The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 is in a unique position – it is an independent watchdog organisation set up to ensure the Olympics bid’s vision to be the most sustainable games ever is delivered. It is the first commission of its kind anywhere in the world, and provides strategic assurance across the Olympic programme while directly advising the Olympic Board. The commission’s governance recommendations and findings are publicly available, and we think there will be many lessons learned and insights gained.

The issue of waste has been a major focus from the beginning of our work. Not just how it is dealt with during the construction phase, but during the games themselves and the legacy that can be left. We believe there are many lessons the waste industry can learn from the best practice pursued during this high-profile project. We are also very keen to consult widely with stakeholders and welcome input from interested parties.

A catalyst for new waste facilities

Our aim for the 2012 programme is to be a catalyst for new waste management infrastructure in east London, and other regional venues, and to demonstrate exemplary resource management practices. We will minimise waste at source, divert construction waste wherever feasible, and all games time waste away from landfill.

We will promote the hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle, to facilitate long-term individual behaviour change. The sustainability issues that will cut across London 2012, range from waste to climate change, biodiversity and to healthy living and inclusion. The scale of the task is huge – even without the logistics of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world.

So, what can the commission achieve? In terms of governance, the assurance the commission provides is proactive, not reactive. We review structures, resources and processes, as well as outputs, because we only have one chance to capitalise on this unique opportunity. The commission published its first major governance review On track for a sustainable legacy? in November 2007.

It reviewed progress of the key London 2012 stakeholders on sustainability to date. It also reviews cross-organisation performance on the areas of waste, climate change, biodiversity, healthy living and inclusion. The report makes a wide range of recommendations and identifies five key areas that need particular focus in the future – waste, carbon, social and economic sustainability and commercial partnerships.

The Olympic Delivery Aut-hority (ODA) is setting exemplary standards in construction waste management. The target of 90% diversion from landfill during the remediation and demolition phase of the project is class leading. Claims from the ODA to be comfortably exceeding this target are encouraging. The aim to source 20% of materials by value from recycled sources is a significant improvement on the 10% currently considered to be best practice.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games has set a target of zero waste to landfill during games time. There are no plans as yet to describe how this will be achieved, but there is no urgency to do this at present. During the course of the review, the commission was critical of the lack of strategic thinking around this agenda. There appeared to be little leadership and vision to create waste disposal infrastructure to serve the games and the subsequent legacy developments in the Olympic Park and Stratford City.

The opportunity to develop technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, locally to dispose of waste, generate more renewable energy for the Olympic Park, and employment for local people was not being taken. During discussions related to our governance report, it was agreed that the London Development Agency would take the lead in this area, and work has begun to explore the issue in more detail.

This issue is a long way from being resolved, but the review prompted appointment of a lead body and a work plan that should deliver significant improvements in waste management practice in this area. The commission has also announced that in 2008 it will provide formal reviews on four areas with waste being a subject for the second half of the year.

Fitting together the pieces

The commission thinks of sustainability like a big jigsaw. We are the only organisation that knows what’s on the front of the box. We are in charge of ensuring that each organisation has the pieces it needs, and the instructions to fit them together.

One of my key hopes about what the commission can achieve is the legacy that will be left from what we learn as we undertake this unprecedented and ambitious assurance programme. With waste such an important focus of our work throughout the next four years, there will be much to learn both from the theory and practice.

This will be of real benefit to the waste industry, and give the UK a significant competitive advantage over the years to come.

Shaun McCarthy

is chairman of Commission for a Sustainable London 2012

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