Gerry Pennell has just spent four years in one of the hottest of hotseats, as CIO of London 2012. Or, if you prefer, as Chief Information Officer at the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). Either way, he's had a challenging job planning for, building, running then winding down the Olympic IT and communications infrastructure. And this had to be done with sustainability in mind at every step of the way.
The sustainability angle of the games can be traced back to 2005 when the creators of the original bid committed the organisers to the lofty aim of a 'truly sustainable Games'. Arguments abound as to whether this goal has been met, but one thing is certain, this has been the most sustainable games to date. And, what's more, detailed measurements have been taken and recorded which will provide a yardstick by which to measure all future games.
Five key themes drove LOCOG’s sustainability planning: Climate Change; Zero waste; Sustainable Sourcing; Employment and Skills; and Inclusion. Pennell had to minimise CO2 (and equivalent) emissions. A target was set of zero waste to landfill during the games. All sourcing had to be judged through a sustainability filter. Employment and training had to embrace diversity and the local community. And technology had to facilitate and encourage everyone involved.
That's the fluffy background. The hard reality is that IT services were the second highest budgeted cost for LOCOG and the second highest component of LOCOG’s carbon footprint. Thus the job of Pennell and his team, as if it wasn't big enough already, was to implement all those considerations throughout the progress of this four year project. They had to work with masses of suppliers and partners, some of whom could be named (if they were Olympic sponsors) and others who had an important role but had to be kept in the background. Obviously we can't name them but let's say they're household names. All were asked to participate in workshops in which they had to declare their contributions under each of the themes already mentioned. Measures were agreed and an action plan established for each partner.
Acer, for example, could not use air freight for its energy efficient devices because this would have created a carbon footprint close to that generated during manufacture. The kit came by sea. BT used artificial intelligence software to minimise duct lengths, resulting in a ten percent saving on cable lengths. Special spectrum management equipment was needed to avoid interference between the many radio frequencies. This will be reused after the Games. To cut the number of flights, Panasonic implemented video-conferencing between London and Lausanne, the International Olympic Committee's headquarters. All the paper used came from 100 per cent managed forests. And, incidentally, paper use was cut from Beijing's almost 50 million pieces to 20 million.
From a sustainability perspective, the planning was key. The next major issue is how to disband the whole ICT infrastructure in a sustainable way. In traditional terms, 'reduce' has been taken care of during the build and execution of the event. Now it's time for 'reuse' and 'recycle'.
As far as possible, the materials and equipment are being reused. And, incidentally, that can be applied to people as well. More on that later. Some of the computer equipment is being reused by an e-learning charity. The rest is being taken care of by an asset disposal company which will find it good homes. Hackney College, which was the backup site, will keep the equipment. BT and Cisco will convert this into a Cisco Network Academy which provides opportunities to deprived children. BT's broadband network will be left in the ground to serve future communities. And the local cabling will need to be recycled because bespoke cable lengths and terminators cannot easily be reused.
Almost 6,000 people were involved in making the Olympic ICT system a success. From volunteers capturing 'extra' information from the sidelines of sporting events or manning the technical help desks, to the dedicated IT staff. Thousands of people have gone back to their old lives with a 'can do' attitude engendered by their Olympic experience. But, says Pennell, "One of the things I'm most proud of is the experience we were able to give to forty university students." Unlike many work experience placements, these sandwich year students packed five years of valuable experience into a single year.
Quite a legacy. In fact, the whole Olympic experience has left quite a legacy. And not just for the UK.
About the author:
David Tebbutt (www.tebbo.com) is a writer specialising in ICT and environmental matters.