London Olympics, a benchmark for sustainability

Leitura de 7min

The Olympic Games are becoming established as firm advocates for the use of sustainable practices.

Major sporting events and in particular the Olympic Games have become crucial in recent decades to promoting the concept and practice of sustainability. They have been successful in encouraging investments in infrastructure and urban renewal, with a major emphasis on significantly reducing environmental impacts.

Such a philosophy was present in the context of the Peking, Barcelona, Sydney and Athens games, but it took on an entirely new dimension at the most recent edition of the traditional sporting event held in London in 2012.

This was no accident, because the city’s candidacy was inspired by a wide-ranging and innovative theme of sustainability.

The theme of the campaign – “One Planet Olympics” – was incorporated into the 2012 Sustainability Plan, so that the creation of a legacy became a central focus. This avoided a short-term, limited and blinkered vision of the event – that the only important thing was staging the Games.

Back in 2007, when London published its 2012 Sustainability Plan under the title of “Towards a One Planet 2012”, the document already contained well-defined guidelines for all aspects of organizing the Games.

The initiative was put into practice by various bodies, for example the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic Delivery Authority, the Greater London Authority and the British Olympic Association.

Impacts on the real estate sector

The urban renewal projects required to stage Olympic Games generate huge and very visible impacts in three segments of the real estate sector: hotels, retail, and residential.

In the first of these, the challenge is to calibrate room supply so that it is sustainable and guarantees a return for investors after the sporting event. Barcelona, which hosted the Games in 1992, is a bad example in this aspect.

London, on the other hand, already had a volume of hotel rooms greater than the levels required by the International Olympic Committee. The city seems to have been successful and to be on track to finding its equilibrium point.

The city, which has an extremely varied and growing supply of rooms, registered an average occupancy rate of 80% in 2008. This has led businessmen in the sector to remain optimistic about the demand for rooms and the growth of rental prices even after the Olympic Games.”

Londoners also have cause to commemorate the Olympics legacy in terms of the renovation of buildings and areas that today are occupied by retail commerce and shopping centers.

The Westfield Group’s Stratford City project had been approved even before London’s bid to host the Olympics was accepted. Today it symbolizes the retail revival of the East London region.

The project involves an area of 167,000 square meters of shopping space around the Olympic Park. A further 41,000 square meters have set aside for other commercial spaces in the seven areas of the Legacy Projects.

The plan focused on five key themes: climate change; waste; biodiversity; inclusion and healthy living.

Ambitious goals were established for each of these main themes. With respect to waste, for example, one of the goals was to recycle 90% of the material resulting from demolitions. This percentage has now been easily surpassed, and one of the effects is to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

The positive effects are potentially much greater, however, because they generate changes throughout the real estate chain – a trend that is increasingly evident.

According to JLL, whose data-base contains more than 6,000 sustainability targets, before then no company in the real estate sector had established goals for the percentage of demolition waste to be recycled. After 2007, however, the situation changed completely. Today, at least six companies work with goals of this kind.

The search for greater energy efficiency received an addition boost from the Olympics, and London took advantage of this to move ahead.

To transform the goal into a reality, the solution was to ensure that the company responsible for designing, building and operating the power grid was able to receive long-term revenues that could enable massive investments in the sector.

London also enjoyed the bonus of eliminating 52 electricity pylons that were eyesores on the landscape.

The project to bury the power grid underground took three years to complete and involved building six kilometers of tunnels, providing 1,700 jobs during construction and budgeted at £250 million. These tunnels received 200 kilometers of power cables and 1,300 tonnes of recycled steel, recovered from the old pylons.

With solutions being implemented in areas related to power supply and sustainable waste management, the next challenge facing London was to improve the use of water resources.

During construction of the Olympic facilities, buildings were designed with the aim of reducing drinking water consumption by as much as 40%, compared to the local average.

What’s more, Olympic venues such as the Velopark and the handball arena have mechanisms to collect and recycle rain-water for reuse in lavatory discharge systems.

Various new buildings in the city are likely to have twin hydraulic systems, with independent compartments for treated and recycled water.

Residential sector

The British government was also audacious in establishing challenging goals for introducing concepts of sustainability in residential developments.

New standards require that, by 2016, all new dwellings must feature zero carbon emission.

However, these government plans will not be easy to achieve. The civil construction sector in the United Kingdom has frequently pointed out that sustainable homes could be prohibitively expensive.

The government is studying the matter. It says it thinks that the cost of building to these standards will fall as the technology becomes more widely available, with more efficient production of inputs.