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December 7, 2008

Andrew Williams:Turning our backs on sustainability is not an option

The recession is going to have massive effect on almost every aspect of the meetings and events industry. However, I believe that it should have a positive effect on how we implement sustainable development within events. I do not now, nor have I ever believed that sustainability should cost money, in fact to the contrary it should save you money.

It’s a simple concept: you use less of something, you pay less. So while printing double-sided in the office may be doing your bit for the environment, it’s also halving your stationery bill. There are a few select areas where this is not yet true, organic food being a high-profile example. I would argue that using locally sourced produce (ideally getting a discount from your supplier for reducing their transportation costs) is of greater benefit than a strict organic approach.
Having said that, paying for BS8901 is a separate issue: you can choose to be sustainable for free, but as with any kind of system that involves assessment or certification costs will be involved, in the same way that you’d expect to pay to have your car MOT-ed or pay insurance on your office building. I believe that organisations investing in becoming BS8901-compliant will reap the benefits from improved supply chain management and better communication with their event partners and this will easily offset the costs of implementing the standard. In fact,  I would go as far as to say that sustainability will have as much impact on business in the next 15 years as the internet has had in the past 15 years.

Continuing to evolve
We offer BS8901 compliance free of charge for all events we are asked to manage, though I appreciate not all agencies are in a position to do that. The standard exists and will continue to develop, and while there will inevitably be different levels of engagement with it throughout the industry it is not going away. I believe there will be refinements to the standard to improve its delivery and I hope these encourage more agencies, venues and suppliers to get involved.

For those seeking ways to offer value for money for their clients in the face of tightening budget, the best way forward is to offer them sustainable solutions. There is a huge difference between a “sustainable” solution and a “green” solution, because sustainability weights economic issues equally with environmental and social issues. It is this balance that produces a stable path forward. I believe it would be commercial suicide for any organisation to back away from a sustainable approach at precisely the time when embracing sustainability can help your organisation to weather the economic storm.

Whether sustainability continues to be at the top of the business agenda that happens in practice is going to come down to whether we take a long- or short-term view of our future. If we have long-term goals and a clear vision for the future, then sustainability has to be an intrinsic part of that. If we’re focused on the short-term and don’t care about where our business is in two or three years time, we can ignore sustainability – but at our peril.

Andrew Williams is managing director of Seventeen Events.

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