A news item about the London Olympic stadium… set the reader a puzzle: “Its designers say it is the most sustainable stadium ever built, using as much as 75 per cent less steel – an expensive and relatively scarce resource – than other stadiums.” The question is this: why prefer the semi-opaque “as much as 75 per cent less steel than other stadiums” to the straightforward “a quarter as much steel as some stadiums”?
I don’t know, but I do know that whenever you see either “relatively” or “as much as”… you can be sure you are in the presence of fuzzy thinking, and probably an attempt to cherry-pick figures. To call a resource “relatively scarce” is to say nothing. Relatively to what? Sand, diamonds, Swiss cheese?
All quite right, but there’s another problem there: to say that it is “the most sustainable stadium ever built” is to say that it will be the easiest to sustain. So the stadium will survive while others crumble and perish? How does the low steel content help to sustain it?
The rot starts at the top, with the ‘Commission for a Sustainable London 2012’ going on and on and on about:
the world’s first truly sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games … Staging the biggest event in the world in a sustainable way … I look back on a great sustainable construction project and look forward to a memorable, sustainable Games
No. The Olympics will last from 27 July to 12 August 2012, and then stop. A particular occurrence by definition is not sustained, so any talk of its sustainability is a category mistake.
‘Sustainable’ can mean ‘good for the environment’ when talking about an ongoing process or enduring condition whose continuance may be under threat (sustainable development, sustainable forest management). But stretching it beyond that leads to gibberish.