Key Point 3: Planning

Key Message

The planning stage of ISO 20121 is where you identify risks and opportunities, and set targets and objectives in relation to these. 

What does planning mean?

This section pulls together the work that you have done so far by focusing on your issues and your interested parties (these relate to your context) and who is responsible for ensuring your objectives are achieved (this relates to your leadership).

Watch a video from Fiona Pelham, ISO 20121 Chair, who explains in more detail what topic means.

Note: you can also read a transcript of her video below. 

So we are now on to the planning stage of ISO 20121. Again, remember you don’t need to do them in the order that is written. You will be doing different parts of the standard at the same time. Within planning there are two main areas: firstly actions to address risks and opportunities and secondly event sustainability objectives and how to achieve them.

First of all, actions to address risks and opportunities, what is this section about? Remember how we spoke about the context of the organisation and understanding what was happening inside and outside the organisation and how that could affect you? Well, risks and opportunities is about thinking of that context in terms of risks or opportunities. So what is a danger to you? And what is something that could make you more money, or build your reputation or please your staff?

Think also of the issues which came up when you spoke to your interested parties. Your shareholders, your supply chain, your clients, your event attendees, of the issues that they shared, what was a risk and what was an opportunity? Think of what you can do to make sure that any outcomes that happen are positive ones and not negative effects and also how you can deal with these risks and opportunities so that you can have continual improvement.

Make sure you plan how to address any risks and opportunities in a way which means within the organisation everybody knows what they need to do. So you are addressing risks and opportunities, you may be changing your way of working to do so and also evaluating how effective that change is in your way of working to see how effective your way of working is.

Now, obviously to address your issues you need to take some time to evaluate your issues. To evaluate your issues you need to take time to identify them.  So again, go back to your interested party engagement and your context of your organisation exercises when you looked at what was going on inside and outside your organisation.

What issues have you identified? Within the standard there are some great examples of economic, environmental and social issues that you should consider. Think as well of the control and influence you have over the issues. If you have full control over an issue this is a great issue for you to be able to address because you will be able to make a difference. If you have strong influence over an issue you should also look to address this, however do be aware there will be some issues that you can’t control and can’t influence so even if you set strong objectives and targets you will struggle to achieve them. So it is better to start with the issues that you can control or have a strong influence over.

Remember as well any legal issues or legal requirements that you need to consider or maybe even any applicable requirements you need to consider. Make sure you have a procedure in place to identify what these requirements could be. Also it is important when you are working around the world in events to understand that you should be aspiring to best international legal practice. So that’s actions to address risks and opportunities.

Next, it’s about event sustainability objectives and how to achieve them. Now you know your issues you need to set objectives. Within the standard it gives you a list of things you should consider when setting your objectives. So, for example making sure that they are measurable, that they are consistent with the policy, making sure you communicate these objectives and making sure that these objectives are set on best legal, international best practice. This all makes sense because if your objectives align with your issues and if your objectives are clearly communicated within your policy you will have the same message happening throughout the company and going outside beyond your company going through your supply chain and to your clients.

The next part of looking at event sustainability objectives and how to achieve them is really about creating a plan. So, what do you need to do? Who needs to do it? What resources do they need to be able to do it? When will they complete this? How will you measure this? How will you evaluate the results? All of these elements to the plan will help you know if you are working towards your objectives in the best way that you can be.

So, by having a plan where you regularly review your objectives you will be able to understand how you are working on your sustainability journey and you will be able to make changes if you need to and document those changes within your plan.


Explanations of the terms used in this section of ISO 20121.

Issue identification and evaluation

Issues are potential areas of impact, and anything that could affect your organisation successfully achieving its objectives.

Interested parties

Interested parties are individuals or groups that could affect, or be affected by, your organisation's actions. They can include staff, suppliers, local government, clients, sponsors - anybody who has an interest or say in how your events are run. 

Legal and other requirements

Legal requirements may include pieces of legislation, permits or other forms of authorization, and planning conditions or other orders issued by regulatory agencies. Other requirements can include voluntary agreements, public commitments, company requirements or other non-legally binding obligations. 

Event sustainability objectives

Specific strategic, tactical or operational results to be achieved which are set by the organisation and are consistent with the event sustainability policy. They can also be referred to as goals, targets, aims, or intended outcomes

Operational planning and control

The formal processes around event sustainability ways of working, which are created, implemented and documented. These processes include emergency situations and contingency for staff absence.

Modified services, products and activities

Changes that could have an impact on your organisation's operations. If these changes are encountered, objectives should be reviewed and amended as appropriate to take the changes into account. 



This presentation explains the areas relating to planning in more detail. You can read a summary of the presentation below. 

Identification and Engagement of Interested Parties

The key message here is who should you be talking and listening to?

The concepts to understand is that your interested parties and stakeholders are important because they contribute to your business. For example, the members of your supply chain help you create the product or service you deliver. Your sponsors support the work you do and your event attendees are key in creating the product that you do. It is important to have a process to find out who your stakeholders and interested parties are. If you have a process you will have a consistent approach, this means it will be the same year on year or event for event.  Once you know who your interested parties and stakeholders are you can start to talk to them and listen to them.

