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April 16, 2008

BS8901 ON TRIAL:Investing for the future

Feedback from the event industry as a whole seems to have suggested that the standard contains too much red tape and unnecessary detail. This was not the case for us. As this was a process which we see ourselves being involved in for many events in the future, we felt the priority was to create templates and systems which we could easily apply to any event. Once we had these systems in place the actual process of implementing the standard was much more straightforward.


Paper view: The forest of Guardian newspapers
at the Innocent Village Fete


We set three key performance indicators for the sustainability of this particular event, these were:
sustainable materials used;
sustainable activities organised;
numbers of visitors and participants.

Sustainable supplies

The events delivered in all three categories. We were able to use an array of sustainable materials in this event including biodegradable plates and cutlery, eco-friendly picnic bags, organic oranges and locally sourced food and hay bales which were later donated to a local city farm. We also organised a number of activities with a sustainable theme, including a paper tree forest made from old copies of the Guardian.

We were inundated with visitors – the event sold out by lunchtime on both days and anecdotal evidence suggests that our areas were amongst the most popular on the site. This enabled us to enhance the Guardian and Observer brands by associating them with a truly sustainable event.

All in all, this was a great event for us: very high profile; very visual; and very successful. We will use this event as part of our portfolio and considering this was the first summer we had run outdoor events we were very pleased to have had such a success. For our client, we delivered a successful event that they were very impressed with. For visitors to the site we delivered some really fun activities that appealed to a broad range of ages and abilities.

What red tape?

Our experience of working with BS8901 was not one of getting bogged down in red tape – we actually enjoyed implementing the standard, and assuming our trial of BS8901 is successful we look forward to steering many other events through the accreditation process. At present, the standard does seem rather vague when you start using it – while I understand that this is a necessary consequence of having the standard applied to the widest number of uses, it might be that having more “example” implementations might encourage other agencies to start using it. This should be easier once the trials have been completed. However, we were fully supported by the British Standards team throughout.

Having said that BS8901 is not an easy ride, the standard 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 this is a good thing, and for a company like ourselves that is keen to integrate sustainability into our routine practices it is a necessary part of our development.

I found the process fascinating, not only in terms of the testing process for the standard but also because it forced us to articulate and externalise some of the practice we have up to now been doing without thinking about – such as sourcing eco-friendly materials, recycling waste, etc. I would encourage the event industry as a whole to embrace sustainability and to see BS8901 as a step forward. Clients increasingly demand events which 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.

Andrew Williams is director of Seventeen Events

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