By searching for the most sustainable processes in construction, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) may have shown the world how major construction projects can be undertaken by recycling reclaimed materials.


Controversy has courted many an Olympic Games in the past ­­­­­ – but not regarding the construction processes. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, debate raged regarding the country’s pollution problems and even its political stance towards its neighbours.

The 2012 London Games’ test, however, was in the transport system. Proving a location has adequate road networks and transport provisions is recognised by many as the first test. And if a country doesn’t have the required networks in situ, it has to be willing to construct them.

According to figures released by the LOCOG, the Olympics being held in the UK means;

·     20 million spectator journeys made in London, 3 million on the busiest day

·     800,000 ticketed spectators will use public transport on the busiest day

·     600,000 pieces of luggage will be handled during the Games at Heathrow Airport, 203,000 on the busiest day (13 August) – 35% more than on a normal day

·     14 million meals to be served at the Games, Olympic Village will serve 45,000 meals a day

·     1 million sq ft of warehouse space for logistics

·     15,000 deliveries by 300 truck fleet

So far, the infrastructure appears to be withstanding the strain and dealing with the increase in numbers using the roads, the underground, and the pavements.

In the development of such infrastructure lies the role of industrial gases in a variety of forms and applications. This can be gases used in chemicals and electronics (like the giant TV screens around the Olympic Village showing the footage being aired by the BBC), food and beverages, or steel production.

The International Iron and Steel Institute (ISSI) records worldwide production of steel on a regional basis and the United Kingdom’s production, between the years of 2005 and 2007, ranged from a low of 13,239,000 tonnes to a high of 14,317,000 tonnes. But since 2008, the United Kingdom’s steel output has declined year-on-year – with 2009 seeing a 25.4% decline to 10,079,000 tonnes.

There can be no doubt that without the London 2012 Olympic bid being successful, the United Kingdom’s steel production could have declined even further and suffered more when the global recession hit in 2007/2008.

Green Thinking

Due to design improvements, the Olympic Stadium (which is the venue of the Athletics, four Opening and Closing Ceremonies and Paralympic Athletics events) took three years to construct this venue and involved 10,000 tonnes of steel in the structure. This makes it 75% lighter in terms of steel use than other stadiums.

When clearing redundant wasteland and derelict sites around the East end of London, so that the Olympic venues could be built, the demolition materials were kept and 90% from the Olympic Park site were recycled or reused.

According to LOCOG, “We have undertaken the first analysis of a major event from construction to staging. We estimate that the project will generate 1.9m tonnes of CO2 emissions over 7 years ­– which is 0.05% of UK emissions.”

“c50% of this is construction of the 500-acre urban park ­– including venues, homes, and infrastructure. ‘Green build’ is on track with 15% reduction in emissions already achieved (50% on Stadium alone)”

However, some of the green initiatives already implemented in England’s capital had to be removed due to safety concerns.

London’s hydrogen-powered fleet of buses, that operate along the RV1 route, were removed from service and replaced with the more conventional diesel vehicles for the duration of the Olympics – due to safety concerns. The hydrogen filling station in East London, which is supplied by Air Products, was granted approval in 2009 on the condition that it too would not store hydrogen fuel on site between July and mid-September due to conditions imposed by the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Despite this set back, the revolutionary buses hit a major landmark at the beginning of July when the hydrogen bus fleet celebrated reaching a fueling milestone.

A total of 1000 fuellings of London’s hydrogen buses have safely been undertaken at the Air Products fuelling station at Lea Interchange, Stratford. One fuel tank of hydrogen allows a hydrogen bus to run for at least 18 hours. The 1000 fuellings have enabled the buses to travel approximately 100,000 miles around the capital, only emitting water from their exhaust pipes.

Diana Raine, European Business Manager of Hydrogen Energy Systems at Air Products explains, “The Transport for London hydrogen bus fleet is a ground-breaking first for Europe and has been a great success to date. The fleet has shown Londoners that hydrogen transport offers a low carbon solution that not only offers zero emissions, but also delivers a real and practical alternative to the diesel powered bus.”

The hydrogen buses, operated by FirstGroup, are now an established fixture of the Transport for London bus network and they run on the scenic RV1 route, which takes them past major London landmarks including Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Covent Garden – many of which will more than likely be frequented by visitors who want to take in the Olympic atmosphere while also visiting notable landmarks.

Air Quality

Along with the fears expressed by many in the build up to the Games, about how the transport system would cope with a huge influx in users, many also feared the London air quality would also hamper healthy competition.

In response to this the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said, “Safe and healthy competition conditions for athletes are a top priority for everyone involved in the Games and, as for previous editions, the IOC will work with LOCOG and public authorities to ensure this is the case in 2012. At this stage there are no indications that any events will need to be cancelled due to air pollution.”

LOCOG has said: ‘Welfare of competing athletes is of the upmost importance for us and we will obviously work closely with all the sports to ensure that the competitions take place in the best possible conditions.”

Gases have clearly been a major contributing concern in the minds of those who have planned the 2012 Olympics. From the bubbles in a drink and the gases used in the construction process to the medical gases used for the treatment of injuries and the concern about emissions and the global impact of the Games – these are just some of the many ways gases have made the Olympics a record breaking event.