Greening the Games

LOCOG developed a Sustainable Sourcing Code setting out a robust set of principles covering procurement processes and supply chain management, with the aim of ensuring that products and services supplied for the Olympic Games meet the highest environmental, social and ethical standards. 

Now LOCOG is finding itself on the receiving end of a considerable amount of adverse publicity, in part due to the sourcing of the metals to produce the Olympic medals from Rio Tinto.  As a supplier, Rio Tinto was required to adhere to the conditions of the Sustainable Sourcing Code, which in this case would have involved an independent audit of the mining activities as an integral part of chain of custody certification.   The purpose of chain of custody certification is to demonstrate supply chain transparency ‘from mine to medal’.  The independent audit was not provided to LOCOG, and the Utah mine where the metals were extracted is the subject of legal action for alleged violations of US environmental laws relating to toxic discharges affecting the health of the local community.  The failure of LOCOG to insist on this audit has been publicly criticised by the Olympics sustainability watchdog, the Committee for a Sustainable London 2012. 

Rio Tinto, along with two other sponsors, is now part of a ‘Greenwash Gold’ campaign initiated by activist groups encouraging people to vote for the worst corporate citizen of the Olympics.  Greenpeace and other environmental groups are also campaigning against these companies.

The key point here is that an organisation can have excellent policies and processes relating to sustainable procurement, but these are only effective if they are applied and enforced.  The LOCOG Sustainable Sourcing Code is a great example of leading practice, but the failure to adhere to its own requirements means LOCOG is now the focus of bad publicity and a tarnished reputation when it was presumably hoping to be lauded for delivering a sustainable Olympic Games.

At ECO-Buy we often hear from suppliers that government and corporate clients include sustainability requirements relating to supply chain management practices or certification in Requests for Tender or contracts, but too frequently these requirements are not followed up on and never mentioned again.   This is leaving the purchaser exposed to financial and/or reputational risk. It looks like LOCOG is learning this lesson the hard way.