Sustainability Lessons from London Olympics: Effective Management Beats Data Collection at Finish Line

by   |   August 23, 2012 9:39 am   |   0 Comments

David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London Olympics

David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London Olympics

The Games of the XXX Olympiad are over, but the data gathering and analytics work continues for The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) which must now report on its performance against the sustainability and social responsibility goals it wove into nearly every aspect of the event.

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David Stubbs, LOCOG’s head of sustainability, is overseeing that effort as he has since taking on his role during the Olympic bid process in 2003. As the first organizing committee to embed sustainability into its planning from the start, LOCOG has largely been making it up as it goes along.

In the four years since the last summer games, the data gathering and reporting tools to support such an effort have certainly advanced. “The technology has moved on massively. It enables us to get more numbers and do things in a more sophisticated way,” says Stubbs, an expert on sustainability in sports who established the first pan-European environmental management program for golf courses. “But it’s not about the technology in and of itself. The bigger challenge is people. It’s about having the intent and the mandate to do it.”

Managing multiple stakeholders—government institutions, regulatory bodies, delivery partners, even Olympic sponsors—was also a challenge. “It was not simply a matter of what we did in our own bubble,” says Stubbs.

Developing Data Standards for Sustainable Events

Processes proved important as well. Before London 2012, there were no universally accepted standards for sustainability reporting for events. “We had to start out on a blind path and create our own way in anticipation of future standards,” says Stubbs.

LOCOG collaborated with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)—the industry standard for sustainability reporting—to develop an “Event Organizers’ Supplement” to the GRI standard and were heavily involved in helping the International Organization for Standardization launch its first event sustainability standard, ISO 20121:2012, even as they were counting down the days until the opening ceremony.

Today, Stubbs’ team is collecting the data that will “put numerical flesh around the narrative” of the final sustainability report for London 2012 to be issued by year’s end, is coming from variety of sources, says Stubbs. His team is gathering and analyzing sustainability data, much of it controlled by LOCOG—electricity usage, daily waste volumes—from the 16-day event itself and decided how granular to go in each area. The final assessment “can be a real geeky thing for those who want to get really geeky into the subject,” Stubbs says.

Stubbs would like his last report to be more than just an accounting exercise, however. “We’d like to provide real analysis around what it all means and what we can learn from it,” he says. “It will be a forward-looking approach rather than just looking back. The real value is what we can draw from it to help future events do this much better. If we can do that—and get it right—it will be a novel way of doing sustainability reporting.”

Future Olympic host cities—Sochi, Russia in 2014 and Rio in 2016—won’t replicate the details what London has done, says Stubbs.

“The specifics—say, what type of waste goes where—have to be determined based on local geography,” says Stubbs. “But the principals, the management systems, the core processes, and the effective sustainability reporting are applicable. That’s what we want to share.” Rio, for example, has already developed a sustainable sourcing code, drawing a lot on the work done by LOCOG, says Stubbs. “It’s a great example of how this can flow over.”

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @stephanieoverby.

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