Is Greenwashing a 'London 2012' Olympic Sport?

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!

Greenwash Olympics

by Diana Verde Nieto

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 LuxuryWarm thanks to Diana and Caroline. 


- 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."

- For a more positive look at the games, check out CNN article "Olympic Park sets gold standard for sustainability" and video.

- "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