Those of us who life and work in London will have seen banners announcing the imminent arrival of the London 2012 Olympic Games. One week from now, the capital of England and Great Britain will see millions of visitors and athletes descend for a month long celebration of summer sports, and we will find out if the event that has been seven years in the making will live up to the hype. While the athletes are looking for gold this August, what we would like to know is: will the London 2012 Olympics be the greenest in history?
Ever since the announcement was made, one word has been dominant - sustainability. As with any modern day event, organisers Locog know the games have to be sustainable and environmentally sound, and much have been done over the past years to ensure this.
A former industrial site, the Olympic Park is the largest new urban parkland in Europe for 150 years with 300,000 plants and 2,000 native trees. An impressive 90% of the materials from the demolition of old buildings on the site were recovered so they could be reused or recycled.
If VIP visitors were hoping they would be able to roll into the venues in their snazzy cars, they will have to find somewhere else to go because no vehicles are permitted to drive onto the Olympic grounds. There is also a lack of parking lots - a strategic move to get people to use public transport. As a result, over the past years, Britain's public transport infrastructure has been improved to accommodate the anticipated high footfall during the Games and we will see new trains and cleaner, safer and better staffed stations welcome visitors. And if you're into your cycling - as many of us are - there will also be 18,800 cycling parking bays scattered around all venues, with 7,000 at the Olympic Park alone.
Athletes and officials on the other hand will be driven around in BMW cars - 4,000 in total! - that are said to meet Locog's requirements on average CO2 emissions. There are also 200 electric cars in the Olympic fleet to make sure the athletes get to where they need to be on time. Wouldn't it awful if Usain Bolt missed the start gun at the 100 meter final because he was stuck underground on the Central line?
Another really innovative aspect of the London Olympics, is a pioneering energy walkway created with floor tiles that convert the kinetic energy from human footfall to renewable energy. Created by British company Pavegen, the tiles are expected to receive more than 12 million impressions which would be turned into 72 million joules of energy - lighting the walkway 27/7! Speaking of energy, 10 % of energy used during the games is to come from renewable resources (this was originally meant to be 20%, but this was halved when the plan to have an on-site wind turbine was axed).
The Sydney Games left a legacy of solar panels and vast-scale urban renewal project, something which Boris Johnson and Sebastian Coe are keen to top. But can London really pull it off?
One of the biggest worries we have is the amount of potential waste and we do wonder how Locog's 'zero waste to landfill' target will pan out. The Olympic Park is reportedly scattered with recycling bins to encourage people to recycle empty food and drink packaging and other waste. We do hope people will use them but visitors will have to have an element of environmental awareness within themselves, if not some poor steward or 100 will have to go around picking up other people's litter for a month. And what happens when the visitors leave the Olympic Park? The hard working street cleaners of London might have a mammoth task ahead...
One that we are certain will produce a large amount of packaging waste is MacDonald's, one of the Games' main sponsors. They have created a temporary and entirely recyclable restaurant in the Olympic Park that will see the 2,000 strong staff in their eco-uniforms serve millions of meals of sustainably-sourced fish and local meat - all fried in oil that is to become biodiesel to power its trucks once the games are over - in compostable containers. This is all great, but is it just a bit of a 'greenwash' - what about the other 3,251,357 MacDonald restaurants in Britain, will these receive the same eco-makeover in the future?
Then there's the issue of the main stadium's £7 million wrap funded by Dow Chemical, which owns the company behind the 1984 Bhopal catastrophe...
Reality is that the green credentials of the London 2012 Olympic Games can really only be measured after the Games have come and gone. That said, a new critical report by WWF and BioRegional has already found fault with the handling of the Games' environmental impact. It states that on key issues such as energy, waste and the use of resources, as well as the effects on public health, London 2012 falls short.
Sue Riddlestone, BioRegional's Executive Director who was involved writing in the original strategy, said: "London 2012 has set the sustainability bar for future Summer Olympics. It has built venues which set the standard for energy saving and embodied carbon. We are proud to have been part of setting the vision for London 2012 and helping deliver it. That said with over-consumption of resources driving rapid environmental degradation, London 2012 should have pushed sustainability more and had a stronger focus on changes beyond the Olympic Park. It is important that lessons are learned and that a commitment to sustainability is a key criterion by which the 2020 Summer Olympics bids are judged."
London will have set the bar high for the 2016 host city, Rio de Jainero, but it will need to ensure a few things to make the London 2012 Olympic Games remain a green beacon: The Olympic site needs to be kept in good condition and see regeneration; the venues will have to find new occupants once the gold, silver and bronze medals have been awarded; and Locog needs to ensure the sustainability plans don't fall dead once the banners have been taken down and the cheering crowds have jetted off back to their own part of the world.