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May 4, 2009

RAISING THE STANDARD:How BS 8901 has changed for the better

Key adjustments have been made to the British Standard on sustainable event management. Tim Sunderland, of Sustainable Event Certification, talks exclusively to Ian Whiteling about the new version and the reasons why it has been amended.

A number of event organisers, venues and suppliers have taken onboard BS 8901 since it was introduced in November 2007 by the British Standards Institute (BSI), with the aim of helping organisations in the events industry improve the sustainability of their event-related activities. Arguably the most notable of these is the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), which recently released the London 2012 Sustainable Event Guidelines, in which it expects companies and organisations that it works with to be working towards implementation of BS 8901.

So there has certainly been plenty of interest in the standard, and its first year of existence, as detailed recently on this web channel, could broadly be described as successful. BS 8901 has, however, been criticised in some quarters for being overly complex, and the changes that have recently been implemented are a welcome sign that the BSI is prepared to listen to the industry and act accordingly to ensure the standard is adopted as widely as possible.

Hard to handle
“We have been working with a large number of organisations from across the industry over the past 12 months, some of which have achieved certification to BS 8901,” says Tim Sunderland of Sustainable Event Certification, which provides training, advice and certification on BS 8901 compliance. “However, we found the standard quite difficult to work with and consequently a number of modifications have been made to make it clearer and easier to understand.

“We recommend that the industry takes a look at the new version, which is accessible online until the end of May. In addition, to help organisations understand the standard, we are offering a free BS 8901 certification check which will help organisations determine how they currently compare against the standard.”

Different description
So what are the main changes that are being made?

For a start, its title has changed from a ‘specification for a sustainable event management system’ to a ‘specification for a sustainability management system for events’. 

“This is a subtle but important change and helps clear up the point that the standard is not about sustainable events per se, but is about a management system that is geared towards improving the sustainability of events,” Sunderland explains.

This means that events do not comply with BS 8901, but that rather it is the management system behind the events that complies. The standard clarifies that it is applicable not only to event organisers, but to all organisations in the events industry, from event clients to venues, suppliers and contractors, regardless of their role in delivering events.

System specifics
One of the most important changes is that the standard itself is that it now requires organisations to define the scope of their sustainability management system.  Organisations will need to prepare a statement that describes what activities and functions will be managed within the sustainability management system.

“The standard is not prescriptive as to where organisations draw the boundary of their scope,” says Sunderland. “Indeed, for larger organisations, it may make sense to begin with a narrow scope to pilot BS 8901, and then broaden this later rather than trying to include the entire organisation in the initial scope. It is also possible to limit the scope to the delivery of a single event. 

“Clearly defining the scope is critical for the purposes of certification and is the starting point for anyone wishing to implement BS 8901.”

Purpose built
As well as the scope, organisations will also need to define and document their mission or purpose, and the values that they work to.

“The statement of mission/purpose can be specific to the scope that has been defined or can reflect the broader mission of organisation,” explains Sunderland. “The statement of values should describe the behaviours that organisations expect of their employees when carrying out their duties.”
Companies will also need to define their sustainability development principles.

“The standard provides some guidance on this, but, in essence, sustainability development principles could be summarised as the intelligent and productive use of financial resources, respect for people, responsible governance and the wise management and use of natural resources,” says Sunderland. “Nevertheless, the standard leaves it open for organisations to establish their own sustainable development principles.”

Procedural change
A major shift in the standard is that it now requires the creation of more procedures.  Businesses now need to have procedures in place for:
– Identifying and evaluating the significance of sustainable development issues
– Identifying and accessing the legal, and other requirements to which the organisation subscribes and determining how these requirements apply
– Identifying and engaging with stakeholders on the identified and emerging sustainable development issues
– Communicating internally and for receiving, documenting and responding to relevant communication from external stakeholders

In addition, companies will need to have a well-defined plan for achieving the objectives and targets that have been set. The plan needs to describe the actions to be taken, roles, responsibilities and timescales.

Meanwhile, in the implementation section of the standard, there are more prescriptive requirements for:
– Defining and documenting accountabilities, roles and responsibilities within the organisation
– Implementing operational controls for those activities “critical to the successful implementation of the sustainability management system”, including emergency situations
– Evaluating compliance with legal requirements

Clarity and logic
The good news is that the standard is clearer and has a more logical structure. 

“Many of the ambiguities within the original version have been cleared up, and some of the confusing clauses, such as assessing options for improved event sustainability, have been removed,” explains Sunderland. “In addition, all of the guidance notes that were dotted throughout the standard have now been moved to a set of annexes at the back of the document and are usefully arranged in a way that mirrors the structure of the standard itself.
“Also, the phases have been removed, as this gave rise to confusion as to whether certification to the standard was possible in several stages. Finally, the requirement for organisations to construct their own maturity matrix has also been removed.  Using such a matrix is now optional, and for some organisations this may be a useful tool for measuring progress towards its principles of sustainable development.”

Sunderland is convinced the changes to BS 8901 make the standard clearer, although he points out that it is still written in BSI standard jargon, and adds that the need for more procedures could present some organisations with a challenge. Despite these criticisms, from his work with Sustainable Event Certification, Sunderland believes that most organisations are already doing 80% of what the standard actually requires, and so are generally in a good position to achieve certification without too much extra effort.
For a free BS 8901 certification check, contact Tim Sunderland at [email protected]

To review and comment on the new version of BS 8901 before 31 May, visit http://drafts.bsigroup.com and register.

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