Can the international events industry ever be sustainable?

Can the international events industry ever be sustainable?

Positive Impact’s vision for the next five years combines elements of ISO20121 and a reporting framework rather unimaginatively titled the Global Reporting Initiative Event Organiser Sector Supplement.
This vision includes some factors that are straightforward and some that are more challenging.
For example, Pelham believes there should be at least two stakeholder engagement opportunities a year where you gather to talk about the subject of sustainability in your, and their, business. All of your suppliers should sign up to sustainability policies.
We should also aim for 40% less water usage. That means you need to measure your water use first, of course. And the same goes for energy usage.
There should be accessibility across all of your events, and all of your events should have some element of public transport. Obviously that depends on local infrastructure, but this is a hugely important factor in reducing the carbon footprint of our events.
All of your supply chain should have received some education on sustainability, and everyone should have a sustainable food sourcing policy.
“You could be really close to achieving this, or far away,” says Pelham. “If you’re far away that’s fine, but this is definitely the future of the events industry.”

Risk management
Another area Positive Impact focuses on is leadership initiatives and catalysing change. The company recently staged an event with 10 companies, where it asked them to talk about the ‘new normal’.
“Without doubt, these companies all said they expected the event industry supply chain to understand how to lower waste, how to measure impact, how to ensure that social inclusion happened. They are expecting that from their event supply chain,” says Pelham. “I don’t know how many of us are actually ready, but this is what the brands are expecting.”
The audiences, people attending the events, are becoming more conscious of the need to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. And Pelham is convinced that in the next five years, we will be seeing people coming to shows and wanting to spend their money in a different way; exhibitors wanting their brand to be represented in a different way; and the event industry supply chain expected to do something different.
“That’s the culture change we’re at right now. It is difficult to challenge a culture change and do something different, and it will take time. But now is the time to start because, every day that you wait, you’re letting your competitors go first, and in doing so you’re risking your brand.”

Positive Impact was present at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland last year, and although a sporting event, there were things that we workers in the business events industry can learn, says Pelham.
The organiser removed glass from the venue grounds because they didn’t have the facility to properly recycle it, and also because of health and safety concerns.
The organiser also provided sustainability volunteers to provide assistance on site, an idea Pelham believes adds value because so many people are passionate about this.
“You could have student volunteers standing beside your recycle bins at your event, giving people guidance,” she says.
And where the carrot fails to work, there is the stick of government involvement.
“Government involvement is going to happen around the world because waste, food waste, and material waste is a challenge that governments are starting to address,” says Pelham.
During the Commonwealth Games, the Scottish government put a big waste infrastructure plan in place and now, following the games, events  are expected to follow that.
Implementing plans such as ISO20121 will foment this culture shift, people will start doing things differently, they will start considering sustainability with every decision they make.
“Consider the economic, environmental, and social impacts,” says Pelham. “Engage with suppliers and customers and this will create, over years, a shift in culture.”

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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