Phil Cumming was corporate sustainability manager for the London 2012 Organising Committee. He looks back to last year and the subsequent lessons learned…
Published in the CIWM Journal June 2013
The London 2012 Games provided an unrivalled platform to demonstrate sustainability leadership. While we attempted to put effective arrangements in place we did not pretend to have all the answers or get everything right. This is why we committed to work with our stakeholders to capture the learnings around our experiences and pass them on for the benefit of others.
The key sustainability lessons learned from planning and staging the Games were added to the London 2012 Learning Legacy website in January 2013. This followed the publication of the final (Post Games) London 2012 Sustainability Report in December 2012. I understand it is the first time that a major UK project has attempted to capture intellectual capital on this scale.
Whilst there are so many possible topics worthy of discussion, this article attempts to make good on a promise I made a year ago: to report back on how we did against one of our flagship sustainability commitments – to deliver a “Zero Waste Games”.
Over 75 Games-related sustainability case studies, micro-reports, research summaries (independent reports), policies, guidance documents and tools used by London 2012 (known as Champion Products) are available on the London 2012 Learning Legacy website. This includes over 30 documents of relevance to waste and resource management. Topics range from the adopted event waste management system; recycling communications; and re-use of assets, through to the management of temporary construction materials; sustainability management systems and reporting; sourcing and procurement; compensation of carbon impacts; and, of course, packaging. This all adds to the wealth of construction-related material already published by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) back when the website was first launched in October 2011.
“To get anywhere close to these targets on an operation on the scale of the Games would represent a significant step change in waste performance at major events in the UK, and perhaps for wider industry too. We believe we more than achieved this”
In parallel with our own reviews, WRAP also commissioned complementary evaluation work connected with the Games. This was released as part of their wider work on the “Event Roadmap” and includes independent legacy transfer reports on packaging, recycling communications approaches adopted by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, event waste management and re-use. In light of our experiences a guide to working with compostable products has also been prepared by the Organics Recycling Group (now part of the Renewable Energy Association) and WRAP.
A Quick Recap Of Achievements
We set ourselves an ambitious target when we set out to make London 2012 the first Zero Waste Games. One of our key success factors was that we were able to take a centrally managed approach. We identified areas up front that had the potential to create waste and then employed strategies which avoided waste in the first place, or we targeted solutions for reuse or recycling.
The ODA more than delivered on its challenging re-use and recycling targets and its sustainability performance was described as “game-changing for the construction industry” by the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (the Games independent sustainability assurance body).
The London 2012 Organising Committee’s commitment to deliver the first zero waste to landfill Games was no less challenging. If that was not enough, we also set ourselves unprecedented re-use, recycling and composting targets. To get anywhere close to these targets on an operation on the scale of the Games would represent a significant step change in waste performance at major events in the UK, and perhaps for wider industry too. We believe we more than achieved this.
In fact we diverted 100 percent of event waste from landfill and our ability to more accurately track our waste showed the true re-use, recycling and composting rate was 62 percent (82 percent if conventionally measured, ie by measuring the proportion of different streams leaving their sites or venues). We also achieved way in excess of our stretch target for waste generated in connection with the installation and decommissioning of Games venues (greater than 99 percent was estimated to have been re-used and recycled).
Overall we are confident that we demonstrated a system of waste management that works. We are very proud of what has been accomplished and believe it is completely unprecedented for a major global event. An overview of the main lessons learned follows – but for much more detail please refer to the London 2012 Learning Legacy website.
Zero waste is a commendable and achievable aim. However, those wishing to achieve it must establish a clear vision and strategy for waste and resource management early on, so that there is a common goal for everyone to work towards. The vision and strategy needs to consider specific opportunities and constraints and set key policies, objectives and targets that are challenging yet feasible. Key operational staff involved in its delivery need to be fully supportive and have the appropriate skills and competencies. It is also important to establish a positive partnership working relationship with your waste contractor. They do need to be fully supportive of your vision though, in order to ensure continuity with what was proposed during their bid and with those involved in operational delivery, they must bring in the appropriate level of operational and technical expertise from the outset.
Don’t Underestimate Waste Prevention
It may be stating the obvious but materials are a resource and should not be wasted. 100 percent diversion from landfill is relatively easy if the right contracting strategy is adopted. Whilst energy recovery or other treatment technologies have a role to play for the foreseeable future, greater emphasis should be put on targets, processes and infrastructure to deliver the highest levels of the waste hierarchy and optimise resource efficiency: first minimising waste and then maximising re-use opportunities. It should not be forgotten that waste prevention, including re-use, also contributes towards compensating your carbon impacts. Waste prevention is currently quite hard to quantify and is likely to be either under-reported by many projects and organisations or not reported at all.
In our case overall, re-use generated revenue for the organisation and significantly contributed towards our targets. It accounted for 17 percent of total event waste and 44 percent of total tonnage recorded in connection with our installation and decommissioning activities. This is likely to be an underestimate though, and while we attempted to report on this area (including the carbon benefits) we believe there is a need for much greater guidance to be available to help UK business account for waste prevention efforts more robustly – otherwise it remain a completely missed opportunity for many.
There is some debate to be had over what is an appropriate number of streams for consumers to cope with. This needs to be considered in the context of the event/business and very much depends on how much control you can exert over suppliers, the materials that are bought in and used and, of course, access to appropriate recycling infrastructure.
There is no way London 2012 would have achieved the performance it did with only two primary streams being in place (eg, mixed recyclables and non-recyclables), particularly in public realm and client group dining areas. Consistent and simple messaging, through which to engage all audiences, should be developed at an early stage. Messaging should communicate both the motivation for recycling and information required to recycle correctly. That said, to avoid a continual “reinventing of the wheel” there needs to be greater consistency (or streamlining) of materials used by contract caterers at a sectoral level; a move to a more consistent approach nationally to recycling communications that works for both local authority managed and commercial waste situations (particularly in an “on the go” context); and a proper consumer campaign around the On Pack Recycling Label scheme.
Strong contract management and support to contractors, particularly in areas where suppliers and contractors are responsible for significant waste production and disposal (in our case – kitchens where we saw most contamination issues) is vital to ensure recycling systems are communicated, understood and reinforced at an operational level. This issue will be compounded where significant numbers of temporary staff are used.
Processes for regularly monitoring and reporting waste arisings should be put in place so that performance can be analysed, benchmarked and/or improved. Again, in light of our experiences we believe an industry-wide reporting protocol needs to be developed, ideally by WRAP working with the wider industry, including CIWM and ESA, to ensure businesses that wish to report and make claims about their waste performance do so accurately and transparently.
A Lasting Success
We believe we have achieved our ambition to make London 2012 the first Zero Waste Games through detailed planning, innovation and partnership working. The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 acknowledged this achievement in its final report in March of this year and also applauded our honest reporting methods.
Last year I said that the ultimate test of our strategy and plans would be the Games themselves. I now believe that in many ways the ultimate success of our strategy depends on whether the principles and practices we developed are used and built on by others. The Games provide transferable learning for all sectors (not just the construction and events industry). A fantastic resource and knowledge transfer tool has been made freely available and I very much hope it will be exploited to its full potential.