Is the event industry becoming more sustainable? Have international event standards played a part?

On Earth Day for the second year running #CSRShareDay filled the twittersphere (at one point we were 5th trending hashtag, right below #ObamaintheUK) and in 24 hours we reached 1.2 million people. Next week members of the event industry supply chain will gather in London to discuss a collaboration to create research for a sustainable event industry. The passion for talking about sustainability in the event industry is strong but what does this really mean?

It is now 4 years since ISO 20121 was created. An international standard that focuses on creating a culture for making decisions with the social, economic and environmental impacts in mind, this standard is relevant for anyone in the event industry supply chain, in any country in the world. If the event industry really wanted to demonstrate its understanding of the importance of sustainability then surely four years is enough time for everyone to implement a standard which creates a way of working that is globally recognised as sustainable?

It is over 4 years since the Global Reporting Initiative created an event organiser sector supplement with 13 indicators relevant for every event to report on. A reporting framework so every event reports on the same metrics therefore creating a global industry culture for measurement is an obvious step in creating a sustainable event industry isn’t it?

Unfortunately the implementation of ISO 20121 and reporting according to GRI EOSS is still woefully low. As a passionate advocate for a sustainable event industry I am constantly looking for the opportunities, gaps and collaborations required to change this status quo. By now pretty much every hotel, production company, destination or conference centre will have a statement about sustainability on their website, someone who is a champion for this area and some evidence of action such as solar paneling or waste reduction. Why has it taken over four years for the global event industry to use international frameworks for best practice though?

This month the focus within the Positive Impact team has been on international standards and that has given me the opportunity to pause and reflect on what 4 years of international standards for culture change and benchmarking has really meant for the event industry.

1- “Sustainability is still the topic to talk about”

The best practice sharing across CSR share day was inspirational. Over the last four years various governments have funded initiatives to enable local collaborations to create their own ‘sustainable event’ trademark/checklist/badge (delete as appropriate). Annual attendance of The Global Sustainable Events Summit grows. These are all signs that the industry is inspired by and wants to be in communication about this topic.

Thinking positively this could be driven by the fact that everyone wants to leave a positive legacy from their daily work. Thinking cynically it could be that people think its easier to talk about sustainability than take action to put into place international standards.

2- “It's still ok to have excuses”

The most common excuse is “My client isn’t asking for it” and then there is the classic combination of “I don’t have time/budget for sustainability”. Imagine someone saying they didn’t have budget for health, safety and security or that you weren’t following international best practice you were just deciding yourself what you wanted to do.

The damage we are doing daily to our planet is not as immediately impactful as an explosion from a hidden bomb, maybe this is why it’s still ok to have excuses for being in action. Implementing ISO 20121 and reporting according to GRI EOSS is a way to demonstrate you are taking sustainability as seriously as health, safety and security.

The most challenging excuse is “I need to know what the exact benefits to me will be before I decide to implement this”. With ten years of experience the main thing I have learnt is that it is impossible

3- “I’m not doing ISO 20121 or reporting according to GRI I’m doing.......”

For clarity any actions towards being sustainable are good actions. However we are a global industry and imagine how useful it would be if clients and suppliers could speak the same sustainability language.

Also (and I do wonder if this message isn’t communicated enough) ISO 20121 and GRI EOSS are best practice frameworks- most business’ in the world us ISO standards to create a culture for quality and GRI to report on what they are doing. The profile of what we do in the event industry would rise if we used the same approach that the industries that we plan events for area taking.

4-“Sustainability initiatives don’t get budgeted for”

Ah a world where business’ in the event industry understood that their budget for sustainability should match their budget for marketing or health, safety and security would be an amazing place!

Currently many event industry business’ miss opportunities to enhance their brand reputation, reduce their overheads and inspire staff because there isn’t a budget line for sustainability. My wish list for business spending would be to start with education (including how to implement international frameworks), then move to measurement (as until we start measuring and reporting we are just guessing at our impacts) and finally budget for storytelling because we can’t hear enough about the inspiring approaches being taken to create a sustainable event industry.

By the time the Olympics takes place in Tokyo in 2020 I hope its the norm for the event industry supply chain to be implementing ISO 20121 and reporting to GRI EOSS. This would enable events to move around the world knowing a best practice approach was in place, it would give our industry the chance to compare the impacts of our events, it would be a common language to speak about sustainability and it could raise the profile of the work our industry does and why we does it. That is the business case for implementing ISO 20121 and reporting according to the GRI EOSS framework.