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April 16, 2008

BS8901 ON TRIAL:Practice makes perfect

The event industry as a whole has historically been very wasteful, with the attitude that “the client gets what the client wants” with cost and sustainability not an issue. The start of the 21st century has seen a growing realisation that this kind of attitude can no longer be acceptable, and it is the clients themselves who are now demanding higher levels of sustainability. Unfortunately, the event industry on the whole has been slow to react to this, with few agencies wholeheartedly embracing the demands of this new business era.

For Seventeen, the key sustainability issue we face is in our supply chain. We have to ensure that all suppliers we use are at the very least supporting our environmental policies, even if they are not implementing their own best practices. As sustainability grows as an issue in the UK there are more and more suppliers around who share our ethical credentials. We support these suppliers and are always looking for new and innovative ways of creating events with style, substance and sustainability.



Sustainability in practice: Seventeen's work
with Guardian Media Group at Innocent Village Fete 

Benchmarking progress
We decided to trial BS 8901 because we pride ourselves on our environmental and ethical approach. It is at the core of our business, not an optional extra or a “pick & choose” bolt on, and standards like BS8901 allow us to benchmark our progress with an independent body. As the environment and climate change become business drivers there will inevitably be those less scrupulous operators who attempt to cloak themselves in green spin while avoiding any changes to their actual policies. BS8901 allows us to create a clear distinction between agencies like ourselves who have ethical principles at their core and others for whom this is just another business fad.  

Our approach to BS8901 implementation fell broadly into three phases:

Phase 1 – PLANNING - During this phase, we tried to identify all stakeholders and amass as much information as possible about the supply chain for the event, with reference to the sustainability of each supplier. We have produced a Statement of Purpose and a Sustainable Development Policy specific to this event. These documents are produced from templates to allow us to implement the Standard at even the smallest event, easily and quickly, but are unique and bespoke to each project.

Phase 2 – THE EVENT – During the actual event we monitored all suppliers to ensure that pledges made by them regarding their sustainability were met, and to observe any other issues with a sustainable impact to learn for future events. The standard is clear that there is no such thing as a “one-off” event – there is always an opportunity to learn new techniques and adapt best practice to increase levels of sustainability.

Phase 3 – POST-EVENT ANALYSIS - After the event we used information gathered while the event was live to tweak any aspects of the assessment which had changed in implementation. This would include recommendations to clients for future events.
Justifying each step
While the implementation process for BS8901 did not fundamentally change our approach to sustainability, it did allow us to articulate our working methods and show the processes we would use to benchmark progress in sustainability in any chosen event. It was a fascinating process that challenged us to justify each step of our implementation of the event to show how sustainability had been incorporated as a factor. It was exciting to be involved in the trial of something so new and untested. The events we were running for the Guardian were relatively small and we were keen to show that the standard is not just for really big events or prohibitive to smaller agencies due to perceived red tape.

Andrew Williams is director of Seventeen Events

Next week: BS8901 ON TRIAL: Investing for the future


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