Olympics Velodrome (Picture source CNN)
In 16 days the Olympic games will start. As a London-based business, we feel that everybody around us has been focusing on the forthcoming games for the past four years. Despite the crisis, the games have obviously received tremendous investments and raised even higher expectations for the UK as a whole and London in particular.
However, many promises will remain... promises! Our passion for sustainability led us months ago to look closely at how the games sustainability plan would be implemented. We have waited until now to publish this article so as to provide you with an accurate state of the games sustainability performance just a few days before it starts.
It is everything but a satisfactory picture, the green path is definitely not an easy one but it is never an excuse when the environment is being used as a mere puppet or marketing device. Here we publish a brilliant and straightforward article by Diana Verde Nieto called "Greenwash Olympics", together with many links to get further information on this debate.
We will leave you with this quote from Pierre de Coubertin: "Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." Are we there yet? See you in Rio in 2016!
The Olympic countdown has officially started. 16 days to go and London is hurriedly scrubbing, scouring and sweeping under a proverbial carpet in preparation for its place on the world stage this July. Much like a student’s frenzied tidying before the arrival of a parent, they’ve thought of the furry cups and dirty plates (or graffiti, litter and other unmentionables) but what about the bigger picture? Alongside the FSC certified timber, the 700 bird and bat boxes being sprinkled throughout the Olympic Park and the newts being relocated to safer homes, stands one rather large, rather ominous, sponsorship ‘elephant’. Amongst the familiar Coca Cola’s and golden M’s there are several other corporate giants footing the bill whose eco credentials are less than stellar.
To start with the obvious, BP will provide oil and fuel for the 4,700 official vehicles during the Games, as well as car cleaning services and liquified petroleum gas for catering needs. Following 2010’s catastrophic oil spill and bungled clean up attempt in the Gulf of Mexico ‘Beyond Petroleum’ agreed to pay £5bn in damages, but still managed a modest profit of £27bn that year- largely as a result of newly acquired oil reserves. And yet a healthy cash injection into the Olympics has secured them the title of London 2012 ‘Sustainability Partner’.
Next up Rio Tinto, the multinational metals and Mining Corporation, who are exclusively providing the metal for London’s medals. One of the mines in use is the US Bingham mine in Utah. The surrounding area suffers from chronic air pollution which campaigners say has been linked to premature deaths of residents- and that’s just the tip of the ice berg. Mines in Papua New Guinea, California and Michigan to name but a few have been accused of water and air contamination, discrimination and other human rights violations.
Finally chemical giant DOW, the official chemistry company of the Olympic Movement producing many of the products and materials which make up the fundamental building blocks of the games, from swimsuit fibres to lightweight bicycle frames. With a colourful past to say the least, in 2001 DOW acquired Union Carbide, the firm responsible for one of the worst industrial disasters in India. The 1984 Bhopal disaster caused the death of 4000 people when poisonous gas was leaked at the Union Carbide plant and affected an estimated further 45,000, causing cancer, disability and renal failure. According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal the disaster remains unresolved, with the toxic chemicals still found in drinking water in the surrounding areas. DOW also manufactured napalm B for the US military during the Vietnam War, as well as the toxic defoliant Agent Orange. Despite protestations, petitions and harassment DOW’s huge $11.4 million decorative wrap, which will hang in strips from the rafters of the Olympic stadium, has begun to be hung.
So as the world descends on London this July have we got ourselves an Olympics we can truly be proud of? The stadium and surrounding Olympic Park are undoubtedly impressive, and efforts have indeed been made to preserve biodiversity, reduce waste, limit greenhouse impact and work with local communities. Yet these positive efforts are somewhat devalued when covered by an umbrella of inconvenient truths, truths that no amount of newt relocation or FSC timber can really make up for.
Olympics Richmond Rings (Picture source CNN)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published on April 23 and is reposted with the permission of Positive Luxury. Warm thanks to Diana and Caroline.
WE INVITE YOU TO GO FURTHER
- The official London 2012 website.
- The official Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 website. You can download their "Pre-games Review" here. They seem to be quite happy with their work as they write "A relatively small number of important issues remain to be resolved in time for the Games. [...] Not everything is perfect and there are some issues which will not be resolved by London 2012 and need to be addressed in future."
- "Australia or bust…" You must read this hilarious blog post by friend of Jardins Florian Ed Gillespie where he suggest to make the most of the "world record breaking carbon offsetting attempt in which BP are magnanimously offering to offset spectator’s carbon emissions for free…"
- The Guardian's article hits Olympic brands quite hard: "Olympic brands caught up in abuse scandal: While Adidas, Nike and Puma make millions out of the Games, their employees are claiming exploitation."
- The BusinessGreen article deals with the food side of things: "McDonald's exemption from Olympics' sustainable food standards sparks green anger."
- 'Games Theory': Futerra's thought leadership publication on using big events for behaviour change.
- Even the utterly brilliant & subversive "Twenty Twelve" programme on BBC television has a character for "head of Olympic Sustainability". Watch this episode where Head of Sustainability, Kay Hope, is forced to stand her ground in light of the discovery that there may not after all be enough wind to power the much-vaunted Olympic Park wind turbine.
