ArcelorMittal's emissions make a monumental joke of Olympic park tower

Is a tower sponsored by a steel empire with emissions matching that of the Czech Republic appropriate as a lasting monument to the 'world's first sustainable Olympics'?

Anish Kapoor's Olympic tower design
Anish Kapoor's Olympic tower design. Photograph: PR

I'm a fan of oversized structures open to the public with fantastic views across cities, from the Eiffel Tower to the Rockfeller Centre. I'm even a fan of Anish Kapoor's work. (Isn't it time the Queen created a new post of artist laureate specially for Kapoor?)

But the decision to embrace ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, as the sponsor for the £19m Kapoor-designed Orbit tower – or Boris's Olympic folly as it is becoming known – is one that really sends me into a spin.

I don't care that the tower resembles a 115m helterskelter tangled in Wembley stadium's arch. But during London's bid for the Olympics, sustainability was the buzzword. The London games would "set an example for how sustainable events and urban planning take place around the world in future."

Is the Orbit the type of landmark the organisers of the 2012 Olympics – who have some impressive green achievements under their belt – really had in mind when it said London would host the world's "first sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games"?

The commission was agreed by the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and the Olympic minister, Tessa Jowell. But the choice of ArcelorMittal appears to have been thanks to a chance encounter between Johnson and the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal "in a Davos cloakroom".

But for Johnson to make his mark on London 2012 and its legacy with thousands of tonnes of steel, one of the world's most carbon-intensive materials, appears at odds with the sustainable values of the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) – and the spirit of the times.

ArcelorMittal's court challenge to Europe's cap-and-trade scheme, recently reported by PointCarbon, is its most recent act of resistance against the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), the main mechanism for driving down CO2 levels in industry. ArcelorMittal's action brought before the European general court sought damages for being forced to pay for its greenhouse gas emissions because the company claimed the scheme threatened its business unfairly. The court dismissed the challenge last month.

Although ArcelorMittal is cagey about its own figures for allocation of carbon credits, climate campaigners have been hard at work poring over data for the EU ETS. Sandbag which campaigns to restrict the number of credits traded on the ETS, last year published a report with the help of Carbon Market Data claiming that by 2012 the company would have 80m carbon credits that it does not need, and was given for free. If sold, the company stands to make £1bn in windfall profits, says Sandbag. A tidy profit for doing, well not much, made by a company led by Mittal, who also happens to be Europe's richest man.

But this prospect hasn't prevented the company – along with the rest of the industry – from whingeing about its obligations under the EU ETS and demanding special treatment from the European commission by warning of "carbon leakage", that they claim would force factories to relocate to regions which have no cap-and-trade scheme.

In its corporate responsibility report, How will we achieve safe sustainable steel, ArcelorMittal admits its emissions are high. Every year it produces around 220m tonnes of carbon w – equivalent to the whole output of the Czech Republic or just under half of the UK's total emissions in 2009.

ArcelorMittal aims to reduce emissions from steel manufacture by 8% in 10 years' time and is already the world's largest recycler of scrap steel – to the tune of 25m tonnes a year – which it claims saves 35m tonnes of CO2 annually. ArcelorMittal has already won one of the first gold medals of the games with this PR coup to sponsor the Orbit. But it has missed an added opportunity to extra shine to its steel business with a commitment to using at least a large proportion of recycled steel in its construction.

But when I asked ArcelorMittal and the mayor's office to explain what makes the steel giant an appropriate sponsor of the lasting monument to the "world's first sustainable Olympic games", both refused to comment directly.

They referred me to a press release by the London mayor's office in which the only mention of sustainability comes in the notes at the bottom:

ArcelorMittal recognises that it has a significant responsibility to tackle the global climate change challenge; it takes a leading role in the industry's efforts to develop breakthrough steelmaking technologies and is actively researching and developing steel-based technologies and solutions that contribute to combat climate change.

Bryony Worthington from Sandbag says: "Boris really should have done his homework. While on the surface ArcelorMittal like to appear a responsible company they have been very active opponents of climate change regulations in Europe. They have also been amassing a small fortune in spare CO2 emissions permits as a result of lobbying for generous allocations. They now have more control over emissions trading in Europe than some countries."

As a Londoner and a sports fan, I wish he'd bumped into someone else in the cloakroom at Davos. But who, one of the other sponsors such as British Airways or BP? Last year ArcelorMittal had revenues of $65.1bn (£42.4bn). What other company would have £16m spare right now? In these straitened times, would London be better off without such a monolith to a steel empire with CO2 emissions equivalent to that of the Czech Republic?

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  • Plataea Plataea

    9 Apr 2010, 5:43PM

    The European Commission (DG Competition actually) allowed state aid to A-M of Euro30m (March 2010) to help with the reuse of gas from coking ovens. I thought it was rather sweet of them - a sort of "cherry on top of the ETS icing on the cake".

    Capitalism for the masses and socialism for the corporates & all that.

    One way round the give aways would be border carbon taxes. However, the Brits are ideologically against that (free trade & all that). However, such taxes would cut the ground from under A-M and others - which is perhaps why they are against them.

  • hesaloon hesaloon

    9 Apr 2010, 6:38PM

    By 2012 the company would have 80m carbon credits that it does not need, and was given for free. If sold, the company stands to make £1bn in windfall profits, says Sandbag. A tidy profit for doing, well not much, made by a company led by Mittal, who also happens to be Europe's richest man.

    Anyone who supports global warming supports this, whether they like it or not. All polluters will make fortunes from selling carbon credits they were given for nothing.

