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Olympic sponsors – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly


We were at the very first 2012 sustainability conference back in March 2004 and we were at the last, which took place on Tuesday in London’s City Hall. The session included a lively panel discussion chaired very effectively by the BBC’s George Alegiah.

Naturally enough, London 2012’s Sustainability Partners – BMW, BP, BT, Cisco, EDF and GE – came in for some discussion. I think this issue encompasses all that is good, bad and ugly about the London Games. So I wanted to use this blog to briefly set out WWF’s views and explain why I identified BP as an unsuitable Sustainability Partner.

OK, so let’s start with the Good. The first thing to say is that the modern Olympics is very much dependent on commercial partnerships, and at the simplest level it is to be welcomed that business is supporting a global sporting event that brings nations and communities together.

We are certainly not against corporate participation in the Games. In fact we see business as central to our ambitions for both engaging the public with the excitement of the Games as well as laying the foundations for a corporate green legacy.

We were involved from the outset with the idea of a Sustainability Partner programme, believing that such a programme could reap big benefits for sport, sustainability and business. All good so far then.

Jumping order slightly, to tackle the Ugly head-on, WWF would propose the following criteria for an Olympic Sustainability Partner:

  • They need to be a progressive business that is already showing leadership in their sector on green issues.
  • They need to show that their goods, services and sponsorship programme at the Games breaks new ground in reducing the impact of the Games and maximising sustainability benefits.
  • They need to commit to rolling out their new Olympic sustainability promises and projects across their business after the Games.

We believe that London 2012 made some poor choices in its choice of Sustainability Partners, with, we suspect (the contracts are confidential), insufficient sustainability criteria. This has resulted in the pollution of the Sustainability Partner programme and has reduced London 2012’s credibility on green issues, despite an impressive track record across much of their programme. The London 2012 brand has been tarnished or, if you prefer, made ugly. It needn’t have been like this.

I think WWF would feel comfortable ticking all three criteria above with the Sustainability Partners BT, Cisco and GE – companies that are using the Games to build on strong recent progress on sustainability and have Olympic projects that will leave lasting green benefits for London after the Games.

We inevitably come to the Bad, however. EDF and BP fall flat on their faces at the first hurdle, both having very poor track records on green issues. EDF and BP are sticking with old and problematic approaches to energy provision and resisting a safer, cleaner and more affordable energy future. They are dragging their heels at the back of the race to tackle climate change.

In the light of this it is hard to view their offers to offset spectator travel or exhortations to join ‘Team Green Britain’ as more than attempts to greenwash their reputations. We say that they have not earnt their places as Sustainability Partners at the green Games; they’ve just bought them.

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