Bridging the gap: How GE is trying to create a legacy for the Olympics

Tom Welsh
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Finding long-term use for equipment is key, says Tom Welsh

TOWER Bridge and Homerton University Hospital in Hackney have little obvious in common. The first was opened in 1894 by the future Edward VII and is one of London’s most photographed landmarks. The second caters for one of London’s poorest, most ethnically diverse boroughs. Both sit at the heart of GE’s London 2012 legacy vision.

GE has been an Olympic Worldwide Partner since 2005, and has used its expertise in power generation, water treatment, infrastructure, security and medical equipment to supply Games since Turin 2006. Its Evolution locomotive engines improved transport at Vancouver 2010, reducing emissions by 40 per cent. At Beijing 2008, it helped generate power for venues via the Shanghai Wind Farm.

But GE sees London as different. The international conglomerate is a London 2012 Sustainability Partner, and it intends its involvement to leave a lasting legacy beyond the sports and the stadia.

Mark Elborne, president and chief executive of GE UK and Ireland, says that, for a group with a portfolio as wide as GE, “the Olympics is about more than just the venues, it’s the whole infrastructure upgrade that comes with it.” GE’s involvement is certainly broad – it has provided 14,000 lamps for the Olympic Stadium, uninterruptible power supplies at the Velodrome, digital imaging equipment at the polyclinic and water monitoring systems at the Olympic Village.

But GE wants the benefits of its commitment to continue beyond the dismantlement of the venues. “We’re trying to showcase what a sustainable Olympic venue can look like,” says Elborne. One concern is that equipment has transferrable benefits. GE’s Jenbacher gas engine technology will provide power and heating for Olympic venues, but it’s also been introduced at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust. Jenbacher is credited with helping the Trust reduce CO2 emissions by 11,300 tonnes per year and saving it £1.5m – enough to power Newcastle for a week.

It’s unsurprising that healthcare is an important legacy issue for GE. Its medical equipment division is headquartered in Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire, the first GE business to be stationed outside the US. But the firm has chosen to focus its Olympic philanthropy on a less leafy part of the UK, at Homerton University Hospital in Hackney – the designated hospital for 2012 athletes.

According to the 2011 Hackney Health and Wellbeing Profile, the borough has more teenage pregnancies than anywhere else in London and above average infant mortality (5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births against 4.6 for the rest of London). While GE’s digital imaging equipment will map and track the strains of athletes during the Games, a donation of £4.8m worth of neo-natal equipment to a new ward at Homerton will help to reduce the disproportionate blight of infant mortality in the borough.

All this is part of a broader initiative by the company. It wants to put its equipment and infrastructure at the service of cost reduction, quality and efficiency. Its Homerton donation may be small by the standards of a typical hospital budget, but GE hopes to showcase how the expertise it is putting behind the Olympics will survive as a lasting legacy for one of London’s poorest areas.

The threads of GE’s legacy vision come together at Tower Bridge. The attraction has had the same lighting system for 25 years – a flat affair, which served neither to attractively display its neo-Gothic battlements nor to effectively conserve power.

In partnership with EDF Energy, GE has sponsored the installation of 1,800 LED fixtures and 2km of linear lighting, a low-carbon innovation that will see 40 per cent shaved off energy consumption.

The bridge will be used as a stage for light shows during the Games, complementing a huge, suspended set of Olympic rings. And for the next 25 years, GE’s technology will provide cheap and sympathetic lighting.

Some will worry that, once the lights are turned off the Olympic roadshow, all we’ll be left with is some impressive buildings and memories of a summer of sport. GE hopes that its Olympic commitment will prove these worriers wrong.