The UK events industry took the global lead on sustainable management practices when it launched the British Standard 8901 standard in late 2007. Prompted by the London Olympics 2012 bid and the Government’s push to be seen as environmental and cultural leaders, BS8901 was designed to give organisers, venues and suppliers a means of delivering events more sustainably through management strategies, evaluation, reporting, communication and training.
The new ISO20121 international standard is based on the UK’s efforts and is released for public consultation this month. ISO20121 aims to improve sustainability awareness and give event organisers, venues and suppliers a way of adhering to sustainable practices. It is being supported by 25 countries.
But according to Emma Wellman, chair of the Association of Event Venues (AEV) Sustainability Working Group and sustainability advisor at Earls Court and Olympia, UK event organisers are in danger of being overtaken by their international counterparts in terms of sustainable practices.
“There has been a lot of interest in BS8901 but slow uptake, particularly from UK organisers,” she said. “There is more uptake from corporate events and less from exhibitions, although some exhibition organisers have made changes to the way they are working.
“The rest of the world wants the British standard and if we are not careful, we could fall behind on something we started.” Sustainability clarification
Of the excuses used to resist “sustainability”, the most common are that it’s too difficult to understand and implement, or it will cost too much money. In addition, sustainability has been stigmatised by the rush on companies “greening” products and services – often without the certifications or practices to match.
There are also people who look at sustainability as something that’s not core to their business. Despite these, Wellman stressed sustainability is a big opportunity for our industry.
“For many years, events have been perceived as wasteful,” she said. “This is a chance to show how productive they are and how we as an event industry can have a positive impact on the planet. You need to sell the positive rather than the negative.”
The other misconception about working in a more sustainable manner is that you have to change things all at once. Sustainability is firstly about being aware of your environmental, economic and cultural impact and then improving your footprint bit by bit.
Fresh RM is one organiser that has embraced sustainability as a company-wide concept. Each of its 2010/2011 events is being independently audited against the BS8901 standard.
According to Fresh RM marketing manager Jon Squire, the organiser started by measuring its environmental, economic and social impacts. From there, it implemented waste management strategies, set specific sustainability objectives and target performance indicators for each of its events, provided training and building competencies across its team and published its results for customers, the industry and staff to see.
“Sustainability has for a long time been high on the agenda within Fresh RM’s markets of food and hospitality,” Squire said. “In staying close to our market it’s obviously important we embrace the same challenges.
“We don’t expect to become more sustainable overnight, but in benchmarking our performance and coming up with common sense solutions, we’re aiming to deliver better events that will ultimately reduce our environmental footprint.”
In the past year, Fresh RM has developed its own sustainability logo, introduced e-badging, reduced printed sales, visitor and PR material, measured and reduced waste, promoted more industry-specific sustainable practices on the show floor, set targets for energy reduction at future shows and launched a communications strategy.
The largest difficulty in becoming more sustainable is getting exhibitors on-board, Squire said.
“That’s the element that will make the most difference to each show, and gradually with continual communication, we’ll improve that engagement,” he said.Meeting market demand
Organising UK-based Sustainability Live and publishing several resources and environmental magazines also drove Faversham House to adopt BS8901 and gain third-party certification.
“We are heavily involved in environmental matters with our magazines, exhibitions and online content so it’s very important for us to demonstrate what we are doing to be more sustainable,” Faversham House MD Amanda Barnes said. “We want to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”
Faversham set about achieving this by crafting a sustainable management policy and checklist using the BS8901 discipline.
“Some of the contributions we can make are easy, while others are more difficult. For example, we have an old building,” Barnes said. A recent investment has been into virtual server technology, which will cut down the organiser’s environmental footprint. Barnes also emphasised the importance of working closely with its suppliers.
“Some of the things we do are incremental and some are harder to quantify, but by using less electricity for example, we’ll have smaller energy bills,” she said. “So if we can do it in a cost-effective way, we will see the return – it might not be in year one, but over a number of years we’ll see an economic advantage.”
But Barnes admitted the hardest part of thinking sustainably is doing so within a set budget.
“Fortunately though, BS8901 is about balancing economic, social and environmental aspects – it’s not about bankrupting yourself,” she said. “You also have to balance the sustainability with the extra costs on your suppliers.”
