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June 2, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Greening Your Event in 2015 (Part One)

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By Kim Crowie

“We can’t live in the world and take it for granted. Healthy businesses need healthy societies and healthy societies need a healthy ecosystem.” 

Initially, I struggled with an opening line that would truly grab the attention of readers and alert them to the fact that greening an event is not an option anymore – but should be a given. We cannot ignore the fact that our planet is dying any longer, and I believe that Antoinette McInnes of E’Yako Green says it best in the quote above! In South Africa we are lucky enough to be riding the crest of the green wave on the continent, with a number of unique initiatives that have been top of mind in recent years. But, according to the Event Greening Forum (EGF), we are still nowhere near where we need to be, especially in terms of standardising the system and ensuring that companies aren’t simply ‘greenwashing’ their products and events. 

Simply defined, event greening “takes the same basic sustainable principles and practices around energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction, but pulls it through the events industry in a practical manner,” EGF Chairpersons Justin Hawes, Greg Mc Manus and Grace Stead told me. “It is about critically looking at your actions and determining what you can do to be ‘eco-friendly’. It is about taking responsibility for our actions.”

But why is greening so important for the eventing industry in particular? And why should you and I sit up and pay attention? “By virtue of an event’s temporary nature, the events industry can be extremely wasteful,” the EGF says. “The elements of an exhibition, conference or event are usually destroyed and discarded once the event is over. This is very wasteful, making greening really important for our industry. As an industry, the event sector has immediate and very large impacts because of the transient nature of their clients. Unlike hotels, where occupancies are relatively low and guest impacts could be spread out over a period of days, the meetings sector attracts many times more guests and delegates in short periods, making its impacts more severe.” 

There are, of course, means by which to combat this, and one of the ways to do so is educating and training people in the best business practices for greening. The EGF is on the forefront of this movement and has, since its inception in 2011, promoted event greening though various training sessions, the development of guidelines and promoting awards to give recognition to responsible events. They are now in the midst of developing standards through a Technical Working Group, which aims at regulating the industry in the long term. 

Another humongous reason why event organisers, suppliers and everyone in between should pay attention is because the greening of events is a largely untapped market. According to a 2007 trend report entitled An Inconvenient Booth, a market for green exhibiting options exists – to the tune of an estimated US$9.24 billion. Although that number may have changed slightly over the last eight years, its core message is still pertinent today. For this kind of market to become a reality, “exhibitors and suppliers alike first must overcome a number of obstacles that currently impede broader adoption of green solutions across the industry.” The study revealed that 51% of exhibitors believed adopting greener practices would enhance their companies’ brand and image, while 38% of exhibitors had already taken steps toward adopting green exhibiting options and 89% of exhibitors would be willing to adopt green options if those options performed as well as and cost the same as traditional exhibiting options. 

Ricky Da Costa, General Manager at Jacaranda Events, a company who runs the annual Jacaranda Agricultural Show, believes that above all, the exhibition industry should be setting an example. “Being in the events industry, we are in the business to demonstrate and create trends; our industry has a huge responsibility to set the correct trends and educate on the importance of greening.”

This year in South Africa, particularly as we experience power shortages, there’s been a rise in greening initiatives related to the reduction of power consumption. “We need to acknowledge that we are in the middle of an energy revolution,” says Grace Stead, Chairman of the Southern Team of the EGF. “We did not have the pressure around provision of energy ten years ago, and we used to have the cheapest electricity in the world. Now we need to be much more proactive in managing our energy needs and look at innovative ways to reduce consumption. Fortunately this comes at a time that technology is rapidly improving with lights and equipment being much more efficient and versatile.”

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