What should you talk to them about? Remember to talk to them about the issues that you have identified as being relevant for your situation. Talk to them about significant issues, ones that you know to be of relevance because they will have a big impact and because you know you can do something about them, but also talk to them about issues which are emerging. For example, maybe there have been economic changes in your area and there is a new issue that has come up. Maybe there is a new social trend which is an issue for you. Use your group of interested parties and stakeholders for their advice and their opinion on how to deal with these issues. Remember to document what you’ve said to them and what they’ve said to you because this will help you with your decision making process. You will also have evidence to show why you chose to deal with certain issues.

Some examples of stakeholders and interested parties that should be engaged are: event organisers, workforce (including volunteers), members of your supply chain, participants and attendees at your event. Participants refer to those who may be involved in your event, for example; speakers, athletes, performers and entertainers. Attendees refer to those people attending the event. Regulatory bodies, for example, local legal requirements you may need to meet or local councils you may be working with and then the wider community – those who may be affected both positively and negatively from your event.

Examples of ways to engage your interested parties and stakeholders:

  • You could send a staff survey out or a supply chain questionnaire
  • You could create an annual report and email this to all your key stakeholders and interested parties
  • You may have a stakeholder day where you invite people along to give their input on what you have been doing over the last 12 months.
  • Have a generic email address which you can use on any sustainability communications so that people know that they can give their input at any time.

Remember that the more ways you can engage with your stakeholders and the more ways that they can engage with you, the more valuable information you will collect.

Legal and other requirements

What does ISO 20121 ask you to do?

  1. Have a procedure for identifying existing and new legal and other requirements relevant to the organisation
  2. Have a procedure for keeping this information up to date
  3. Make sure that all the requirements are actually implemented
  4. Aim for international best practice in countries where the law doesn’t cover basic environmental, social or economic safeguards (as long as this doesn’t go against the country’s national law)

Legal requirements may include pieces of legislation, permits or other forms of authorization, and planning conditions or other orders issued by regulatory agencies.

These may include current and emerging:

a) national legal requirements

b) state/provincial/departmental legal requirements

c) local governmental legal requirements

Other requirements could include:

  • Agreements with public authorities
  • Agreements with customers
  • Non-regulatory guidelines
  • Voluntary principles or codes of practice
  • Voluntary environmental labelling or product stewardship commitments
  • Requirements of trade associations
  • Agreements with community groups or non-governmental organisations
  • Public commitments of the organisation or its parent organisation;
  • Corporate/company requirements
  • International conventions, treaties, and accords, e.g. international agreements promoted by organisations such as the United Nations or the International Labour Organization

Do you have to start from scratch?

If you are updating from BS 8901. or your company has implemented other standards (for example ISO 14001) you may have already gone through this process to a certain degree. However, the requirements for these other standards may differ, so you should not assume that everything has been covered already.

You may already have a legal procedure or way of dealing with other requirements, but it may not be clearly defined and documented. The information may also be held in multiple places, so you will need to establish where the details are located and how the relevant people are kept up to date about their obligations.

Several sources can be used to help identify and maintain up to date information about applicable legal and other requirements.

These include:

  • Government websites
  • Industry associations or trade groups
  • Commercial databases and publications (e.g. ENDS Report, Pollution Control Handbook, Tolley’s Health and Safety at Work Handbook)
  • Professional advisors and services

Membership of a trade or professional association may also provide you with updates and educational opportunities related to legal requirements.

What practical steps can you take to ensure that we are compliant with the “Legal and Other Requirements” section of ISO 20121?

  • Speak to other departments in your organisation as they may have already done this work (identify the process in place)
  • Sign up to updates from official websites that list regulations
  • Visit your country’s website that covers health and safety requirements  
  • Create a handbook or guidance document which can be given to staff and clients (ensure this is kept up to date)
  • Look for existing lists that relate to your area of the event industry
  • Work with a law firm to create a document summarising your obligations and ensure that you are notified of any updates
  • Attend events which provide updates and information on legal requirements e.g. health and safety

You do not need to list all your legal and other requirements in your management system, but you should be able to demonstrate the procedures that you have in place to identify these requirements, keep them up to date, and make sure that they are implemented.

Event sustainability objectives and how to achieve them

How do you decide what your objectives should be? Many people find this a very challenging point. How do you know what are the best things you could be doing to improve your economic, social and environmental situation. The reality is that everyone’s situation is different. This challenge means that you can’t have a check list which tells you what to do; instead you must identify your own issues.

Imagine every venue in the work was given that same check list on what to do to address economic, social and environmental impacts. This check list may make a lot of sense in the UK or in France, but it is likely the issues this check list would address might not be so relevant in Canada, South Africa, or Australia.

Knowing that everyone has different issues to address is a very important understanding to have. This will give you the confidence to identify your own issues. There are a few things you can do to start to identify what your issues may be. For example read best practice Industry case studies to learn what issues others have addressed and why they have decided to address them.

