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April 29, 2008

Aileen Reuter: One Future leads the way

When I first joined Eventia, one of my primary motivations was the potential to increase awareness of environmental issues within the industry. It is an area I have been involved in for a period of time and which I feel passionate about, yet I am very conscious that events can and do consume many tonnes of carbon, often unnecessarily. I was fortunate that my fellow board members shared my enthusiasm, and to have access to the knowledge and guidance of Hugo Kimber of The Carbon Consultancy, Eventia's carbon partner.

Setting up the One Future initiative last year was the first phase in increasing awareness of the importance of considering our environmental and social responsibilities when planning events, whether it’s a meeting for 30 people or a conference for 3,000.

Part of our role as an agency is to ask questions around these responsibilities when researching destinations and venues, not only in terms of necessary travel, but also of the suppliers we use, whether transport, clothing, promotional gifts or hotels. The power of supply and demand cannot be underestimated. We also suggest that clients donate 1% of the event total spend to support UK woodland creation and energy education in primary schools, for mitigation purposes. Often, this sparks a discussion around suitable programmes and projects to invest in, which raises awareness of the need to consider the offsetting of emissions that cannot be reduced through lower carbon event planning.

Driving the agenda

At Maritz, applying the One Future corporate audit and reduction approach resulted in me instigating a Green Team, made up of volunteer employees, who work to reduce our own carbon footprint. The Green Team actions include engaging employees through incentives and communications and driving our environmental agenda, covering areas such as the replacement of individual bins with central recycling stations, installing energy-efficient Dyson hand-dryers, changing to recycled photocopier paper and sending all our drinks cans to a local recycling plant that employs adults with learning difficulties. Fundamental to this team function is reporting and we are proud to have reduced the amount of waste we produce by over 40% in 2007 with a target of 79% for this year.

I was able to experience from the delegate's point of view the benefits of combining an engaging and memorable experience along with positive action when I accepted C&IT’s [Conference & Incentive Travel's] invitation to join the magazine on a trip to South Africa. The itinerary included visiting hotels run on environmentally sound principles, taking part in discussion sessions with other attendees and participating in local community projects.

Walking the walk

Having acquired a pair of steel-toe-capped boots, dust masks and a selection of energy bars, I set off with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation to spend two days helping build brick homes for people who were currently living in mud huts. Although it was really hard work, in poor weather conditions, meeting the people who we were doing this for and working alongside them was one of the most memorable and worthwhile things I have ever done. Needless to say I left my boots behind with someone who would have greater long-term use for them. I don't think I will be swapping my day job to be a builder!

We have since arranged a couple of events for clients in South Africa which have incorporated similar elements and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We are also looking into similar programmes nearer to home, such as dolphin tagging in Spain, and anticipate similar levels of enthusiasm.

One of the things I have most enjoyed about being part of Eventia’s CSR committee – working together to develop the new CSR pages on Eventia’s website, that gives information, resources and tips on how to deliver more responsible events – was hearing the different stories. Examples from Eurostar on how they achieve their carbon-neutral claim, how one man at ExCeL set up a wormery that has resulted in a 90% reduction in landfill waste and how Fairmont hotels has reduced its energy usage were all inspiring and I hope our work inspires other to undertake similar measures.

Aileen Reuter is director of marketing at Maritz and an Eventia board member. She also heads up Eventia’s Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) committee and was instrumental in creating the One Future initiative, as well as a new online business guide to CSR at www.eventia.org.uk/csr

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