I’ve had the enormous privilege of working on Coca-Cola’s London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic team since 2009. As the team lead for sustainability, it was my role to make sure every element of our sponsorship was delivered with the minimum impact on the environment – from the start of Olympic Torch Relay through to the end of the Paralympic Games.

Inspiring a generation

Coca-Cola is – and always has been – a company that connects brilliantly with young people. As we planned for London 2012, we saw some great opportunities to use our association with the Olympic Movement to bring all kinds of benefits to young people around Great Britain.

Probably the most high-profile of these programmes was our Future Flames Olympic Torchbearer recruitment campaign. As a Presenting Partner of the Olympic Torch Relay, we chose to help highlight the best of British youth by rewarding those who have made a positive contribution to their local communities and the environment, giving them the once in a lifetime opportunity to carry the Olympic Flame. Over the course of the 70 day Relay, our Future Flames did us proud.

Recycling during the Olympic Torch Relay

We also had to think hard about the carbon footprint we would create by being on the road for 70 days during the Olympic Torch Relay.

To start with, we converted two of our vehicles to run on diesel-electric hybrid power. We estimate that this saved 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the course of the Relay. We also made some tweaks to our main celebration vehicle, known as the Beatbox. It was fitted with an advanced exhaust clean-up system and a low-emission auxiliary generator. These modifications reduced air pollution to very low levels, which was important given we were travelling through crowds of people all along the Relay route.

We needed to think about the environmental impact of what we gave away on the Relay, too – we handed out free bottles of Coca-Cola and Coke Zero and made sure these were all in 100 per cent recyclable bottles.

To encourage people to recycle them, we added one more hybrid vehicle to our little fleet – Recycle Beat, which was designed to promote recycling. Supporters of the Relay could deposit their empty Coke bottles into a chute on the vehicle to activate a remix of Mark Ronson’s Coca-Cola song for London 2012, ‘Anywhere in the World’.

Games time!

Over the course of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we sold and gave away (the athletes drank for free) over 17 million bottles. We worked hard to get as many of these recycled as possible – LOCOG’s ambition was to send no waste to landfill, and to recycle or compost 70% of all waste at the Games.

We supported LOCOG in their efforts to devise a bin system for all Olympic venues, which meant that waste bins were always co-located with recycling and composting bins. Better still, these bins were colour-coded and illustrated.


Post-London 2012

The Games may have come to a close, but my job isn’t over yet. One of the most important aspects of sustainable event management is thinking through what happens to everything next. In many cases, we designed with the end in mind. For instance, menu boards in Olympic and Paralympic venues were designed with ‘pop-out’ logos, so we can now take out the Olympic marking and put in generic logos, making them suitable for reuse in cafes and restaurants all over the country.

A bigger example of this way of thinking is the Coca-Cola Beatbox – our Olympic Park pavilion was designed to be completely deconstructed and recycled, and our 14 biogas trucks will continue to be used to distribute products, ensuring that this carbon reduction benefit lasts well beyond London 2012.

I’m so proud of what the Coca-Cola team achieved, and was so awed by the scale and success of the Games themselves. I consider it an honour – a once-in-a-lifetime chance – to have been allowed to get so close to the action, and though London 2012 is over, the benefits of our sustainability programme will be felt long into the future.

Katherine Symonds is the Head of Sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games at Coca-Cola Great Britain.