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August 10, 2010

Rebecca Saunders:What’s stopping you?

Sustainable event management has proved to be a massive opportunity for leadership, cost savings and an added unique selling point for many companies, so why is it still relatively unnoticed by the wider events industry, asks Positive Impact’s education co-ordinator?

For many, the concept of sustainability is new, and the reality is that many people are unaware of what it means. With the development of the British Standard for Sustainable Event Management (BS8901), the event industry has woken up to the idea of sustainability and the subject has become increasingly popular since its release in 2007 and redraft in 2009.

The standard defines sustainability as “an enduring, balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility and social progress”. Understanding sustainability involves three key aspects: consideration of society, economy and environment, and it is the very first step of the sustainable event management journey.

This British Standard was developed when London won the Olympic 2012 bid, and it was realised that there was a need to have a standard and, crucially, a framework for planning and managing events in a sustainable manner. The London 2012 Olympic Games are driving event sustainability forwards. A growing number of event planners, venues and suppliers are adopting BS8901 because of the games. This standard has been so popular across the world, that it is currently being developed into an International Standard (ISO20121).

However, there are still large areas of the event industry missing out on an opportunity to adopt BS8901. What is causing this hesitation? Organisations that have successfully implemented the standard have created efficiencies and obtained leadership in sustainable event management, adding a unique selling point to their offer, and crucially have saved money.

There are three myths that seem to be causing the resistance against implementing sustainability at events: the impact on the event, the work involved and the cost.

Myth 1: Implementing sustainability has an impact on the look and style of an event
It doesn’t have to! You may want to highlight that you are acting in a sustainable way, in which case you may wish to visually demonstrate this. For example, having an all-cardboard exhibition stand. However, you can implement sustainability without changing the look of an event, but simply adding it to the planning processes.

Myth 2: Implementing sustainability is difficult
It needn’t be. All that’s required to implement sustainability is a little extra thought in the planning process. The way to overcome this challenge is to nominate a sustainability champion from within your team, and it becomes their responsibility to ensure sustainability is considered in each meeting and with every decision. 

Myth 3: Being more sustainable costs more money
This is highly unlikely. Some sustainable choices may be more expensive than the cheapest option. However, implementing sustainability is all about creating efficiencies so, if you measure all the cost savings that are made across the board, large savings are likely to be seen. This is often what people forget to do. One large company implemented BS8901 at its annual conference and saved nearly 20% of their budget just by considering sustainability and creating efficiencies in spending.

The opportunity is there for the taking! Large and small organisations are adopting sustainable practices, as they’ve realised there’s an advantage for them by doing so. You cannot only highlight your environmental credentials, you can make a positive impact on your community and your staff, as well as ensuring your budget is put to effective use.

So what’s stopping you? Surely the opportunity to save money must be the driver behind adopting sustainability, if nothing else, during this time of financial pressure.

Rebecca Saunders is the education coordinator at Positive Impact.

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