2012 London Olympics Sustainability — Feeding the Masses

Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes at an event like the 2012 London Olympics? How about just feeding the athletes, staff, and visitors?

The 2012 London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) likened staging the Olympics to putting on 46 World Championships simultaneously.

The world-wide stage of the Olympics offers a unique opportunity to not only provide healthy, good tasting food to millions, it is a once-in-2-years chance to educate a huge audience on the importance food sustainability plays in keeping people and the planet healthy.

Free Water

When I read that free water would be available inside Olympic venues, I had two thoughts. One, “I remember when free drinking water was a given in public places”, and two, “that’s good, people won’t have to buy bottled water”. According to organizers, the 2012 London Olympics is the first Games in recent times to offer free drinking water.

USA Olympics Stainless Steel Water BottleNow days, large public venues often have restrictions on liquids that can be brought in and the 2012 London Olympics is no different. Liquids are restricted to 100 ml (3.3 U.S. fluid ounces) each and a maximum of 10 containers. Empty water bottles and reusable bottles are allowed. Seems like a good opportunity to buy a useful souvenir like a USA Olympic reusable water bottle.

Food Vision

According to the LOCOG Food Vision Plan published in December 2009, “it is anticipated that more than 14 million meals will be served in 40 different locations over the course of the Games.” The numbers are staggering.


There are literally millions of people to feed from athletes needing “3 square meals a day” to visitors just wanting a quick snack.

  • 31 competition venues
  • 955 competition sessions
  • 160,000 work force
  • 23,900 athletes and team officials
  • 20,600 broadcasters and press
  • 4,800 Olympic and Paralympic family
  • 9 million ticket sales


Here are some estimates for just the Olympic Village.

  • 31 tonnes of poultry items
  • More than 100 tonnes of meat
  • 75,000 litres of milk
  • 19 tonnes of eggs
  • 21 tonnes of cheese
  • More than 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables

Tonne = 1,000 kilograms (2,204.6 pounds), known as a metric ton in the U.S.

The Plan

Feeding millions of people is a massive undertaking. Food and drink safety is critical. Athletes and visitors alike want and need food and drink choice and balance. Food sourcing and supply chain must assure food is where it’s supposed to be when it’s supposed to be there. Environmental management is a key to meeting ever increasing sustainability standards for Olympic Games. Employing local people and teaching skills is not only important for pulling off the plan but leaving a legacy after the Games are over.

A few aspects of the Food Vision Plan I found of interest include:

Red Tractor

Olympic food caterers and vendors will be supplied with fresh, local, and seasonal food by Red Tractor farmers.

Red Tractor AssuranceRed Tractor is a food assurance program in the United Kingdom for produce, crops (like grain), meat, and poultry. Their goals are food safety, animal welfare, environmentally responsible farming methods, local sourcing, traceability, and rigorous standards.

Marine Stewardship Council

Seafood served at the Olympics must meet Marine Stewardship Council (or similar) standards. That includes McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global organization that developed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. MSC provides certification for seafood that meets their standards.


Bananas, tea, coffee, and sugar at the Olympics will be Fairtrade.

Fairtrade BananasThe purpose of the Fairtrade organization is to provide greater equity in international trade especially for the people actually growing the food. Better conditions for people help encourage sustainable development which is good for people and the planet.


Related Posts:

Natural Capitalism — Book Review

Natural Capitalism Book CoverReaders are offered a view of the sustainability movement during the late 1990’s in Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins.

It was first published in 1999. A 10th Anniversary Edition was published in 2010 with a new introduction by Amory B. Lovins and Paul Hawken that updates the story to include successes of the last decade.

Book Review

The book defines natural capital as water, minerals, oil, trees, fish, soil, etc. It discusses the impact of our current system of industrial capitalism on people and the environment and provides a compelling alternative.

Natural capitalism is introduced as a viable and necessary economic model for the future. According to the authors, “Natural capitalism recognizes the critical interdependency between the production and use of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital.”

  • Radical Resource Productivity – increase resource productivity, eliminate waste, rethink business, integrate design (look at the whole system, not just its parts).
  • Biomimicry – nature does not waste anything, one systems waste is another systems’ input (we need to learn from this concept).
  • Service and Flow Economy – a shift from buying stuff to leasing or renting the service the stuff it provides. E.g. buying the service of cooling instead of an air-conditioner.
  • Investing in Natural Capitalism – humankind inherited a 3.8-billion-year store of natural capital which is being rapidly degraded and depleted, we need to use it wisely, sustain and restore it.

Instead of telling businesses they must change because it’s the right thing to do, the authors provide evidence that business and industry will have to change to stay in business. Implementing natural capitalism can be a competitive advantage for companies, it can save and make money, all while sustaining and restoring natural capital for the future.

The Bottom Line

Reading about sustainability from a distance of over a decade gave me a new perspective on where we have come from, some successes, and how much further we still need to go.

The authors are well-respected experts in their fields and delivered information in an interesting and readable way. Showing companies how to change from a businessperson’s perspective makes sense to me. Companies need to stay in business while they change.

I recommend Natural Capitalism to people interested in a sustainable economic and business future.

Related Posts