoring system for suppliers and contractors, which resulted in a red, amber and green traffic light ranking. A red light meant the product or service should not be used owing to significant sustainability risks, while amber signified that more information or further clarification was necessary. Products and services receiving a green signal met the initial sustainability criteria.

Contracts also contained milestones that would trigger payment, so there was a financial incentive to deliver against the sustainability criteria. “We did withhold payment a few times,” says Curtis.

Principal contractors also had the authority to issue a red card to Locog suppliers, which in effect ended their involvement. “It was applied where a contractor was taking a cavalier attitude towards health and safety or environment management, for example,” says sustainability adviser Kate Chapman.

All contracts worth at least £50,000 had to be signed off by Locog’s deal-approval group, which included head of sustainability David Stubbs. “The group acted as a back stop,” explains Curtis. “If any of the sustainability requirements were not adequately addressed by the functional departments at Locog, the group would delay approval and bounce it back to the team for checking.”

Curtis acknowledges that the events industry generally lacked robust policies on sustainability issues and confirms that the sustainability team spent a lot of time working with suppliers, providing guidance and support.

“Companies in the industry didn’t tend to have 8901 or 20121. Sustainability was new to many suppliers. We did a lot of awareness training and ‘hand-holding’,” she says.

Many suppliers subsequently went on to adopt sustainability in their businesses, she adds, providing a lasting legacy from the games and one of its biggest success stories.

Lesson learned

In addition to the SMS, the majority of the other systems and processes put in place at Locog to ensure London 2012 was the most sustainable games ever were also developed from scratch.

The carbon footprinting methodology is one further example. “We didn’t want to continually reinvent the wheel, but there simply was nothing suitable to measure our footprint,” says Cumming. “Most existing methods were retrospective, but we had to understand where our focus should be, so developed a project-based carbon footprinting methodology that forecast where we needed to channel our efforts.”

BT and Coca-Cola are two companies – both official London 2012 partners – that have now adopted the Locog methodology to look at their own carbon footprints.

Locog also developed its own reporting framework. “Management reviews in most organisations are conducted annually. This would not have worked in our case given the fast-paced nature of the programme, evolving issues and the need to keep tabs on everything,” explains Cumming.

The Locog process involved quarterly formal reviews to check performance against objectives and targets. And, in line with 8901 and 20121, and unlike the current 14001 standard, the reviews had a more strategic focus. “They concentrated on moving the organisation forward and went further than just assessing whether we were meeting our objectives.”

Cumming is adamant that other organisations, irrespective of their size or industry, can learn from the Locog experience. “People often regard Locog as either a one-off that can’t be replicated or an event organiser whose experience is irrelevant to their business or sector,” he says.

“The reality is that Locog was a hybrid organisation. It was a massive buyer, akin to a major retailer, and its venues were its stores, buying and selling stuff. Staging the events combined logistics operations and infrastructure construction. What we learned from 2006 to the end of 2012 is applicable to any reasonably large business.”

As a part of the London 2012 learning legacy, a series of documents detailing its approach to sustainability are available to download from learninglegacy.independent.gov.uk.

the environmentalist meets some of the Locog sustainability team

Kate Chapman

During her nine-month stint at Locog, sustainability adviser Kate Chapman was responsible for overseeing, implementing and evaluating sustainability initiatives across eight of the London 2012 venues, including Horse Guards Parade. She pinpoints trying to change the culture in the events sector to embrace sustainability as the main challenge in her work. “The industry is very much about putting on the event and leaving. Traditionally, there is little focus on the amount of energy used or the waste generated; it’s all about putting on a great event. We had to challenge that and get them to take sustainability seriously.” According to Chapman, end users of facilities, such as the media, were often more reluctant to change than suppliers.

Chapman is now director at the Earth to Ocean consultancy. She is an AIEMA and has an MSc in responsibility and business practice.

Libi Jardine

Libi Jardine was seconded from Wrap to Locog for one year as its recycling communications manager. Initially, her role centred on engaging waste managers in local authorities across the UK before and during the Olympic and Paralympic torch relays, to promote and share best practice. During the games, Jardine was responsible for delivering a stakeholder engagement programme to media personnel and dignitaries. She also planned and delivered Locog’s recycling communications strategy. Jardine is now events project manager at Wrap and believes the knowledge and skills she developed at London 2012 have benefitted her employer. “I have brought my games experience to several high-profile projects that are central to Wrap’s event industry work, including developing digital tools and best-practice guidance.”
Jardine is an AIEMA and holds an MSc in ecotourism and a BSc in zoology.

Susie Tomson

Sustainability adviser Susie Tomson was responsible for ensuring sustainability goals were achieved at a number of London 2012 venues during construction of temporary overlay, staging the event and subsequent deconstruction and reinstatement. She was also responsible for delivering the energy management plan across all venues, which generated savings of more than £2.5 million. Tomson believes that embedding members of the sustainability team in venue teams – one member of the team generally worked across five venues – was crucial to their success. “Working closely with the people at a venue allowed us to develop a relationship that helped secure support for what we were doing,” she says.

