Project Management

Sustainability in action: the legacy of the Olympic Park

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Categories: case study, green


Holly Knight“When I started early in 2008, project managers were one of the groups I had to battle with,” said Holly Knight, Head of Sustainability at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), at an APM Learning Legacy event in London yesterday.

The overarching principle of the London Olympics has been to design with legacy in mind, and the desire was that the legacy was sustainable. The ODA is the government body responsible for the work in East London, effectively building the stage for a handover to LOCOG, the organising committee for the games. Think of LOCOG as an events company, Holly said, that would in turn hand over the location to the London Legacy Development Corporation to run the Olympic Park in the long term.

“It was really important that when we started we had some strong leadership,” Holly explained. The team set high level strategic commitments for the programme, including 6 priority themes:

  • Health and Safety
  • Sustainability
  • Equality
  • Employment and Skills
  • Legacy
  • Design and accessibility.

Each team in charge of a priority theme produced their own practical programme strategy, “a set of targets about how we were going to achieve it,” Holly added.

The sustainability team took principles like One Planet living and used those as a basis for their targets and to set clear guidelines for what they expected from contractors. These were then used in the contract negotiations.

The team also carried out what we would consider traditional stakeholder mapping, but called the resulting links “strategic alliances” (which is a term I like far more). “It was important that we did have relationships with groups like Constructing Excellence and the Construction Products Association,” Holly said, explaining that their stakeholder map was wide ranging and inclusive of industry bodies as well as those contractor groups directly linked to the work on site.

Contracting the green way

The Olympic programme had around £70bn worth of contracts across 50,000 contractual agreements. That’s a lot of paperwork, and a lot of contractors to get around spreading the word about the sustainability targets. The team needed to work on and with the supply chain, so they wanted to get sustainability into these contracts. “Procurement became one of our best friends,” Holly said. “The value of getting the procurement right was massive.”

As a result, the sustainability team was fully involved in the contract negotiations. The selection criteria during the tendering stage included about 70% of measures for ‘traditional’ contract criteria and 30% on the priority themes, including sustainability. This meant that the priority themes and sustainability targets could be discussed with contractors in the very early stages and written in to contracts as appropriate.

“But quite often when people turned up on site and we showed them what they had signed up for they didn’t realise,” Holly said. This was an issue when the sales and contracting team were a different group to the workers who arrived at the Park. As a result, there was a skills and knowledge gap.

Holly explained that the sustainability team carried out a fair amount of “hand holding”. They ran workshops and delivered training so that the principal contractors knew what was expected and could cascade this information to the sub-contractors.

The results

The sustainability team had 20 targets and sub-targets, and hit them all except for the sub-target around renewable energy. They smashed some, including the target for materials delivered by rail and water. They came in almost 30% higher than planned on that one.

The velodrome is considered the most sustainable building on the park. The original steel frame roof structure was replaced with a cable net roof, which would not have been possible without excellent collaboration on the project between contractor groups. There were huge cost and health and safety benefits to making the change as well, so sustainability really does pay.

Building sustainable structures also has a lower maintenance and electricity cost: for example, the swimming pool has removable ‘wings’. The venue needs 17,500 seats for the Olympics but other events only need around 3,000 – even events like the World Championships. So to keep the maintenance, heating and electricity costs down, the temporary stands will be removed after the event and the venue goes back to being a smaller space. A biomass boiler on the site reduces the carbon footprint but 30%.

Overall, the programme has included some great leaps in sustainable design, and by planning this from the design phase of the individual projects, the London Olympics really can claim to be the greenest games yet.

Photo credit: APM on Flickr

Posted on: June 01, 2012 03:51 AM | Permalink

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