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April 5, 2008

BS8901: What will the new sustainable events standard achieve?

With the BS8901 Sustainable Events Management system (www.bsi-global.com/bs8901) due to close to public comment on the 30 June, what sort of things will the industry be saying about it?

“The EIA and Arup won the contract to manage the draft proposal so, of course, we are 100% behind it,” says Chris Skeith, EIA project director. “We’ve been promoting it to key stakeholders, and talking to the BSI [the British Standards Institute] about trialling. Currently there are around half a dozen companies who have agreed to be in the trialling process.



BS8901: open to public comment until 30 June 2007


“Morally and ethically this is a good thing to push. Obviously for some events there is always going to be a massive environmental impact, flying delegates in from around the world, but essentially this standard is about getting people to change their attitudes, and think beyond reducing their carbon footprint. It’s also about more than exhibitions, this is about everything from the Olympics to your favoured AV supplier.”

Bringing consistency

Rory Sloan, production director of experiential agency RPM, is upbeat about the new standard. “This is definitely something we will work to," he says. "Nothing in the standard is revolutionary and, arguably, we have been working in the spirit of it for some time. The biggest change will be more clearly documenting it. We work for a number of different clients and I would be surprised if this is not something that all of them take very seriously. We are already working within the guidelines of our clients’ individual CSR policies, and BS8901 will just make this more consistent across them all.”

This uniform approach is something that Mike Bell of live event production services company Clever Works – which has volunteered to take part in the trialling process – feels will really help the industry. “BS8901 provides this industry not just with a management system for sustainable activity, but also a standard that will help us provide an integrated business response to any brief.”

BSI identifies supply chain management as critical to rolling out a sustainable event, but also identifies the communication of such ideas to event stakeholders, who then should be aware that the general public will soon be demanding such activity as a norm. “BS8901 will not take any prisoners. It even guides the event organiser towards cancelling the project if that is the most sustainable solution,” continues Bell. “Where would that leave most of our resources-indulgent live work over the past 30 years?”

Hard work

However, the identification of issues, using them to 'establish sustainability objectives', putting procedures in place and then 'monitoring the outcomes' can all start to seem a lot of hard work. “Some of the event managers I have produced shows alongside in the past will just toss this in the bin,” says Bell. “Others, whom we work with now, will embrace the process-driven response. It’s tough working to a standard, but it's tougher having no standards to work to!”

This is echoed by what John Sanders, event director of Exposure Event Creations, has to say: “We're busy and if it takes too much extra time we'll throw it away, so I think BSI can’t rush the trialling period. Having said that, we are always looking for ways to increase the sustainability of our events – and this takes up an inordinate amount of our time – if BS8901 can help do this then we'll certainly give it a go! Our biggest problem is trying to work out how and where you can make changes that have a positive effect. To have a route map to guide us though this process will save us time and help us make better decisions.”


Sloan: clients will have to make choices either based
on historical events or proposed processes


The BSI believes that compliance to BS8901 will give companies a competitive edge, but Sloan believes this is debateable. “In this day and age of rostered agencies and procurement departments, it will not come down to an advantage as everyone who wants to work for a client will have to show they are working towards compliance with BS8901," he says. "The interesting thing will be that you cannot demonstrate complete compliance prior to an event as a big part of it is feeding forward the learning process, which can't happen until after an event. This will mean clients will have to make choices either based on historical events or proposed processes.”

However, Ian Irving, sales and marketing director for brand experience agency Sledge, believes it should be about driving change. “I think many will believe that it will put companies in a better position from a new business perspective, especially with environmental and CSR issues being so high on the agenda of brands today, but the most important thing is that the initiative drives change in both attitude and action," he says. "This is going to be a long and arduous road to travel in order to ensure that we, as an industry, are not just paying lip service to the environmental issue.”

Hitting the supply chain

Bell believes it’s likely to be the supply chain that will be hit hardest by the new standard. “More and more we are being asked to come up with solutions that are 'green' from the client end," he says, "while the suppliers continue to joke about the 'green brigade', and making a quick buck. If we do all adopt these practices, the reality is that the supply chain will have to do some serious re-thinking about their business models.”

But at the end of the day, will it work? “It won't work by itself. BS8901 is about us working at it,” says Bell. “We are currently beating our heads against a brick wall when it comes to supply-chain/stakeholder shifts in attitude. BS8901 will help that brick wall crumble.”

As for when the standard is likely to be officially launched, Skeith says it is slated for the latter part of the year. “Once we’ve got all the responses in, we’ll have to collate them and the reconvene the working committee to take in any changes. It would be unfair to put an exact date on it now.”

The only real worry is that maybe this standard is being rushed through in time for the Olympics, but the reality is that, if implemented correctly, it will have a huge impact on the way we do events. If you haven’t had your say, do so now. We should all be shaping this industry for the future.

What do you think about the proposals? How do you think it will affect the industry? Let us know.

To register your thoughts with the BSI go to www.bsi-global.com/bs8901

Over the next few weeks, look out for EVENTS:review's video interview with Neil Kirkpatrick of Arup, who was instrumental in developing BS8901 with the EIA and BSI.

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