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October 14, 2008

GREEN MILE 2:Putting the mechanisms in place

The will appears to be there within the meetings and events industry to become more sustainable, and the mechanisms, like BS8901, are moving into place. The problem now is bringing the two together to create a greener, more socially aware sector. Pete Roythorne investigates…

Sustainability is suddenly a hot topic, and everyone is jumping on board, but much of it is all talk and little action. And it’s more than just the environment. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about good economics, environmental impact and community – the latter two elements of which are often overlooked.

BS8901, the British Standard on sustainable events, has come out at the right time because it provides a route through the ‘greenwash’ and token knee-jerk reactionism and cuts through to the real issue, providing a clear structure via an independently created standard for companies to follow.

“People are looking for a magic check list, but each event has different criteria – it’s impossible to create a list that will suit every event or every company,” says Fiona Pelham of Organise This. “That’s why it’s important to look at individual events and the processes involved. In the States, the Convention Industry Council is working with Apex to create a system to measure sustainability, which should dovetail with BS 8901.”

Driving sustainability forward
Pelham explains that Organise This has developed an online tool to guide companies through this process, as well as creating a series of seminars under the banner Positive Impact that give people a practical guide to working with BS8901 and planning sustainability into their events.

She concludes: “Generation Y have to drive sustainability forward – rather than being put off by the wastefulness of the events industry, many see it as a challenge. It’s down to companies to harness this enthusiasm.”

Organise This worked with London’s ExCeL on the recent MPI European Conference, through which they aimed to set a new standard for CSR at events. And they succeeded, creating the first ever event to obtain BS8901 status.

“BS8901 is a great step in the right direction.  However, now it is in place, the whole industry needs to follow the standard, become assessed and be more responsible,” says Helen Moon, business development manager at the Barbican.

But the reality is that sustainability and particularly BS8901-compliance come at a price, and it’s this price that puts people off. 

Is it feasible?
“As much as you may want to put on a green event on, what it simply and often will boil down to is budget (and feasibility). Does your client have budget to become green/is it feasible?” says Joe Russell, events director at Momentum UK. “I don’t know of any single brand that has put on an entirely green event. This boils down to three reasons: budget, feasibility and reliability. You would expect, say, the Wireless festival, to have bio diesel generators or something innovative like wind-power generators, but they don’t. Why is that?  Money, feasibility and reliability.”

There will always be challenges with budget versus being green. For example, it will always be cheaper to print 10,000 flyers about one event rather than 5,000. Inevitably you may only use 7,000 of them, which may be cost effective from your supplier, but certainly not green effective. And this is one of the major stumbling blocks for BS8901.

“The standard is not an easy ride. It does require you to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of sustainability – there is no room for anyone wanting an easy ‘rubber stamp’ for their event. However, I would argue that this is a good thing, and for a company like ourselves that has integrated sustainability into our routine practices, it is a necessary part of our development,” says Andrew Williams, director of Seventeen Events, which has recently announced it will be delivering BS8901 compliance as standard.

Sustainability made simple
“We have always stressed to clients that we want to make their events more sustainable without making life more difficult for them. Offering BS8901 as standard is a natural progression of the work we have been doing over the past year to embed BS8901 into the heart of how we do business.

“The events industry as a whole needs to embrace sustainability and to see BS8901 as a step forward. Clients increasingly demand events that have a sustainable edge and without this many agencies will start to lose ground. In the next 10 years, the processes outlined in the BS8901 standard will increasingly not be optional, so the industry would be well advised to take these ideas on board now. What might seem like red tape today could easily be a green star on your bottom line tomorrow.”

So with the will there and a mechanism in place to deliver sustainable events, it’s simply a case of marrying the two more closely together. And the Organise This initiative to guide people through the process is certainly a step in the right direction.

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