Wrestling with Olympic Dilemmas
Last night, I caught the BBC’s mockumentary series Twenty Twelve about the arrangements for next year’s Olympic games. There was a lovely scene where the Head of Sustainability was fighting tooth and nail to retain a huge wind turbine on site as a tangible symbol of “The Green Games”. The two cynical engineers pointed out that they already had a biomass CHP powering the whole site with green energy and, in any case, wind speeds were low on site so the turbine would never turn. At one point someone proposes motorising the turbine using the green energy from the CHP.
While this is a wonderful satire on modern management thinking, it is actually a pretty accurate representation of the type of dilemma faced by sustainability practitioners. While many sustainability solutions are dull and hidden away (CHP, district heating, insulation, geothermal energy, smart grids etc, etc) there is always a desire to have something you can actually show off to people.
At the end of the day, I’m with my fellow engineers. Practicality and reality come first – symbolism a distant second. Going for a green white elephant just for the PR can rebound horribly disappointing enthusiasts and making cynics even more cynical.