Why Sustainability?

So you’re planning an event and you ask, “Why sustainability?” It’s a question event professionals often ask themselves in the early stages of planning. Today, more and more venues, clients, and communities are encouraging event professionals to rethink traditional approaches of event production to become more eco-friendly.

Depending on your event location and type, becoming eco-friendly has many positive impacts other than just helping the environment. Did you know that becoming more eco-friendly can:

  • Help save you money. On average, it costs less to be eco-friendly than it does to throw away all your materials.
  • Provide you valuable media and public relation opportunities.
  • It can generate sponsorship opportunities. Imagine a company paying you to be green!
  • It allows you to set your event apart from your competitors
  • You can create positive relationships with sponsors, stakeholders, communities, and your attendees regarding the environmental impact of your event in the local community and region.

What is Sustainable Event Management?

The textbook definition of sustainable event management (you may see it abbreviated as SEM), is the practice of minimizing an event’s environmental footprint through the development of principles addressing the event’s environmental, economic, and social impacts on the communities and stakeholders involved.

Around the world, the growing interest and attention to climate change inspired thousands of events to become more sustainable. Sustainable, eco-friendly, green, all mean the same thing; depending on your location, you may hear different terminology. As more events adopt green practices, events planners are becoming more educated and aware of opportunities to be sustainable. Advances in information sharing and the dedication of event sustainability specialists/organizations have empowered thousands to take action.

Sustainability features can include, but are not limited to:

  • Recycling or food waste composting. What you are doing with all those used water bottles?
  • Re-use or donation programs. Creating signage to be re-used or donating unused food to a local food bank.
  • Water reduction programs. Refillable water stations or using captured rain water in the events’ venue grounds
  • Energy efficiency. Is your stage lighting using LED lights?
  • Reduction of carbon output (example: travel to/from an event). Purchasing of carbon off-sets or designing a program – such as tree planting – to off-set carbon emissions. Or encouraging your attendees to ride their bike or carpool to the event.
  • Procurement. Where are your materials coming from? Did you know you can buy t-shirts and polo’s made from recycled water bottles?
  • Clean energy. Can your local utility company route clean energy to your events’ location or venue?

History of Sustainable Event Management

The growth of the sustainable event management industry has been expedited in recent years with the increased attention on climate change. As the importance of sustainability began to gain traction in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, event producers and environmental advocates began to look for ways to incorporate greening options in to events. As greener practices became more socially acceptable, events began to slowly incorporate programming options to appeal to their attendees newfound expectation of being eco-friendly.

In 2007, in anticipation for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the UK developed the British Standard for Sustainable Event Management (BS 8901). It was the first international standards designed solely for the execution of sustainable events. In June 2012, a proposal was successfully passed and ISO 20121:2012 Event sustainability management systems – was adopted as the worldwide standard in sustainable event management.

Today, greening at your event can be as simple as recycling used beverage containers or as complex as being completely landfill free! There is no pressure to have a complex program, although some cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, require events to have basic recycling programs.

If you wanted to achieve a professional event sustainability certificate for your event, there are three primary international certifications events can attain (not including local or regional programs).

  • ISO 20121.
  • APEX/ASTM. The Events Industry Council (formerly known as the Convention Industry Council) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, authored, in cooperation with the APEX (the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange) and ASTM (An ANSI certified international standard development organization), the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards for the conference, meeting, and tradeshow industry.
  • Council for Responsible Sport. Designed specifically for sporting events, the non-profit certifies a variety of sporting event types, size, and location.

These certifications are usually obtained by large scale, well funded, events. However, any event can obtain certification. Certification takes time, money, and resources, and you should only work towards certification if you are truly committed. We will be discussing these certifications on this blog in the near future.

Where to Start

The ISO 20121 and APEX/ASTM standards may not be applicable to the scope or type of your event. Regardless of event type, budget, or desire to achieve certification, there are three primary phases to take in to consideration as you start your sustainability journey:

  • Before the event:
    • Write a sustainability policy or commitment statement
    • Achieve buy-in from your staff and establish your commitment to sustainability upfront with your stakeholders and sponsors
    • Examine your needs and wants to determine your budget and avenues of funding
    • Determine your goals, objectives and key performance indicators
  • During the event
    • Tracking of your key performance indicators
    • Interaction with stakeholders, sponsors, and attendees to gain feedback on your sustainability programs’ reception and perception
    • Identification of improvement areas, operational efficiencies, and future growth
  • After the event:
    • Obtaining data from your sustainability program to calculate how much material you diverted from the landfill, environmental impact, cost savings, etc.
    • Summarization of feedback obtained during the event
    • Achievement of your goals and objectives through key performance indicators

Early commitments and buy-in from your staff, sponsors, and stakeholders are critical to the success of your sustainability program. Sustainability programs also take time to develop to grow. Achieving sustainability is not a 60 second microwave dinner! Do not feel pressure to achieve everything in your first year. Sustainability programs are best when implemented in a phased approach.

On the blog next…..How to determine your sustainability needs.

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