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April 4, 2008

Izania Downie: BS8901 - get involved before it's too late

So how many of you have actually read the full BS8901 document? And how many of you truly realise the implications for our industry should it get through in its current form? I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t read it, it does make a good cure for insomnia…however, duty calls so I did take the time to read it through, I even held a focus group with industry representatives last week to debate the issue. So let me share my thoughts with you…

First, it goes way beyond what it is designed to cover, which by the title suggests ‘sustainability in event management’. It delves into areas such as terms of employment, security issues, corporate governance, SWOT analysis on business objectives… the list goes on. Why muddy the waters with all these other issues when we could produce a simple set of guidelines that do what they say on the label?

Among other things, it suggests that in order to comply with the standard an events company should monitor and audit its suppliers to such a degree that, rather than delivering a client-focussed solution, we will now spend a huge amount of our time monitoring and ensuring that even more red tape is being adhered to, not only by ourselves and our staff, but by every company we deal with.

Impratical and unworkable
In its current state, this document is neither practical nor workable for the events industry. Now, don’t get me wrong here. It may be suitable for exhibitions or large consumer events, but I’m talking about the types of events that a huge majority of Eventia members produce. There are very different issues surrounding business events, such as corporate hospitality, conferences, seminars, incentive travel and product launches than for exhibitions, which is mostly what this document seems to cover.

Agencies are in business to deliver creative solutions and value to their clients through the use of events. Yes, sustainability, environmental consideration and all other areas of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are an increasingly important part of the decision making process, but so are delivering the results on time and on budget. If this standard goes through, suppliers could well become selected based on whether they meet sustainability targets rather than produce creative, value-led solutions. So how are events companies going to be able to focus on their delivery when they are being asked to spend so much time trying to tick even more boxes for the sake of it?

This is an opportunity for the industry to really pull together and create a document that reflects the need for us to operate in a more sustainable manner. By the way, the Oxford dictionary defines sustainable as, "avoiding the erosion and depletion of natural resources", so events by their very nature can never be fully sustainable, but then neither is living itself. All we can do is try to be more aware, responsible and considerate of the world around us in the solutions and options we offer our clients. Another definition more closely related to our industry suggests: "Sustainable development is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Complicated balancing act
Whatever definition you choose, one thing we can agree on is that getting it right is a complicated balancing act. Taking a sustainable approach is often not the easy route to an event, requiring much more creative thinking to come up with solutions that meet all the client’s objectives, including the all important bottom line target, and also deliver to their CSR policy.

We are in an industry of creativity, this is what we are supposed to be good at, coming up with new and unique solutions. This is one of the biggest issues that our clients are either already facing or will come up against in the near future. So my challenge to you is: are you going to stay ahead of the game and provide solutions and options for your clients? Will you gain the competitive edge and set yourself apart from the competition? Or will you hang back and ride on the coat-tails of the trailblazers of our industry?

There is no doubt that the spirit of BS8901 is universally supported, but many of our members are not keen to sign up to the Standard in its current form, because the administrative and supply chain control requirements are neither realistic nor viable for their business.

If you accept the challenge then pick up this document and have your say. Don’t let it just happen while you are standing by, take the initiative and get involved. If you actually care about what the future of your business will look like then help to shape it by getting around the table with the other industry leaders and let’s come up with a solution that is sustainable for our business.

Izania Downie is executive director of Eventia

To register your thoughts with the BSI go to www.bsi-global.com/bs8901
Closing date for comment is 30 June 2007

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