As a beacon known throughout the world, the Olympic rings have inspired new standards of athletic performance since their debut (click here to read a history in PDF format). But are they capable of motivating new standards for sustainability?
The Olympic rings represent many things to many people. Fast Company, for instance, recently used those same rings (modified into a fascinating ‘charticle’) to give us a wholly new perspective on the vast human inequalities across our planet. The London Games may be the first to demonstrate a completely new vision of sustainability that the rings can inspire.
I had the good fortune to attend the London Games. My Olympic experience began with His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales (more commonly known as Prince Charles) quoting Sir Winston Churchill at the Royal Academy of British Architecture. To set a tone of “sustainability is critical,” he shared Churchill’s words about how earlier generations had sleepwalked into disaster during the Second World War. This was an eye-opening analogy addressing the current fate our planet would seem to be facing.
“Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered into a period of danger,” quoted Prince Charles. “The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close.” We are, he concluded, heading into “a period of consequences” where an unprecedented rate of change calls for an urgency from which we need to act.
What did the prince’s call for sustainability mean for his own backyard? It meant that London used the Olympics as a chance to set new sustainability standards. This was a ripe opportunity to demonstrate the sustainability expertise and ingenuity of innovators, governments, companies, and non-profits alike. I was profoundly impressed!
The London Olympic and Paralympic Games have raised the bar for future Olympics, no matter where they might be held. Sustainability highlights from London were many, including:
- An Olympic park created on once-contaminated industrial land, providing both new wildlife habitats and significant flood alleviation
- The “lightest” Olympic and Paralympic stadium in history completed on time, with old gas pipes repurposed in much of its construction
- A commitment to measure the carbon footprint of the Olympic/Paralympic build-out, exhibited in part by reusing or recycling over 98 percent of waste in the demolition phase along with 99 percent in construction
- The delivery of a truly “public transport” Games, targeting one million extra walking and cycling journeys in London every day that the Games operated
- Powerful local economic development and social impact benefits
I think HRH The Prince of Wales would be proud of the effort made by the London Olympic/Paralympic Committee to focus the attention of the world on a theme which goes way beyond sports. The committee’s efforts shined a powerful light on sustainability and the admirable progress that the London Olympics have made. Further, I believe that Team Great Britain could be challenging for gold if countries competed for medals in corporate sustainability.
Photo by secretlondon123