Social Innovation: The Legacy of the London 2012 Sustainable Games

With the Paralympics Games set to start on 29 August 2012, it is now widely recognized by many sustainability social innovation practitioners that London did deliver a sustainable 2012 Olympic games. It has left a long-term legacy that will pass to future event organizers and suppliers: a pack of new standards and best practices in sustainable event management, construction and sourcing.

David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London Organizing Committee (LOCOG), has highlighted two of these standards: the new Event Sustainability Management System from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 20121) and Food Vision, a blueprint for sustainable food sourcing. ISO standards tap into every aspect of business, yet till London 2012, there was no international, auditable standard on sustainability available to the event sector. Preparing for the games was the spark needed to finalize ISO 20121, which was officially launched in June 2012. It helped LOCOG put sustainability considerations at the heart of the planning process.

Rather than dictating specific targets or sustainability measures, the new standard enables organizers and suppliers to first identify key areas of impact that will be unique to their event. It then guides them through the process of gathering input from stakeholders, developing plans and setting goals to reduce negative impacts, measuring progress and reporting results. This approach is a new social innovation “way of working” as opposed to a rigid checklist with a one-size-fits-all set of criteria. It’s about identifying concerns and understanding what can be controlled and influenced because each venue is unique with its own particular issues that may relate to the environment, social impacts, or economic concerns. Representatives from 30 countries, many from the event industry, helped develop the standard, which will be used for events of all sizes going forward, including the upcoming Olympic Games in Russia and Brazil.

The Food Vision program attempts to lessen the big footprint caused by producing and delivering food for events, which for the London Games has been estimated at 14 million meals across 40 venues! The program required producers and suppliers to adhere to a number of food-related standards such as Fair Trade, Marine Stewardship Council Certified Fish and Farm Assured Red Tractor. All these standards cover just about every consequence of the food life cycle, including quality and labeling, animal welfare, environmental impacts, and labor issues. Also included in the vision was the commitment to source foods from Britain whenever possible. Now several large organizations are already looking at implementing these food sourcing standards such as the Mayor of London’s office, other government departments, the Metropolitan Police, prison service and parts of the armed forces.

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, an independent watchdog will be evaluating the overall impact and relevance for future events. The Commission believes there is no such thing as a “sustainable” Olympic Games and says using all those resources to watch people run around is not a sustainable thing to do, unless you can make a difference in a wider sense.

Article by Sangeeta Haindl of Justmeans, appearing courtesy 3BL Media.

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