Worldwide Olympic Partner Coca-Cola knows more than most about the Olympic and Paralympics Games. After all, its association with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) goes back more than 80 years, when it got involved in the Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games. The American multinational beverage corporation have been involved in every Olympics Games since. But in all those 80 years, perhaps its greatest achievement came at London 2012, as it contributed significantly to making those Games the most sustainable in history.
It was no accident and in June this year, just a month before the start of the Olympics, it achieved the prestigious ISO 20121:2012 Sustainable Management System (SMS) certification with SGS United Kingdom Ltd. It was recognition that showed before the Games had even begun, Coca-Cola had undertaken significant, vital work to ensure that it would be more sustainable than ever.
It was a particularly special accolade as the ISO 20121 SMS certification covered all of Coca-Cola's activities such as the phenomenal Olympic Torch Relay, venue operations, showcasing, hospitality and licensed merchandising activities that were seen across the Games, particularly on the Olympic Park in Stratford with the stunning Coca‑Cola Beat Box. The Beat Box was a popular visitor attraction during the Games as it allowed people to create their own beat for London 2012 by remixing the sounds of Olympic sports.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Great Britain's London head office was also certified to the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.
But setting a new global benchmark for major event sustainability wasn't easy and making London 2012 the most sustainable Games of modern times only came after Coca-Cola pledged to support London 2012's zero-waste ambitions, to encourage exercise, health and wellbeing, and for its operations to be CO2 neutral.
"When we started planning for the Games, we recognised that a system like ISO 20121 would help us to meet our goals and systematically integrate sustainability into all areas of our London 2012 sponsorship," said Coca-Cola's sustainable Games project coordinator Olivia Knight-Adams.
It is no surprise why.
As a new international standard, ISO 20121 specifies requirements and provides guidance for an event or event-related sustainability management system. It aims to ensure that all events leave behind a positive legacy while it is relevant throughout the event industry supply chain, including for event organisers and managers, caterers, stand builders and logistics suppliers.
Basically, the standard provides the framework needed to measure, minimise and eliminate the negative environmental, social and economic impacts of events; optimise planning and processes; and maximise the benefits.
When preparing to be assessed against the requirements of ISO 20121, Coca-Cola made some key moves. It developed a new SMS manual, a new London 2012-specific sustainability policy and a guide for suppliers, enhanced its procurement procedures to make sustainability a core part of its tendering process and set function-specific targets and sustainability training materials to ensure managers and their teams contributed to overall sustainability plans.
In addition, it organised quarterly sustainability meetings to check progress against objectives.
Coca-Cola selected SGS to carry out its ISO 20121 assessments because with more than 70,000 employees and a network of over 1,350 offices and laboratories globally, SGS is the world's leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company.
"We chose SGS as it seemed to have a good understanding of, and pragmatic approach to, the new standard," explained Knight-Adams.
"The SGS assessment proved to be thorough, well organised and useful.
"Our auditor, Ana Inacio, was knowledgeable about the standard and sustainability, while seeking to be pragmatic and informative.
"She supported us in identifying potential areas for improvement – it all felt more like a strategic, and less like a tick-box, exercise than other audits I've experienced.
Inacio, the SGS auditor and tutor, admitted she was impressed with what she saw from Coca-Cola.
"I found Coca-Cola's staff to be passionate about the brand and sustainability, and ensuring the company's activities have a positive, lasting impact," she said.
Implemented within its new ISO 20121 SMS framework, Coca-Cola's Games-related sustainability initiatives included serving all Coca-Cola products in fully recyclable packaging, which itself contains 25 per cent recycled plastic, and using biogas-powered vehicles to supply outlets and venues.
The initiatives also involved ensuring its on-site drinks coolers are free of hydrofluorocarbons, using recycled materials wherever possible, in everything from staff uniforms to sales stands, expecting its own suppliers to act and source sustainably, for example by using recycled materials and reducing packaging, and incorporating WWF (World Wildlife Fund) recommendations in its environmental strategy.
"ISO 20121 has proved a highly effective tool for bringing our corporate sustainability strategy to bear on a specific major event, namely our sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games," continued Knight-Adams.
"In particular it's helped us to more fully engage everyone involved so they're crystal clear about our sustainability objectives, and committed to their delivery.
"It's also helped us to articulate the importance of sustainability to our suppliers, which in turn has encouraged them to innovate and introduce new sustainability solutions."
Knight-Adams is currently working on a London 2012 follow-up report and sustainable toolkit.
In keeping with the sustainability theme, it will be available for future Coca-Cola host-city teams and the wider events industry, with the hope that it will encourage other sponsors, event organisers and venues to adopt a more sustainable approach to event management in the future.
In addition, Coca-Cola hopes all its event-related suppliers will implement ISO 20121 themselves.
"I would recommend that other organisations adopt ISO 20121," says Knight-Adams.
"Make the system simple and user-friendly, and make sure the person leading implementation is passionate about sustainability and has full senior management backing.
"It can take a bit of time and resource upfront but, once the systems are in place, it will provide a useful framework to join up, embed and enhance your sustainability performance."
But despite the conclusion of London 2012, the good news has not stopped coming for Coca-Cola's sustainability plan for the event as it was revealed earlier this month that it had achieved its target of recycling 10.5 million plastic bottles used at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Coca-Cola supported the development of a three-bin recycling system that includes colourful black, orange and green hoods that made it easier for the general public to identify each category of recyclables. As part of this system, Dow resins were used in the design and production of the recycling bin used at more than 30 Olympic venues throughout London.
Most of the recycled plastic bottles were actually back on shelves within six weeks as the bottles went through a reprocessing facility in Lincolnshire before being delivered to Coca-Cola's factory in Wakefield to be made into new bottles.
"We found that the impact of the six-week message meant that 70 per cent of the people who understood it were more likely to recycle when they got home," said Coca-Cola's head of sustainable Games Katherine Symonds.
"It reassured them that recycling really does happen in the UK."
Rather surprisingly, Symonds' only regret was that Coca-Cola has not been able to recycle more, due to the waste caused by individuals not returning empty bottles to the green bins provided.
"It was impossible to know how many bottles we were going to get back," she said.
"We knew roughly what our sales would be, but in reality we got fewer back than we sold.
"We suspect that some of the bottles got taken away by consumers at the end of the Games - and hopefully recycled back at their homes.
"The appropriateness of our fit as a sponsor of the Olympics really went up as well - people recognised we could play a meaningful role at the Games."
It certainly did, and research commissioned by Coca-Cola has shown that 70 per cent of visitors surveyed at London 2012 said they would now be more likely to recycle at home."
All rather impressive, a clear illustration of how Coca-Cola played an enormous role in making London 2012 the most sustainable Games of modern times.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames
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