Tomson is a director at consultancy Earth to Ocean and has an MSc in water and environmental resources management and a PhD in integrated coastal management. She is an AIEMA.

Amanda Curtis

Amanda Curtis (née Aukett) joined the Locog sustainability team in 2009, leading the delivery of sustainability at London 2012 venues. Her role included developing and implementing the sustainability strategy for the design, procurement, build, staging and removal of more than 100 venues; creating and managing the sustainable procurement programme for contracts worth £500 million; and managing contracts with core suppliers, including Aggreko, EDF and ISG. Curtis says agreeing a strong commitment to the sustainability agenda from senior management at the beginning of the project was key to its success. “Management backing ensured we stuck to the strategy and we were able to resist any pressure to water down our demands,” she says. The biggest challenge for the team was getting all 600 suppliers to embrace the sustainability targets, reveals Curtis: “Large suppliers tended to understand our sustainability strategy, but some smaller ones [70% of suppliers were classed as SMEs] initially found it difficult to grasp. We had to work hard to bring everyone up to speed.”
Curtis is a full member of IEMA and a chartered environmentalist. She is also a qualified Prince2 project management practitioner and has a BSc in environmental science.

Phil Cumming

Corporate sustainability manager Phil Cumming spent six years helping to develop and manage the delivery of the sustainability strategy for Locog, working with all the main stakeholders, including the Olympic Delivery Authority and the International Olympic Committee. He was responsible for developing the games’ sustainability strategy and supporting management system, which achieved third-party certification to BS 8901 and ISO 20121. Cumming was also responsible for workforce and financial planning for the Locog sustainability team. Although Cumming concedes that, in hindsight, more could have been achieved, he believes the sustainability team did an incredible job. “The systems we developed to manage carbon, labour standards and waste, as well as our sustainability management system (SMS) and reporting structure, were crucial to the overall success of Locog on the sustainability front,” he says. “There’s no way we would have achieved what we did without the SMS and management review system in place.”
Cumming is an AIEMA, chartered environmentalist and IEMA-registered auditor. He was also head of the UK delegation on the technical committee that was responsible for developing ISO 20121 – the event sustainability management standard.

Nothing wasted

Minimising the impact of the waste attributable to the games was one of the key challenges in fulfilling Locog’s promises on sustainability. Targets set for the games’ temporary venues included zero-waste to landfill; ensuring that 90%, by mass, of waste generated onsite was reused, recycled or composted; and that 80%, by mass, of materials and products brought to site were returned for reuse in the hire market or reused in a permanent facility offsite.

To achieve these goals, Locog developed a set of guidelines for temporary materials. These provided a framework for the engineering, design and procurement teams on managing the sustainability impact of materials used in temporary venues. Potential suppliers had to specify the materials they would be using, whether these would be coming from existing stock or newly manufactured, and what their end use would be. Sustainability adviser Kate Chapman says the sustainable credentials claimed by some manufacturers and suppliers did not stand up to scrutiny.

Reuse was specified as the preferred disposal route in procurement contracts and, overall, 17% of total waste generated by event operations was reused. Chapman reports that many of the materials and commodities used at temporary venues have been donated to schools, community groups and projects.

For example, sand from the beach volleyball venue at Horse Guards Parade has been donated to six sports clubs and community groups for use in new beach volleyball courts. Sections of one of the hockey pitches, meanwhile, have been installed at two primary schools to provide all-weather playing surfaces, and the other pitch has found a home at Sheffield Hallam University.

Full of energy

Locog set itself an ambitious target to cut energy use across London 2012 by 20% against forecast energy consumption. In the event, sustainability adviser Susie Tomson says, the total kWh consumed in the run-up to and the staging of the Olympic and Paralympic games was 25% less than predicted. This resulted in a financial saving of £2.6 million.

At the same time, consumption of generator fuel was 40% less than forecast, leading to a further £1.2 million saving. Tomson says a significant part of the savings can be attributed to energy conservation measures. Overall, the building of the temporary venues and the staging of the games consumed 90 million kWh of electricity (grid and temporary).

Effective operational management at several venues helped to reduce energy consumption. For example, the floodlights at the warm-up track were turned off during the Paralympic games owing to good weather, which, combined with reduced broadcast requirements, saved an estimated 170,000kWh of energy.

Tomson explains that forecast energy consumption often far exceeded what was eventually required. Actual demand for grid electricity was 55% less than predicted, and for temporary generation was 69% less.

At the rowing and canoe venue at Eton Dorney, for example, operating demand never reached more than half of the infrastructure capacity – typical demand was 4,965kVA, while infrastructure capacity totalled 10,865kVA.

During the games, the venues consumed 49 million kWh of electricity. Of this total, 38 million kWh was from the grid-supplied electricity; 11 million kWh from temporary generation; and 154,161 kWh from renewable sources.


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