London's 2012 Olympic Torch Isn't Green Enough


Photo: london2012

The Olympic Torch is such an important symbol of the games. Passed from hand to hand by 8,000 torch bearers, it is an inspirational emblem for the host country.

London's Games organisers had hoped that theirs would be carbon-neutral, as an extra green and environmental gesture. But that has proved impossible to design. Where are all those clever kids when you need them?


Photo: london2012

Designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, it's a delicate but strong design.

It is 2 ft. 7 in. high, and made out of a lightweight aluminum alloy. It weighs 1.7 lb. so that young and old can carry it. The 8,000 holes (one for each of the torch bearers) make it light, allow people to see the flame, and also keep it cool. The gold colour is aesthetic as well as cooling for the flame.

The triangular design has been based on the number three: three Olympic values (respect, excellence and friendship), third Olympics for the UK (1908, 1948 and 2012), the vision for the Games (to combine work - sport, education and culture) and the three words of the Olympic motto (faster, higher, stronger). Pretty heady stuff.

Some have called it a vuvzela and others a cheese grate and golden spliff, but the designers say " We wanted to make the most of pioneering production technologies and to demonstrate the industrial excellence available in the UK - it's a Torch for our time."


Photo: london2012

The disappointment comes in the fuel. A butane and propane mix, such as used for gas stoves, will keep the flame burning. Ironically, it is sponsored by EDF who are proud to be "Britain's largest electricity generator, and we're committed to lower carbon energy production." However they couldn't make it carbon neutral, even though they have had since 2007 to figure it out. Their scientists tried to develop a carbon-neutral fuel using briquettes made from elephant grass which would burn with low emissions. Although these were as reliable and luminous as conventional gas-fueled torches, the scientists couldn't finish the design and engineering work.

In their defence, they have now come up with a "a bespoke low-carbon fuel based on a miscanthus briquette, which has been patented and could be used in domestic fires and garden torches." Maybe the next Olympic torch for Rio or Sochi can take advantage of this development.

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Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Designers | Developing Nations | Lighting

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