Trewin's Blog


Will the Olympics stimulate long-term sustainable change?


The power of disruption

It is easier to get people to think about changing their behaviour when their normal routines are disrupted. Such a disruption is heading London’s way during the Olympic Games. It’s an opportunity that could be used to encourage employees to adopt more sustainable travel behaviours. 

Research from Global Action Plan has discovered that this opportunity could potentially be missed unless companies change their current thinking from just considering the short-term implications of the Games to a longer-term more strategic view.

Over the 100 days of the London Olympics an anticipated 5.3 million visitors are expected to visit the games. On some of the busiest days this will create 855,000 games-related trips. There will be over 100 miles of roads designated as the Olympic Route Network. Some of these roads will have lanes along which only accredited vehicles will be allowed to travel, while other roads in the capital will be used for Olympic events.

Despite the best endeavors of planners, this level of activity is certain to disrupt the travel arrangements of many Londoners. The question is: Can the disruption be used to encourage more long-term sustainable travel behaviour?

The travel dilemma 

Recent research by Global Action Plan with 138 organisations shows that cutting carbon emissions from travel is one of the biggest challenges they face. 

Our research discovered that almost 40% of respondents do not have a strategic approach to cutting travel costs and emissions. Companies’ data collection is patchy at best and, if it is collected, only 1 in 5 organisations use it to encourage staff to change their behaviour. Significant barriers also exist including lack of senior leadership, the expectations of line managers and inadequate technology. These barriers mean that although policies maybe in place they are not being widely implemented.

The potential of the Games

Will the Olympics help overcome these barriers and provide the momentum for significant long-term change? The results from the Sydney Olympic games suggest that they do have the potential for stimulating action. Over the period of the Sydney games 24% of employees changed their working hours and 22% worked remotely. Interestingly, 27% chose to take annual leave.

Transport for London is certainly doing as much as it can to help organizations cope with the period. Extensive advice is already included on their website. Particular emphasis has been placed on deliveries where guidance includes changing delivery times, consolidating orders, preemptive maintenance and co-ordinating deliveries with neighbouring firms. Over 4,000 new Barclays cycle hire docking points will also be installed and 2,000 new bikes will be provided.

The moped solution

Case studies are publicly available from companies such as Sainsbury’s who acknowledge that usual methods of supplying stores and delivering to customers may not be possible.  Their solutions include ‘First Response Mopeds’ designed to get engineers to stores rapidly in response to maintenance problems. The initiative has many potential benefits including greater efficiency, lower carbon emissions and the ability to maximise store sales. If successful, Sainsbury’s will extend the idea to all stores within the M25.

Our research suggests that other organisations across London are also starting to realize the potential implications of the Games with 69% believing that they will cause significant or medium disruption.

The most popular solution being considered is to allow more flexible working with 65% of companies assessing this idea, rather worryingly only a quarter of them are looking to ensure that IT systems can cope with this significant change. Other popular solutions include negotiating fewer client meetings, negotiating changes with suppliers and encouraging greater use of video conferencing.

But what about the legacy?

All of these solutions are good business planning designed to address the potential travel disruption that the games might cause. However, our research shows that most companies are currently not thinking about how they can use the change to embed long-term sustainable solutions. 

Only 17% of companies in our survey indicated that they would use the Games as an opportunity to change employee travel habits. This is a huge opportunity that could potentially be missed and suggests that organisations need to start thinking about the legacy impact rather than focus exclusively on the immediate period of the Games.