Remember that these issues will vary country by county, business type by business type and even size of organisation will affect the issues that people choose to address. It is also worth reading the indicators within the Global Reporting Initiative Event Organizers Sector Supplement (GRI EOSS) and asking yourself if you could report on these; do these indicators give you ideas on what could be your issues? Don’t forget to think about economic, social and environmental issues.

Many people spend a lot of time dealing with their environmental issues, for example their waste impacts or their water usage, but economic issues are just as important. You could have the best company with the best environmental initiatives in the world but if their economic balance was not correct and they didn’t have income to keep the business going it would not be a success.

Remember also your legal responsibilities and other responsibilities that may affect your issues, for example health and safety requirements. ISO 20121 provides a process for identifying your issues which makes business sense, so you may want to read the standard in detail and follow this process.

How can you decide your issues?

This process will be unique to you but it may make sense to consider the following

1.            Firstly have an internal team brainstorm, make sure you have different members of the business from different locations who could represent areas of the business that you are not familiar with. During this brainstorming activity you can make sure you get input from all around the business.

2.            Secondly once this activity has happened you can list all the issues that are suggested and then you can rank them in order of which have the most negative economic, social or environmental impacts.

3.            Thirdly once you have ranked your issues, review the rank list and identify those which you have control over. For example a common, great issue which the event industry addresses is carbon emissions from travel. Although this often comes up as one of the key issues in relation to events, it is also one of the main issues which an event organiser or event venue has little control over. For example if you need to do an International exhibition, people will need to travel to the event and one of the only methods of travel will be by flying. It may be that you have some control over how people get from the airport to the venue but you may find that although carbon emissions is a large, negative impact there is little that you can do that’s in your control.

4.            Fourthly now that you have listed you issues and ranked them in order of negative impacts and those that you control, ask your stakeholders for their input. Remember your stakeholders are any interested parties for example staff or your supply chain.

Why should you ask your stakeholders for their input?

This is good evidence for you to be showing leadership in terms of understanding that you need to address all issues, not just choosing the issues that are convenient for you to address. You will also find that by engaging with your stakeholders through emails, meetings, or website feedback that this engagement will provide a better benefit for your stakeholders; they may give you suggestions for solving these issues.

Following this process will give you an idea of what you key issues are, your key negative economic, social and environmental impacts and those you can influence.

Your next step is objectives, which you can set to address these issues. Remember in your early years your objectives could be around measurement and education because you might not know too much about the detail of your issues and you may need to measure more to understand more.

Try not to get too carried away with setting lots objectives and ensure that your objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and targeted.           

Actions to address risks and opportunities

Now consider what risks and opportunities you may need to address so that you:

1. Ensure your way of working achieves the outcomes you want (e.g. is there a risk/opportunity in getting top management buy in?)

2. Preventing or reducing undesired effects (e.g. could employees become confused if they need to learn everything about ISO 20121- is there an opportunity to communicate only the items relevant?)

3. Achieve continual improvement (e.g. is there a risk that you may choose to address an objective which is easy and could be addressed within a month and provide no space for continual improvement?)

Within the issues identified as important, identify the risks and opportunities. Highlight the issue with what the risk could be and a potential solution, and a post-it note next to the issue with what the opportunities could be and what needs to happen to generate the opportunity.

You should also consider:

  • How you how will you implement these actions into your way of working (you may need to review your SWOT analysis at regular intervals to be sure that you are taking actions to address these risks/opportunities within your way of working)
  • How you will evaluate the effectiveness of the actions you are taking to address your risks and opportunities (this is important because it is no good repeating an action which is making no difference!)

Operational planning and control, dealing changes

At the planning stage, you should consider how you will formalise the processes for your operations, how you will document them, and also what will happen if things don’t go entirely to plan. For example, what would happen if one or more staff members left suddenly? How would someone know what to do?

You should also have contingency plans for emergency situations in place. 


Here you can find case studies and resource links to help you on your sustainability journey. 

Case Study

This case study highlights the relevance for ISO 20121 for sponsors of international sporting events.

Coca-Cola Great Britain Certified to ISO 20121

"How To..." Guide

This Positive Impact guide provides an overview of the steps that you need to take to comply with the "Legal and Other Requirements" section of ISO 20121. 

Guide to Understanding Legal and Other Requirements


Practical activities that you can do in relation to this section of ISO 20121.

For all of the activities below, you will probably find them easier to do with input from other members of your organisation. 

Activity 1

Assess the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities that relate to your organisation.

Activity 2

Consider the other external factors that could affect your organisation's ability to achieve its aims. These could include political, economic, social, technical, legal and environmental issues. 

Activity 3

 Identify your top five areas of focus based on your control and influence.

For the issues that you identify, consider the risks and opportunities associated with them. 

Activity 4

List the processes that you have to ensure you comply with all legal and other requirements. 

Activity 5

You started to think about your interested parties in your Key Point 1 assigment, and now you can provide more details about who they are and how you engage with them. 

Activity 6

Set clear targets that you can aim for to address the issues that you identified. 

Katy Carlisle