Five facts about Olympic sustainability

1. The Olympic Park had its own power station. If you look beyond the Copper Box you can see a tall chimney with “ENERGY” written on it. This is a plant that generates electricity in a gas engine and uses waste heat to provide hot water and heating for the buildings. It is linked to a similar unit that powers the Westfield Centre. There is a lot of spare capacity in this system, allowing more engines to be added without digging up the Park and replacing pipes, and it will provide efficient energy for generations to come. 2. One of London’s main sewers runs along the Greenway, which is adjacent to the Olympic Park. Anybody who took the otherwise pleasant walk from West Ham tube station to the Greenway entrance to the Park may have got a whiff of it on warm days. Those clever people at Thames Water have installed a membrane bio-reactor at the nearby Old Ford Water Recycling Plant, which is a plant that turns poo into fresh water. This water is used to irrigate the wonderful variety of plants in the park and also as feed water for the district heating system. So, in an indirect way, London’s waste contributed to the hot showers enjoyed by the world’s most famous athletes. 3. Anybody crossing the temporary bridge from West Ham station may have noticed some unusual pads set into the floor of the bridge. These were supplied by Pavegen, an innovative start-up company that started in Coventry University. This is energy from feet, as by walking on the pads, electricity was generated to power the LED floodlights that illuminated the bridge at night. This is very small-scale (a little feat even), but it helped a small British company to bring its product to market. One day you may see this at all our major tube and train stations, so if you walked over that bridge, your feet may have set the ball rolling. 4. You may have visited Olympic venues and been astonished at the amount of lighting needed. At many venues, this was just for the TV cameras. The Velodrome and Copper Box, however, were designed to operate with natural light during hours of daylight. The big things in the ceiling of the Copper Box look like lights, but in fact they are daylight tubes, using fibre optic technology to channel daylight into the venue. 5. If you ventured down to the river during your visit, you may have noticed an area of wetland between the river and the athletes’ village. This is a great area for wildlife, but it also has a purpose. Rainwater from the green roofs of the village is collected and runs down the centre of the complex to form an attractive water feature. The water is naturally filtered through reed beds and ends up in the wetland. It is pumped back to the village and used to flush the toilets and irrigate the green spaces. Any excess water simply finds its way to the river. I admit this probably is not everything you ever wanted to know, but it is important to recognise that sustainability does not always have to be in your face. We also don’t have to live in caves or feel guilty every time we turn on a switch. Technology, innovation and sensible, informed decisions can lead to a more sustainable future. London 2012 has made a significant contribution to this, but there is much more to be done. ☛ Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability and chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012
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Ministry of Defence: Defence Infrastructure Organisation
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