"Twenty Twelve" take on Wind Turbines for the Games
In less than three months, we have offered our readers the opportunity to discover already two of the most fascinating sustainability advisors (Ed Gillespie and Burak Cakmak), each one on a very different topic. Now we add up Andrew Winston to this incredible “Sustainability Dream Team”. Andrew has inspired us in many ways. He promotes concrete business solutions and disruptive/heretical innovation with a view to making business models truly sustainable and profitable.
Funnily, while we were thinking of interviewing Andrew, he actually came out with a very thoughtful and meaningful text on Steve Jobs. Before reading Andrew’s comments, we did not intend to speak about Steve Jobs’ passing away at all as there was already too much media noise. In addition, each commentator’s reaction probably did not say much about Steve Jobs himself but rather defined the commentator’s state of mind as perfectly expressed in John Purkiss’ blog: “What your view of Steve Jobs says about you” (you can learn more about John in the interview we published on June 7, 2011)
Last, we felt that Steve Jobs, despite being a genius and incredible innovator, had lacked vision and audacity when it came to making his companies and products sustainable. Andrew came up with a much more positive and challenging view, which we publish below.
Enjoy the reading, discover more about Andrew with the links in the appendix and we look forward to your mindful comments.
Thanks a lot / Merci!
by Andrew Winston
The passing of Steve Jobs was in no way surprising – we knew it had to be serious for him to leave the company he loved. But it’s still a shock that we’re robbed of his brain and all the amazing things that he would have invented.
I had always hoped that this once-in-a-generation genius would turn his prodigious mental powers to solving the world’s largest challenges. Imagine a Jobs-designed, must-have iCar that people would want as badly as an iPad…Or an iHome that uses drastically less energy with its iFridge and iWasher…Or how about an iCity or iTrain to tackle urban design and transportation challenges?
We’ll never get those products from Jobs, so other innovators will have to fill the void. But there is one incredibly important lesson that sustainability-minded leaders can learn from Jobs’ legacy: you should lead your customers and show them a better way.
Steve Jobs did not ask people if they could use a tablet computer. In fact, in a long list of amazing quotes from the man, one of the most powerful is this: "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
Before the iPad came out, plenty of pundits asked why anyone would really need a tablet. After all, laptops were fairly small already and we had connectivity and games on our phones. Why add this midsize device to our lives? Steve Jobs made us want to.
In my experience, most large companies today are “fast followers” – a strategy that has seemingly lower risk for a public company. But just look at the playing field littered with tablet computer also-rans to see how expensive second-place can be. And yet it still seems like the preferred (or default) approach for most companies.
This fiscal and strategic conservatism breeds a culture where execs prefer to wait and talk to customers before doing anything drastic. Of course customer (and other stakeholder) perspectives are critical. But as with tablet computers, when it comes to sustainability, often the customers don’t really know what they need.
Companies often gather data on what their business customers think a sustainable product should be, and the survey might show that including recycled material is important, even if that’s a tiny part of the real footprint story. Nobody knows the value chain of your product and service as well as you do (or if someone else does, get them in the room pronto). So figure out where the impacts really lie and what you can do to reduce your customer’s footprint in ways they hadn’t considered. This might require asking heretical questions about whether the product should even exist in its current form or should be converted into more of a service.
Do most people think they need a hybrid car, or would they even imagine that they’d share a car using a service like ZipCar? Probably not, but if the experience can be made fun and profitable enough, perhaps they will. The Toyota Prius has sold well, in part, because it did some exciting new things (ran quiet on no gas at times) in a familiar midsize car framework, much like the iPad looked like a big iPhone but could do so much more.
I wish I could come up with more examples of companies truly leading with sustainable products. It’s a sparse field for now, but that will change. The next generation’s Steve Jobs will most likely focus on sustainability since that’s where the largest challenges and business opportunities lie. Consider the case of William Kamkwamba, a boy from rural Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. At 14, this self-taught “Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” built a working wind turbine from scraps. He’s now at Dartmouth College.
The world contains some true innovators. Will our big companies find these leaders and harness them…or be brought down by them? I know which one I’d pick if I were normally a “fast follower.”
Here’s hoping we find the next Steve Jobs quickly, someone who can bring us green things we never knew we wanted so badly. Rest in peace, Steve.
Andrew Winston advises some of the world’s leading companies on how to profit from environmental thinking. He is a globally recognized expert and speaker on the business benefits of going green.
With a background in consulting (BCG), media (Time Inc., Viacom), and dot-coms, today Andrew is dedicated to helping companies both large and small use environmental strategy to grow, create enduring value, and build stronger relationships with employees, customers, and other stakeholders. His clients have included Bank of America, Bayer, HP, Pepsi, Boeing, and IKEA.
Andrew is the author of Green Recovery a strategic plan for using environmental thinking to survive hard economic times. He is also co-author of the international best-seller Green to Gold, which profiles companies going 'green' and highlights what works -- and what doesn't. He served as the Director of the Corporate Environmental Strategy Project at Yale University's renowned School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Andrew appears regularly in major media such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, The New York Times, and CNBC. He is also a highly respected and dynamic speaker, reaching audiences of thousands of people around the world and acting as a practical evangelist for the benefits of going green. He also writes extensively on green business strategy, including a weekly column for Harvard Business Online, regular pieces on Huffington Post, and a monthly strategy e-letter, Eco-Advantage Strategies.
Andrew received his BA in Economics from Princeton, an MBA from Columbia, and a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale.
This article is reposted with the permission of the author.