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February 2, 2009

THE GREEN ROUTE:Inside the Sustainable Events Management programme

A number of key events industry organisations have recently been successfully launched along the road to BS 8901 certification, thanks to the pilot of a new training scheme. Ian Whiteling reports on the high-level attention the programme has received and talks to the founder of the organisation behind it.

The Sustainable Events Group (SEG), which was set up to help organisations understand and implement the sustainable events standard BS 8901, delivered the final workshop in the pilot of its groundbreaking training initiative recently. A total of 10 organisations from across the industry participated in the BS 8901 Sustainable Event Management programme, which began in July of last year.

David Stubbs, head of environment and sustainability for LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympics Games), was keen to congratulate the participants on their vision in embracing the standard. He went on to say that following the launch of the LOCOG Sustainability Sourcing Code, the committee will be seeking to be compliant with BS 8901, and will be actively encouraging suppliers to do the same.
Anne Hayes, head of market development at BSI British Standards, who is responsible for the roll out of BS 8901, was also in attendance during the final workshop and expressed thanks to the participating organisations for their commitment and leadership in taking up the standard, and for the feedback that they had provided.

Improving the standard

“We focused the programme on turning BS 8901 into a reality for all the organisations taking part,” explains Tim Sunderland, founder of SEG. “By doing this we could understand what worked and what didn’t. The learning from our programme is being used by BSI to improve the standard with the intention of launching a new amended version early in 2009.”

The participating organisations were reassured by Patrick Loy, head of events at the Greater London Authority (GLA), who explained that BS 8901 is referenced in GLA tender documents and that a hefty 10% of points awarded in the tender process for GLA events is based upon sustainability performance.

Loy went on to say that he felt it was only a matter of time until all major event clients referred to BS 8901 within their tender documents, as it presented a measurable benchmark of competency and commitment to sustainability in the event industry.

Towards certification

The organisations involved in the programme, including ExCel London, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Marylebone Cricket Club (Lord’s Cricket Ground), Limelight Sports, 15 Hatfields, Eden Catering and Innovision, are all on their way to third-party certification. Hugh Walker of Eden Caterers welcomes the fact that third-party certification was now available, as it means that organisations really need to demonstrate that they are taking BS 8901 seriously.

“Through the SEG programme we now understand what BS 8901 requires and the effort needed to achieve compliance,” says Walker. “Third-party certification will establish the credibility of those organisations that have really made the extra effort and are genuinely working to BS 8901.”

Background knowledge
SEG was formed by former BSI employee Sunderland in May of last year shortly after the standard was launched. “I was involved in developing BS 8901, as well as a range of other standards in the sustainability area,” he explains. “My background is in management systems and sustainability, having worked for 25 years working across all industry sectors. I previously worked on ISO 14001 – the environmental management standard and BS 89801 is a natural extension of this.”

The aim was to develop a training programme on BS 8901 for the events industry, and three people have since joined the team with the relevant experience in this field to make the content as appropiate and engaging as possible.

Refreshingly, it appears that SEG was formed more as from altruistic perspective rather than for financial gain.

“This is not a money-making venture, I can assure you,” Sunderland is keen to stress. “I know I would be better paid staking shelves at Tesco! All the members of SEG are in their later years – between the 4 of us we have some 80 years of experience in industry – and our real driver is that we believe sustainability is the right way to go to enable organisations be successful as well as leave the world a better place for our kids.”

Inside the programme
SEG is building on the success of its pilot and has started a second programme already with a third due to commence in March, as well as a half-day seminar on 26 of February for those who wish to know more about BS 8901 and whether it is applicable to their organisation.

“The programme enables organisations to implement systems to meet BS 8901,” explains Sunderland. “We provide tools to enable them do this in an efficient way. Once they have completed the programme, they have to operate the system on at least one event prior to pursuing certification. We expect the 10 organisation that completed the pilot to be achieving certification around April onwards.”

Sunderland is also keen to explode some of the myths surrounding BS 8901.

“We don't want the industry to misunderstand what the standard is about and become disillusioned,” he continues. “For example, it’s not about sustainable events – you certainly can't claim your event is sustainable! It’s about the strategy and systems that organisations operate in order to deliver events. It’s about how organisations make choices to improve the sustainability of their events and how they make trade-off decisions, for example, between cost and environmental performance. Events themselves do not get certified, but rather system that an organisation operates to deliver them.”

Certainly by demystifying the standard and helping companies get these systems in place, SEG is creating a clear route to certification from which the whole events industry – not to mention the planet – should benefit from.

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