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Olympic torch flames out with London green group

Olympic torch flames out with London green group

Posting in Design

Sustainability committee rains on parade because the torch unveiled today is not low carbon.

The London 2012 Olympics organizers have themselves to blame for this one.

Back in 2007, with assurances from sponsor EDF Energy, a French utility, it promised that the Olympic torch would be low carbon. Instead, the torch unveiled today deploys butane and propane.

EDF had originally suggested that it would use a biogas - possibly methane - combined with wood chips.

“In simple terms, we didn’t quite get there,” confessed Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG). “We just ran out of time and we tried very hard to do it.”

As the gold medallist in the 1980 and 1984 1500-meter race, Coe knows that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“The promise of a low-carbon torch was made in 2007 and so the excuse of ‘we ran out of time’ is not acceptable,’ ” said Shaun McCarthy, chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, a group that looks after the games’ sustainability mission. “We are disappointed that LOCOG and their partner EDF Energy have failed in their objective to deliver a low-carbon Olympic torch.”

Oh come on. It’s just a torch. Can’t we make a few exceptions in the world, especially when it comes to the fun of the Olympics?

“The carbon contribution of this initiative may have been relatively small, but the power of the message across the globe would have been highly significant,” answered McCarthy. “The Olympic torch is a universal symbol of the Games, and a low-carbon torch would have been an unequivocal demonstration of London’s commitment to a truly sustainable Games.”

Rubbing salt into the wounds, some critics also ridiculed the perforated three-sided cone like design, likening it to a cheese grater.

I like the pictures I’ve seen of it. The perforations make the flame visible while protecting it and lightening the load. It measures 800 millimeters (31 inches) high but weighs only 800 grams - less than 2 pounds. That should make it easier for 8,000 torchbearers who will hand it off in a cross-country, 70-day relay beginning May 2012 and culminating with the lighting of the cauldron at London’s Olympic Stadium on July 27.

As is often the case with these missteps, it’s what happens next that counts.

A modest proposal for Seb Coe (pictured above, admiring his golden cheese grater): why not harness piezoelectricity from the motion created by thousands of torchbearers racing around Britain next year?

Photo: London 2012 Organising Committee

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure