green olympics: life in the tough lane

Apparently there is a soldier strolling around the olympic park site directing people towards strategically placed recycling bins. He is armed, not with a grenade, but with a cheeky little catchphrase: "I've spent 20 years blowing up the planet, now I'm saving it".

British humour being what it is, doubtless this remark is underlined with more than a hint of sarcasm. I'm sure open combat with javelins and ping pong balls doesn't quite cut it if you've been prepped for army life.

But on one level, the soldier's observation is quite powerful - he has associated the simple act of recycling with arguably the most complex challenge of them all; how to mitigate this fine environmental mess we have got ourselves into.

Of course, recycling is one tiny act. It can't be a global game-changer unless it is accompanied by other actions, each one inter-connected and aligned to deliver the same outcome, whether that is to close the loop or indeed, to open it (open loop systems are still in their infancy, mind).    

But I digress. From the outset, London 2012 felt it had to sprint hand in hand with sustainability. A term that has been rubbed in our faces so often now, it has lost its stride. To me, it is a faceless expression and bears little meaning unless someone can demonstrate a step change, a solid outcome, a shift in consciousness.

PR machines are already boiling over with popcorn-flavoured statistics on how many drinks cans or burger wrappers have been recycled inside the stadium since the starting pistol fired seven days ago. This is tiresome, simplistic greenwash. Look at the wider picture - what about the legacy targets? Will these be met - and if so, when?

Scrutiny should be exercised at all levels, from the origin of the seating inside the park to the lack of reuse targets when the site was first constructed. This is only right. As much as I love watching human pursuit for gold medals or personal bests, that adrenalin is momentary. It will not last.

Remember, this is an olympics that has set out its green stall. And it should be judged on this over time accordingly. Despite those funky recycling bins that the soldier seems so taken with, segregation of materials reportedly remains a problem on-site.

And what happens to materials once they are taken off-site - will spectators be able to trace the final destination of their olympian-generated litter should they so wish? Will they even care is perhaps the more pressing question.

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