London 2012: Green Building Wins (And Fails)

Carbon offsets are certainly not without merit, as they basically mean that the Olympics will pay penance by funding environmental projects, doing eco-good in equal proportion to the eco-bad of this summer’s games. But it’s certainly not the deep-green vision of sustainability that was envisaged at the outset of London’s bid for the games. In fact, as Inhabitat notes, this ‘pay-to-pollute’ scheme has drawn a lot of criticism, especially from those who see it as a blank check for developed countries with a lot of cash laying around to pollute as much as they like without actually doing anything to cut their emissions.

And yet, even the Games’ green detractors have acknowledged that no Olympic organizers have worked harder to make this massive event more environmentally responsible than any Olympics before, and that’s a commitment apparent nowhere more than in its buildings. These include the main Olympic Stadium, the lightest ever built, which seats 80,000 seat stadium and boasts a whole host of sustainable construction features, including rainwater harvesting, a fabric roof and various recycled materials.


image via Hopkins Architects

The most iconic of these buildings, however, is the Velodome, which has been been characterized as the most energy-efficient venue within Olympic Park. Its green features include efficient lighting, rainwater harvesting, sustainable materials, thick insulation, intelligent building controls and 100 percent natural ventilation — this last an especially impressive feat, as the venue that requires different temperatures for athletes than spectators. Other green buildings that have drawn praise are the London Olympics’ Basketball Arena and Aquatics Center, both of which make use of phthalate-free PVC wrap that will be recycled after the games conclude this weekend.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, David Stubbs, the head of sustainability for the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, indicated that the Olympic Committee realized early on that the carbon footprint of its built environment would likely surpass that of travel or waste, and consequently chose temporary structures for much of the park, constructed largely of existing (rather than bespoke) materials. “Even for the permanent structures,” he said, “we tried to reuse existing material as much as possible. For the steel used around the top of the Olympic Stadium, we used gas main pipes that were surplus to a project from up north. They had already been manufactured and were available, so this saved time, saved budget and it saved carbon by avoiding making new material.”

All of which, all told, illustrates the serious thought and effort that was given to lightening the heavy carbon footprint of even the greenest built environment at the Olympic scale.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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