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Olympic boss reveals how London 2012 became most sustainable Games ever

Posted on 04/11/2013

Royal Holloway alumna Sophie Christiansen won three gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics

The man in charge of ensuring the London 2012 Games left a sustainable legacy and created positive social change will reveal how he did it at Royal Holloway’s 2013 Annual Sustainability Lecture on Tuesday 5 November.

Shaun McCarthy OBE, former Chairman of the Commission for a Sustainable London, will share personal anecdotes about working alongside Lord Coe and London Mayor Boris Johnson, as well as describe the challenges he faced collaborating with a range of government bodies and global corporations.

Ahead of the event, we caught up with Shaun to find out more:

What was the biggest challenge you faced in ensuring London 2012 was a sustainable Games?

The biggest challenge was ensuring the Commission for a Sustainable London existed at all and that it had enough power and authority to be effective. Many people wanted a token gesture, a decaf Commission. For me it was double espresso or nothing. It was tough but I had great support from Lord Coe and Jonathon Porritt, Chairman of the London 2012 Sustainability Ambassadors Group, during those difficult early months.

What do you think was the biggest success from the Games?

I think the biggest success is the legacy of knowledge. Through setting new standards and sharing how it was done with the world, we are starting to see new levels of achievement internationally in a number of sectors.

What would you change, if anything?

With hindsight, I would have paid more attention to ethical standards with sponsors and the supply chain. The idea of "sustainability partners" was good in principle, but it was flawed in the sense that it was all about getting more revenue from sponsors with less attention paid to their contribution to sustainability.

What do you think other Olympic hosts can learn from London 2012?

For me it is all about leadership and making a genuine commitment to sustainability at the highest level, from the bid stage through to delivery.

You've worked with some very high profile figures such as Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, Lord Coe and Dame Tessa Jowell - what were your coping mechanisms?!

The first problem in dealing with politicians is civil servants. Although I reported directly to the Mayor and then the Secretary of State, the bureaucrats will do everything they can to make sure you never actually speak to them. It is important to understand that politicians will take a position based on political motives, which doesn’t always make sense to the rest of us. Lord Coe was a great supporter throughout and was generous with his time when I needed his advice. He read all our reports and made sure our recommendations were taken seriously.


The “London 2012 – Sustainable Legacy?” lecture will be held in the Windsor Building Auditorium at 6.15pm on Tuesday 5 November. It is hosted by Royal Holloway’s Centre for Research into Sustainability.

For more information and to register for the event, click here.


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