Wellman also flagged the positive sponsors’ messaging available to organisers running a show. Just look at the number of companies wanting to be “sustainable sponsors” for the 2012 London Olympics.
“An organiser looking at their bottom line may see a cost, but there is an opportunity to bring in a sponsor to be your sustainable sponsor,” Wellman continued. “If you do incur additional costs to make an event more sustainable, then sell the title sponsorship and use that money to offset extra costs. Big corporates are interested in putting their name on it.”Putting into practice
As a first step, AEV’s Wellman advised other exhibition organisers to measure their business impact and find their baseline.
“Next year, look at where you’re making the biggest impact,” she said. “For example, if it’s waste, look at a recycling programme. Come up with a plan, manage it and check it. Use the British Standard’s sustainability pillars like integrity as your headline, which are easily recognised and a good starting point. You don’t have to do everything at once to be compliant.”
This also involves sitting down with your supply chain and assessing your impact on them, Wellman said. One of the ways forward is to work more closely with your chosen venue.
Excel London marketing manager Gemma Parkhouse claimed sustainability business processes can deliver real returns to the industry’s bottom-line long-term. Among the venue’s sustainability measures to date are a materials recycling facility and wormery, as well as energy and gas savings practices.
In the last four years, Excel claims a 28 per cent reduction in total electricity consumption and 65 per cent reduction in energy. In 2009, the venue partnered with waste supplier Shanks, to convert, recover and divert 85 per cent of mixed general waste from landfill.
“If we all work together to separate waste and increase the amount we recycle, this will lead to cost savings, as well as being a powerful tool to enhance reputation, which is vital in this economic downturn,” Parkhouse continued. “Sustainability needs to work throughout the supply chain from venue to organiser, exhibitors and contractors. It requires continued education and communication.”Crediting sustainability
One of the ways of communicating Excel’s sustainability is through third-party accreditation. The venue was recently assessed for its Displayed Energy Certificate and awarded a rating of 66, meaning it is 36 per cent more energy efficient than buildings of a similar type and usage. Last year it was awarded one of nine Diamond awards at the Mayors Green 500 and is working with a third party on BS8901 and ISO14001 certification.
Although sustainability disciplines like BS8901 are being adopted, widespread take-up of it and other sustainability measurements will come down to cost, Wellman claimed.
“The UK Government is making a lot of changes and there are now carbon reduction costs for big companies over their carbon emissions and tangibles involved that they can’t afford to ignore,” she explained. “These don’t apply to smaller businesses, but they will in time. This will be a big driver as it’s too expensive.”
Wellman agreed the definition for who is responsible for driving sustainable practices – venues, organisers, contractors or exhibitors – also made things difficult.
“If an organiser wants to be more sustainable across their events, they need suppliers and the venue to assist,” Wellman said.
“For example, at Earls Court and Olympia we can help organisers now that we have more sustainable management practices in play. Organisers can also go to suppliers, who are coming up with great ideas. Some are looking at innovations and pushing as well.” International steps
The ISO 20121 standard opens for international public consultation this month. Although there were initial calls for a sustainability “checklist”, Wellman said the international events industry is now fully behind a flexible management system.
“Our standard forces you to think about it yourself,” she said. “It’s so important in our industry because one size doesn’t suit everyone, so we’ve kept the freedom by being a management standard. You don’t have to do it in the same way as the company down the road.”
ISO20121 is being created and implemented by an international committee of event and standards experts. Each of the 25 countries participating has a mirror committee at home to communicate the sustainability message and toolkit to its own industry. Wellman identified Australia, Canada, the US, France, Sweden, Germany, Brazil and Japan as active participants.
“The standard has been well received internationally and it’s very exciting,” she said. The standard has also been the catalyst for BS 8909 sustainable management standard for the British film industry, which is now being trialled.
“In today’s competitive marketplace, sustainability can be a powerful brand differentiator,” Parkhouse added. “More of our clients are searching for venues who have strong sustainable credentials with back up – this helps build brand loyalty and trust which are valuable assets in our current climate.
“The bottom line is that it is no longer acceptable in today’s world to purely focus on making profit no matter what the consequences.
“Developing a sustainable business is about balancing financial, social and environmental priorities – our clients are asking for it, the next generation are looking for jobs within it, and it is our responsibility as business leaders to deliver it.”
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