Just as London was preparing itself for the Summer Olympic Games, we decided to take a quick weekend trip over the pond to visit my family and get a feel for the city’s preparedness for the greenest Olympics ever. The marketing team that won the Games for London 2012 did so based on the premise that London would hold the first sustainable Olympic Games – ultimately going further than Vancouver did in 2010 with its LEED-certified buildings and stadiums. So, of course, I was very excited at the prospect of visiting Green London.
Upon first glance, the bike-sharing program was ubiquitous throughout the city, but recycling not so much. The latest statistic is that London currently has the lowest recycling rate in the United Kingdom with just a third of the waste being recycled, but that is expected to improve as more expensive penalties are assessed.
Beyond that though, London’s extensive tube system and gorgeous city parks do offer many attractions to eco-tourists away from the typical Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Piccadilly Circus tour. So, if you are longing for more natural scenery when visiting, check out:
- Kew Gardens where you can experience a rainforest climate, the palm and water lily houses, playgrounds, and yes even a huge compost heap, where Kew gardeners deposit more than 100 tons of plant waste each week. Visitors learn how Kew reuses its waste and then walk along the Rhizotron and Xstrata Walkway, which a 59-foot high bridge, to see ecosystems that thrive high above the ground. Topping it all off at the Evolution House, where visitors witness Earth before flowering plants, hear dinosaurs chewing and welcome the planet’s first animals.
- London Zoo has enchanted visitors since 1828 and is now emphasizing conservation and ecology with its natural, “no-bars” layout that brings you eye to eye with giraffes and floating with butterflies. With daily talks in which animals demonstrate their skills, visitors of all ages will be entertained.
- London Green Tour is a walking tour that takes guests to the world’s first building powered by wind turbines, discusses the green features of the London Eye and the Gherkin, examines the city’s sustainable transportation plans, and surveys eco-hotels. Running under a couple of hours, the walk provides a different view of Green London.
As for cuisine, sustainability is in the eye of the beholder. Take River Café and Duke of Cambridge restaurants as examples.
- Our meal at the River Café (left pictured above) was indeed made with sustainable and local ingredients with the menu changing daily, but oddly enough the restaurant was not itself operating in a sustainable manner. For example, the use of paper products on tables and in the bathrooms was surprising and the constant changing of utensils whether used or not was interesting. Also, the food was average. While I do not profess myself as a food critic, beef carpaccio is not supposed to be fatty and risotto with spring pea is not supposed to be soupy. Nonetheless, my son enjoyed his fresh pasta with clams wholeheartedly. We won’t be back, but it was a nice experience to dine with local Londoners.
- Conversely, our meal at the Duke of Cambridge (right pictured above) was wonderful. The only “gastropub” in the UK to be certified by the Soil Association, they specialize in UK grown, organic seasonal food that does not travel more than 100 miles to reach its location in London. The family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant has a very unpretentious feel to it with its reclaimed furniture and extensive canning rack on full display downstairs near the facilities. Our rather large party of 9 was served a superb meal with delicious soups, fish, lamb, and dessert. The menu changes daily and I for one will definitely be back for more.