  • NeverMindTheBollocks NeverMindTheBollocks

    9 Apr 2010, 7:55PM

    @oldbrew and jimmy121

    it's even worse than you think.

    Q: where does the energy that causes the winds to run the windmills come from?

    A: the excess heat energy in the atmosphere caused by our selfish destruction of our planet.

  • allhands allhands

    10 Apr 2010, 12:29AM

    @ NeverMindTheBollocks

    Q: where does the energy that causes the winds to run the windmills come from?

    A: the excess heat energy in the atmosphere caused by our selfish destruction of our planet.

    Are you suggesting that winds are solely generated by the excesses of mankind's energy consumption? Did winds not blow before man arrived?

  • Jacksavage Jacksavage

    10 Apr 2010, 12:35PM

    I think it celebrates the current "Spirit of the Olympic Games" very well, in that it is a vain, ugly,pointless,prodigal and expensive waste of time ,space and money.

    What next? A 1000 metre high bust of George Soros in Hyde Park?

  • ClimateInsider ClimateInsider

    11 Apr 2010, 3:18AM


    It is a closed system - someone does have to pay. It's just the power companies that do. It is hard for them to make leakage arguments. See for full details

  • vivify vivify

    11 Apr 2010, 8:40PM

    There can be no such thing as a sustainable Olympics while it all happens in one place sadly, and to regionalise it...well, then I guess it wouldn't really be the Olympics then, but something else. Still, it will be the way forward, eventually.

  • muppetcrusher muppetcrusher

    12 Apr 2010, 6:46AM

    who have some impressive green achievements under their belt

    Such as what, exactly?

    As far as I can tell this Olympics has been as dirty and grotesque as any other, albeit at a fraction of the cost of Beijing.

    They've completely to live up to their promise to move freight on and off-site by boat.

  • frugalbear frugalbear

    12 Apr 2010, 9:44AM

    I would hope that The Egg Whisk could be adapted once the Olympics have moved on.
    Possible uses:
    Climbing frame to access incapacity benefits.
    Innovative queing system for bankers awaiting huge bonuses.
    Aerial Helipad to welcome the Pope when he visits in September, the climb down will focus his holiness on what abuse is like.

  • opticus opticus

    12 Apr 2010, 4:53PM

    Another big sculpture .... great just what we need.
    Really good move very democratic, I dont suppose you bothered getting planning permission did you.
    Not only that but it is not very nice to look at, but when did that bother anybody.. not when there are bigger things at stake such as leaving a long lasting legacy.
    I like Kapoors' work but I am afraid this one is nothing more than a huge ego trip for him and Boris and Aacelor Mittal. who will undoubtedly write off their costs against their tax bill.
    Just think what this money could do if it were given to 19 or 190 or even 1900 lesser know artists, we could have art everywhere not just in London. Anyone remember the statement that these games are for everyone everywhere.

  • GreenGreece GreenGreece

    13 Apr 2010, 1:29AM

    Babel Root

    Kapoor show sir, is what I say,
    your orbit spider wends its way
    to Heaven but like Icarus
    burns up and droops acephalous.

    Boris loves it, poor man-boob slob,
    and sings its praises, that's his job,
    and so the phallic cage will rise,
    delighting ladies with its size.

    We know spirals are delightful,
    but your twists and turns are frightful,
    a parody of Coubertin's
    rings, those conjoined Olympic quins.

    I can see Charles, in the Palace,
    come out swinging with his phallus
    to condemn in stuttering words
    your tangled heap of metal turds.

    You should go catch a shooting star
    and build a Babel less bizarre,
    more like a swaying bamboo shoot
    and not that ugly Mandrake root.

    Money is the name of the game
    but Brits like to apportion blame,
    so pray that they'll all be jolly,
    when dancing round your ruddy folly.

  • Batsworth Batsworth

    13 Apr 2010, 12:43PM

    52 electricity pylons containing 1300 tonnes of structural steel have just been torn down in the Olympic park and surrounding area - almost the quantity that's going into the tower. This could have been reused on the spot. No need for Mittal's sponsorship and its colossal waste of energy bringing the steel from his plants "around the world" as explained in the GLA's Mittal brochure.

    As for Kapoor, art and sport really are bedfellows when it comes to amoral self-interest. When artists ally themselves to the Olympics they cross the line into cultural prostitution, I'll never look at his work the same way again.

  • EnvironmentEditor EnvironmentEditor

    16 Apr 2010, 12:03PM

    You make an interesting point here:

    It's easy to point the green finger. What are wind turbines made of? Steel of course - better ban them then...

    Eduardo Martínez has done some valuable work on the lifecycle of 2MW turbines. You can read it here.

    On page 61, it says the energy payback time of a turbine generating 4,000MWh a year would be 0.58 years.

    But it does go on to say that recycling of some parts, such as the blades as
    @jimmy121 pointed out

    Don't forget the concrete for the windmill's foundation, or the fibreglass and resins for the blades.

    could be improved.

    It will take an estimated 1,400 tonnes of steel to build the Orbit. At 2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel, that quite a carbon footprint to leave as a legacy for the world's first sustainable Olympic games.

    This comment piece on" rel="nofollow">Building Design architect's website argues it could be built from wood.

    On the matter of the Olympic stadium by the way, it is the world's lightest built to date - that's because of clever use of materials that minimise use of steel.

    And as @Batsworth points out, there could have been a more 'sustainable' approach that would have championed recycled and lower-carbon construction.

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