Going for the Gold in Sustainability at the London Olympic Games

By Katie Spoden

The Olympic games are known for fierce competition, great spectacle, tremendous celebration, and complete transformation for the host city. However, the London 2012 Olympic Games are trying to leave a greener legacy for future Olympic games. According to the official site of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, the 2012 Olympics will be the world’s first truly sustainable Games. Towards a One Planet 2012 was created through a partnership between the London 2012 Olympic Committee, BioRegional, and the World Wildlife Foundation. The document sets the stage for an Olympic games “guided by the principle that the world should live within its means.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be the first ever truly sustainable Olympic and Paralympic games. (Photo credit: London 2012 Olympics)

One major element of the sustainability initiatives is the food served at the Games. More than 14 million meals will be served at over 40 different locations. Olympic organizers acknowledged feeding Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their fans is an enormous task that can have an enormous environmental impact. In preparation for this giant undertaking, London 2012 planners created the London 2012 Food Vision back in 2009.

The Food Vision is made up of five core themes: food safety and hygiene; choice and balance; food sourcing and supply chains; environmental management, resource efficiency and waste; and skills and education. These themes will be incorporated into food venues affecting the source of the food served, how it is served, and what it is served in.

In a commitment to use environmentally responsible sources, Olympic organizers have taken measures to lower London’s carbon foot print. Food vendors and caterers will maximize the use of local and seasonal produce, encourage the use of palm oil from sustainable sources, and seek out alternatives to unsustainable fish and livestock feed. Food services will measure and report their emissions from feeding the athletes and fans to be compiled with an overall London 2012 carbon footprint.

To increase nutrition, there will be wider use of grilling and steaming, use of whole grains, and appropriate meat portion sizes to encourage responsible eating habits. Olympic food organizers have won a Good Food on the Public Plate Award and a Good Egg Award from Compassion in World Farming in support of their commitment to sustainable, nutritious food. Olympic food organizers have also been recognized by the British pig industry for sustainable action supporting livestock.

Nearly 80 percent of waste from the Olympic Games comes from food waste and packaging. To reduce waste created from packaging, food vendors and caterers are instructed to bring in the least amount of packaging possible, the packaging that can’t be avoided must be reused, and what can’t get reused must be recycled or composted.

Whether in London’s classic fish and chips or in the wide assortment of international cuisine, over 82 tons of seafood will be served during the Olympic Games. In 2011, London made a commitment to become the world’s first ever Sustainable Fish City. Therefore, only sustainable fish will be served to show guests and athletes that sustainable fish can be “affordable, achievable, and delicious.

As the largest sporting and cultural event in the world, the London 2012 Olympics sets an international example of behaviors for future Olympics and policies worldwide. About the London Olympics, United Nations Environment Chief Achim Steiner said, “Efforts such as the greening of the supply chain, regeneration of an inner city area and bringing energy efficiency measures to local homes, can build the confidence to wider society that sustainability is not theory but infinitely do-able with the policies and technologies available today not tomorrow.” The London Olympics emphasis on sustainability and serving sustainable food can be a catalyst for positive change in environmental responsibility around the world.

In addition to the Olympics, on what other international or national platforms can large-scale cultural, athletic, and social events inspire the world to be more environmentally responsible? Tell us in the comments.

Read the entire Food Vision publication here.

Katie Spoden in a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.

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