Guest Blog - London Olympic Games 2012: where to go green
| Greening the Games |
I’m curious. Of the nearly one million visitors anticipated in London for the summer 2012 Olympics, how many will insist on going green? And what does the epicenter of Englishness have waiting to greet the green traveler? As luck would have it, I’m able to schedule a brief London layover on a flight from Bali to New York. Let the pre-Games scouting begin.
It’s my re-entry into the ‘First World’ after a fifteen-month journey across Asia, and I feel as if I’ve been transported suddenly into a surreal Harry Potter script: the otherwise impeccable Immigration queue at Heathrow is abuzz with the news of a pop-star’s drug overdose; Londoners board their subway trains in proper and orderly fashion; Trafalgar Square is clogged with fans greeting Harry Potter’s final episode—many of whom actually look like Harry Potter; and, of course, it’s pouring rain.
My antidote to this culture shock is the rather fabulous Green London map—if you’re planning a London excursion for the Games or any other reason, download it immediately. In addition to a useful and well-illustrated map, I find a handy listing of eco-conscious hotels, restaurants and touring options, as well as info on public transportation and even citywide bicycle rentals. London, it turns out, has much to offer in the way of green hospitality.
Organic cheers, mate!
And, at this precise moment, I could use a pint of eco-friendly bitter.
Duly cautioned to “mind the gap,” I board the Underground to Islington Station, eager to check out the Duke of Cambridge. It’s the UK’s first and only pub to be certified organic—by the Soil Association, which predates all U.S. certifiers. This “gastropub” goes to great lengths to provide truly sustainable cuisine—fresh, local, organic and artisan-crafted on small family farms from the nearby Home Counties. It also strives to shrink the carbon footprint of every aspect of its operation. Hats off to the Duke—or more accurately, to the pub’s founder, Geetie Singh, who grew up on a Midlands commune—for showcasing ethical eating.
Thanks to the magic of Facebook, a handful of London-based, world-traveling mates soon meet up with me for an impromptu reunion. I am quickly more engaged in rehashing travel adventures than in the free-flowing beer, though I am impressed that it’s from a small artisan brewer near London, not one of the big UK brewery beasts. My friend Nahid loves the cocktail selection. And the wine list, I notice, boasts organic and biodynamic choices from both the Old and New Worlds. As I look around, I’m dazed by how much these Brits can drink, and I wonder if Pub Crawl should be added to the roster of new Olympic events.
A tale of two green beds
Fortunately, my accommodations for the evening at Jurys Inn Islington are within staggering distance, and I’m grateful for a comfortable bed on which to crash. Given how bloody expensive London is for Americans, Jury’s Inn is an exceptional deal— good, clean rooms at a reasonable price. In recent years, Jurys—it has 31 locations across England and Ireland (and one more in Prague)—has done much to green itself up, for which it has won nearly three dozen awards. Islington, for example, has reduced energy consumption by nearly 25 percent per room, without any flashy eco-technology or unique green architectural features.
For my final nights, I head across town, exiting at the Oxford Circus Underground stop in London’s toney West End, to see how the privileged like their green. My destination: the ultra-luxurious Langham London, which has enchanted royalty, dignitaries and celebrities since 1865, when it opened as Europe’s first ‘Grand Hotel.’ I’m a bit self-conscious dumping my dusty, road-weary backpack onto the polished marble of the splendiferous lobby, but the ever-courteous staff doesn’t flinch. Perhaps they see my kind often, in the form of scruffy software barons or philanthropist duchesses who discretely downplay their wealth.
All Langham properties (and its Eaton Hotels group as well) have been upgrading to EarthCheck’s international standards of best green practices. As the flagship of this historic hotelier, the Langham London is Earthcheck Silver Certified, and its impressive environmental initiatives are detailed in a recently released sustainability report.
No plastic, ever!
“The five-star market is very competitive,” says Brian Gore, director of communications, with corporate clients increasingly basing their bookings on a hotel’s green initiatives and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. The Langham’s efforts are indeed impressive. For instance: 95 percent of all food is sourced from within the UK, a towering achievement when you consider that Great Britain imports nearly 90 percent of its fruit and two-thirds of its tomatoes, with estimates of total food imports at about 50 percent. In addition, 90+ percent of all hotel waste is recycled, far above the 75 percent target.
What impresses me the most, though, is the hotel’s determination to stamp out plastic water bottles. This says as much about myself as it does the Langham. I spent years at my family’s organic dairy promoting refillable glass milk bottles as superior to land-fill-clogging paper cartons and rarely recycled plastic milk jugs. More recently, environmentalists (like the Plastic Pollution Coalition) and marine conservationists have begun raising the alarm about the consequences of our worldwide addiction to disposable plastic bottles.
So I am totally intrigued when I’m led through the hotel’s subterranean labyrinth to a small glass-water-bottle-filling machine. Here, I’m told, is where Langham supplies drinking water for all attendees of conferences and meetings at the hotel. It’s still a pilot project, but the staff hopes to roll out the program throughout the hotel, including the guestrooms.
I’ll drink to that.
Cheerio till next time
But not before riding a ‘Boris’ bike—one of the 8,000 bicycles introduced in London’s latest mass-transit project in the run-up to the Olympics. In its first year, Londoners racked up more than six million bike trips, averaging 30,000 per day. With the swipe of a credit or debit card, bikes can be picked up and returned to any of the 400 docking stations (the first 30 minutes are free, and an all-day rental runs about US$80, or 50 GBP). A great way to get around town or, as an Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsement suggests: “You can eat a few extra Wiener schnitzel and get away with it.”
Alas, my connecting flight awaits. Knowing I’ve barely scratched London’s green surface, I begin scheming to return in 2012, to wander its organic farmers’ markets, exploit the 2012 Olympics Games’ expanded public transportation, and to explore England’s spectacular countryside in search of green pleasures.—Michael Straus, Contributing Editor
Michael Straus, Contributing Editor. This Northern California native grew up on his family’s dairy farm, which has since become one of America’s organic pioneers. For the past 16 years Michael has been a communications consultant for organic foods, sustainable agriculture and environmental and social justice issues. He also produced Beyond Organic, a nationally syndicated environmental radio talk show.
Michael’s travels include Central America (where he explored Fair Trade issues with coffee farmers in Guatemala), Israel (where he created a resource center for newly arrived Russian immigrants), Armenia (where he helped establish the infrastructure for organic agriculture and its marketing) and Russia (where he survived a challenge from a former KGB agent to naked snow-diving and vodka-drinking in a -40 degree Siberian winter).
He is currently at large in the world again, sleuthing out great green travel for GTG while on sabbatical from Straus Communications, his San Francisco-based green agency. Want more? Here’s an interview.