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April 16, 2008

The events industry now has a sustainable standard

After months of consultation and trialling, yesterday marked the launch of the first sector-specific sustainable standard in the UK – and it was for the events industry, historically one of the most wasteful.

Not only has the events industry led the marketing sector in devising a credible way to get its sustainable house in order, but also the UK business community as a whole.

To some this standard comes as a threat. Perhaps they envisage imposing assessors hammering on their doors. But that will only happen when the industry invites them in because there are enough companies complying with BS 8901 creating a demand for independent accreditation. Initially, however it’s about self-certification, which in itself is something to promote. It’s about working towards a consistent standard. And BS 8901 is just that.

We have lift off…
The launch event, held appropriately at the Brewery in London – which is part of the EC&O Venues portfolio, one of the BS 8901 triallists – was certainly very well attended, showing the level of interest in the industry that created the drive for the standard in the first place.

The chairman of the BS 8900 standard family, Professor David Jackman, introduced proceedings, which comprised a series of presentations ranging from the thoughts behind the standard to more practical applications from those around the industry who had been involved in the trials.

“We have worked hard to make sustainability acceptable to those who are not familiar with it, by stressing the business benefits,” said Jackman, “and by translating theory into practice. With BS 8901, we aim to change the philosophy of standard writing, looking at the outcome rather than the process, by concentrating on effects and impacts. We’re concerned with principles and ethics, and not just green ones, but social and economic too. We also aim to look for mechanisms to resolve issues, tensions and dilemmas in these areas. The standard will promote cultural change, while being flexible enough to accommodate a changing business landscape.”

The 2012 blueprint

Inspiration for BS 8901 came from the London Olympic bid. “I was keen for London to gain the sustainable initiative,” said David Stubbs, head of environment and sustainable development on the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, who presented after Jackman. The 2012 Olympics will be the first sustainable games, and the approach – building in sustainability from the planning stage, involving stakeholders and letting it permeate all areas, including procurement and human resources – has acted as a blueprint for BS 8901.

After the next speaker Mike Low, director of standards for the BSI, had guided the audience through the consultation process and explained those organisations that had trialled the standard – the Manchester International Festival (MIF) and Live Nation; EC&O Venues and Lords cricket ground; plus Seventeen Events and Reed Carpets – it was time for a selection of the triallists to share their experiences.

Working for events
First up was the MIF in the form of the event’s head of creative learning, Dr Jennifer Clary, and Fiona Pelham, director of Organise This, who acted as sustainable consultant. This was the first such event in the city, attracting 200,000 visitors and employing 286 volunteers. Through 50 events across more than 20 venues, its aim was to address key issues (such as sustainability), engage the local community and set some world firsts, making BS 8901 very much ‘on brand’. Although the MIF only had two months to apply the standard, its team has shown its effectiveness and set a precedent for other events to follow.

The strategy included elements that would be relevant to most other events, such as looking at environmental impact, educating those involved about sustainability, getting stakeholders and sponsors on board and engaging with the community – which is particularly important for large events that have an impact on their local area.

Key to the sustainable success of the event was high-level support, expert advice (from Pelham) and creating a sustainable champion with the time and resources to oversee the process (Clary).

Effective evaluation after the event was also important. This was carried out by an independent certifier who looked at pre-event planning, on-site delivery and post-event review.

The venue angle
EC&O venues also trialled the standard, and the company’s sustainability advisor Emma Wellman reported on the project. “We faced a number of challenges,” she said. “All our venues are old and some listed, which means they are full of character, but more difficult to manage from a sustainability perspective. What’s more, we entertain three million visitors a year, who bring in £1.25 billion to London.

“We feel that by following BS 8901 recommendations we will encourage our suppliers to follow suit and create a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” continued Wellman. “However, from our perspective, we couldn’t run the standard for each event we hold, as there are simply too many throughout the year, so instead we will apply it annually.”

The aim is for EC&O to integrate BS 8901 into all its event procedures from the moment a client books, when the venue group’s sustainable policy will be sent out with the initial marketing pack, to communicating the compliance with the standard to organisers.

The three key areas for EC&O are energy use, waste management and a staff awareness programme, to make sure employees understand the importance of sustainability and generate ideas. These have led to early initiatives such as switching power off in venues 30 minutes after every show, refurbishing facilities in a sustainable way (such as using low-energy hand dryers), sourcing catering as locally as possible, and using recycled mugs and pens as giveaways.

Suppliers gain an edge

Malcolm Hickin of Reed Carpets then gave a supplier perspective. His company has developed the first recyclable event carpets – one area of events that was an environmental disaster waiting to happen with 12 million square metres of non-biodegradable carpet going into landfill every year.

Reed’s evo range can now be recycled into plastic pellets which can be used for making a number of products, which themselves are recyclable. And it’s certainly given Reed an edge in the marketplace, with 60% of its sales now coming from the evo range, and recyclable carpet business up 25% year on year. Hickin also pointed out that suppliers with general sustainable policies in place would prove more and more attractive to organisers.

“It’s simple,” said Hickin. “If contractors can’t be bothered to commit to sustainability they’ll miss out.”

Sustainability is the future for all businesses, and companies involved in the events industry should take advantage of being the first sector to have a clear standard of sustainability to work towards.

If you have any questions about BS 8901, email your queries to [email protected] and we'll pass them on to BSI, publishing the best answers in a special feature.

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