The face of sustainability is changing. The word itself has long been a buzzword, but there is undeniably a requirement to implement it across the events industry. With today’s Global Climate Strike and millions of people gathering across the world, it’s clear to see there is a voice wanting change, we need to look to make steps in changing every possible aspect of our event planning.
Cultivating sustainable isn’t just about joining the hype, ‘going green’ in our practises has been said to help organisations become more efficient, competitive and profitable, so there are business benefits to consider too. Sustainability is a holistic approach, it requires the entire end to end process to be considered, so we’re here to (hopefully) help.
In our 2019 Event Industry Survey we found that 35% of the industry are intending to apply sustainability in their work across the next year. There is undoubtedly a long way to go, but it is great to see that this topic is gaining traction.
With that in mind, we thought it would be useful to come up with five pointers to help make your next events just that little bit more sustainable, leaning on the three pillars of sustainability outlined in the BDC ‘Green White Paper’; People – Planet – Profit.
Reduce, reuse, recycle (but mostly reduce)
Staging, signage, exhibition stands, badges, brochures and giveaways all contribute to the huge amount of waste generated by events. In the first instance, ask yourself “do we really need it” and think about more sustainable (potentially electronic) alternatives. If you decide you still need to create things, try to extend their lifespans by leveraging products and designs that can be reused for multiple events over a number of years – or look into contacting relevant charities who might find a new home for your used materials once you’re finished with them. For a passed project ‘Hackathon’, we used reusable wooden structures with tension fabric to avoid plastics waste. A great alternative to usual practise.
Food, glorious food (and drink)
Consider cutting out meat from your event menus; in addition to helping reduce the environmental impact, it can also provide cost-savings (and vegetarian/vegan catering options have come a long way over the past few years). Don’t over order, and consider working with companies like Olio who after speaking to them today are well equipped to work alongside events and festivals. Your leftover food will find a new home amongst local communities in need.
Your venue or catering company should also be able to provide large water fountains for your attendees to replenish reusable water bottles or glasses, instead of opting for single-use plastic bottles or cups.
We are living in a material world
Look at the materials that you’re using – we’re all now far more aware of the damage that single-use plastics do, and there are some great, more sustainable alternatives out there (although to caveat, there is unfortunately still often a drop in the print quality compared to more established, less sustainable products). You can look to replace plastic foamex with recyclable SMART-X, Dufaylite or even just cardboard, ditch single-use plastic badges and opt for more environmentally friendly lanyards made from bamboo (and collect and reuse at future events).
Money money money
The biggest blocker to choosing greener options is often their associated costs. To overcome this, try and show the overall cost-savings you’ll generate over the long term by reusing and recycling items, and by reducing the production of things like printed materials, in order to get buy-in from senior management to invest in more sustainable alternatives.
You could also contemplate calculating the carbon foot print that your event produces, and offsetting this through a donation to organisations such as the Woodlands Trust (like Westminster Central Hall does). Whilst this would obviously add to your bottom line, it could also create a real differentiator to your business; allowing you to shout about your sustainability credentials to the world!
Work with the best
Whoever you work with to produce your event – the venue, caterers or your production partner – ask them to provide you with their sustainability policies, and quiz them on their own supply chains and strategies for dealing with waste. Standards like ISO 20121 are useful indicators when reviewing potential suppliers, and websites like Green Tourism are great directories for finding and checking sustainable venues.
At Experience, we’re drawing up our own environmental policy to help us make more sustainable decisions. For example, our stage sets are made from stock panels that are reclad for multiple events; if we’re building something that requires a bespoke size, then we use A1 grade wood from a sustainable source. Most of our printing is now direct to material, which requires substantially less structural support (so less waste) and our warehouse is run on green energy. It’s a good place to start.
When trying to make your events more sustainable, it’s key to understand and focus on the areas where you can have the biggest impact, and not be overwhelmed by the challenge; if Glastonbury can convince its 200,000 attendees to ditch single use plastic bottles at one of the biggest events in the world, then we can all make inroads into improving the impact our events have on the planet.
Co-authored: Marnie Keeling and Sophie Shearer, Experience