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March 2, 2009

BS 8901 A YEAR ON:A review of the sustainable events standard

The standard that prescribes the requirements for a sustainable event management system has been with us for just over a year. So what has happened in this time? Ian Whiteling talks to a man in the front line to find out…

Tim Sunderland of Sustainable Event Certification has been helping a wide range of organisations understand, implement and achieve certification to BS 8901, as well as help shape the standard into a more useful and clearer document. He was present at the birth of other management system standards such as ISO 14001 on environmental management and OHSAS 18001 on occupational health and safety. 

“BS 8901 was an ambitious standard,” he says. “It took a vague, complex and regularly misunderstood concept, sustainable development, created a management framework using what some would view as complex terminology and jargon, developed this into a formal specification for a management system and hoisted it onto a diverse and fast-moving industry sector, where most organisations are small and not accustomed to formal management systems. A certain recipe for disaster!” 

Rays of hope
However, despite the odds, Sunderland is optimistic about the future for BS 8901.

“BS 8901 has established a small foothold with those organisations that see beyond the bureaucracy of the standard and recognise the need for a new way of thinking and working,” he says.

“Over the past 12 months, I have been working with some of these pioneering organisations on implementing BS 8901 with a view to achieving independent certification. Together we have pulled the standard apart to understand what it really means. The learning that has been generated is being used by British Standards to bring about improvements to the standard.

“An amendment process is now underway, and we can expect to see a clearer, simpler and more useful standard appearing later in 2009.”

Avoiding past mistakes
From a certification perspective, it has been interesting to see how organisations have approached the standard. There have been some significant misunderstandings, which are worth highlighting to prevent the same mistakes being made in the future:

The environment and beyond
– Sustainable development means more than just environment. Many organisations think that BS 8901 is about the ‘greening’ of the events industry. The standard certainly addresses the environmental issues associated with events, but also goes much further. The term sustainable development as used within BS 8901 not only encompasses environmental performance, but also the economic and social performance. For an organisation to maintain certification to BS 8901, the organisation itself must be sustainable, in other words, commercially viable. How an organisation ensures it continues to be successful in the marketplace (even in times of a recession) is an integral part of BS 8901. An organisation that addresses environmental issues only would not achieve certification to BS 8901 and may be better off considering the environmental management standard ISO 14001 as an alternative.

All about systems
– Many organisations have asked for their events to be certified to BS 8901.  However certification applies to the event management system that an organisation uses to deliver events or event related activities and not to the event itself. The event is simply the output of the system. A certifier will want to see how the management system is functioning. The event provides the evidence that the management system is following BS 8901.

Where the standard applies
– Organisations are confused as to whether the standard applies to all part parts of their organisation, those parts solely involved in delivering events or to an individual event. This is a common problem and can only be resolved by defining the boundaries of the organisation to which BS 8901 is to be applied. Without this clear definition of scope, any attempt to implement BS 8901 will quickly result in confusion.  This issue was highlighted to British Standards and, as a result, the definition of scope should be the first requirement of the new amended version of BS 8901. 

The year ahead
So what does 2009 have in store for BS 8901? Sunderland points out several the key factors that will influence the uptake of the standard in the months to come.

First, he cites the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games’ (LOCOG’s) issuing of its Sustainable Sourcing Code for the 2012 Games, in which it stated that LOCOG will not only seek to be compliant with BS 8901, but will also encourage its suppliers and licensees to do the same.

Similarly, the 2012 UK Event Industry Fair Pricing and Practice Charter requires signatories to “give all due consideration to the requirements of BS8901:2007, in the planning and delivery of their respective products or services”. As a consequence, anyone seeking business opportunities from the 2012 Olympics will need to be thinking about BS 8901 right now.

“We will also see the amended version of BS 8901 early in 2009,” he says. “Organisations will be able to download and comment on the new version before it is finalised. However, the new version will be much simpler, clearer and more helpful.”

Third-party certification
Sunderland is confident that this year organisations will begin achieving third-party certification to the standard. “This will be coupled with corporate and local authority clients (such as LOCOG and the Greater London Authority) prescribing BS 8901 within their tender documents,” he says. “Certification to BS 8901 will, therefore, bring competitive advantage to the marketplace.”

Finally, Sunderland says that BS 8901 will begin its journey to becoming an international standard.

“ISO, the International Organisations for Standardisation, is keen to take the British Standard and develop it into an internationally recognised standard,” he reveals.  “Any organisation with BS 8901 certification will, therefore, have a head start in the international market once an ISO standard on sustainable event management is launched.”

A serious approach
To achieve certification to BS 8901, Sunderland is keen to stress that organisations have to take the standard seriously and not just bolt on a number of environmental initiatives to their current activities. In doing so, they will benefit from the ideas and best practices buried within the standard. 

“BS 8901 is not just about green issues,” he reiterates. “It is about how organisations understand the marketplace that they operate in and how they adopt strategies that will enable them to prosper.

“It is about delivering events that not only have a minimal environmental footprint, but which exceed clients and attendee expectations, contribute to stronger communities and networks, and generate a good return on the resources invested.

“It is about improving resource efficiency, enhancing customer relationships, reducing risk, stimulating innovation and creativity, improving employee motivation and behaving responsibly.
“The more the principles of sustainable development are embraced by all industry sectors,” Sunderland continues, “the less likely we are to suffer economic downturns in the future.”

What a shame the banking industry didn’t have BS 8901!

If you are interested in seeking certification to BS 8901, you can contact Tim Sunderland at [email protected]

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