Key Point 5: Operation

Key Message

To successfully implement sustainability, it should be embedded in all of your operations.

What does operation mean?

It covers the processes that you have in place to manage the logistical implementation of sustainability.

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

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

The next section is operation, there are three parts to this section: Operational planning and control, dealing with modified activities, products and services and supply chain management. Within the event management industry, supply chain management is key so this is a part that may not be seen in other types of standards.

Operational planning and control: This is where you consider what processes you need to put in place to make sure that you reach the objectives and targets that you have set yourself. Now you don’t want to recreate every single process in your business, you should really be looking for the existing processes and how your new ways of working can align with those. Establishing criteria for when you create new processes is very important. You should also be documenting information when required. Having criteria about processes will help you to understand when you should be documenting information and when you should be creating new processes.

Also, remember to thing about any unintended actions which may be happening because of your objectives, targets and action plans. What can you do to correct these and what can you do to make sure that you always have continual improvement? This leads us on to dealing with modified activities, products and services. This is all about when a change takes place in the activities or products you may be using. How can you make sure that you are having the best overall solution for your situation? Remember to consider what your statement of purpose and values are and also what is written in your policy. It is often difficult to plan when dealing with modified products and services. So, one of the best things to do is to schedule regular time to review this.

Finally, supply chain management. This is about looking at your objectives, your targets, your action plan and thinking about how relevant these are for your suppliers.  Is there anything your supply chain needs to know? You may do a tender process, if so, are you putting the right information in your tenders so that your supply chain can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability as well as quality and cost effectiveness. If you don’t have a tender process, you should be thinking about how you can prove that you have considered sustainability within the way you have chosen your suppliers. So for example, have you asked them questions about their sustainability commitment, have you asked them to share policies or to report their measurements to you?


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 organization's operations. If these changes are encountered, objectives should be reviewed and amended as appropriate to take the changes into account.

Supply chain management

The organization should consider the relevant information (including event sustainability objectives) to be communicated to external organizations which provide products or services.This may include information within a tender process. 


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

Establishing processes

By now, you will be starting to realise that there are many aspects of ISO 20121 that you can consider at a number of stages in your sustainability journey. So we have already talked about communication, resources and having processes. In ISO 20121 there is a section called Operation, which is really about putting your planning into place – so how are you going to do the actions that allow you to implement sustainability?

The first step is to establish the processes that you need. Because it is a flexible management system, you don’t need to create brand new processes if you already have systems in place that do exactly what they need to do in order to achieve your objectives. Think about the processes that you already have. Do you need to change any of these now you have you event sustainability objectives?

Then, identify whether there are any new processes that need to be created in order to ensure that sustainability and your objectives are considered at every step of your event planning cycle

Documenting processes

From a logistical point of view, it makes sense to have a process document in case (for any reason) particular staff members are unable to attend work or fulfil their roles. Having a documented process in place means that others will be able to pick up on what needs to be done and take over a role that they are not familiar with.

Documenting your processes is also a useful source of historical information to review at the end of your year to see what worked and what didn’t – for example any unnecessary processes or inefficiencies thatcould be removed, or any processes from one department that worked well, and could therefore be replicated to other departments.

If you can see all of the processes that you have in place, then you may notice that there is a gap and therefore a new process will need to be created. The documentation also provides evidence of your compliance with the management system

Controlling outsourced processes

Internally, you might have clear documentation and a good level of understanding of your ways of working in relation to sustainability. How do you ensure that this is the case when you outsource areas of your event to suppliers or contractors

Dealing with modified products, activities and services

Linked to this, if something doesn’t go to plan – either in relation to an outsourced process, or an internal issue, then you need to have a method in place for how you react to these changes and ensure that it doesn’t prevent you from achieving your objectives.

You should also consider how you can prevent these problems from happening again – so how do you identify the cause and introduce a way to limit potential problems in the future? This may require the creation of a new process, or tighter controls over outsources products, for example.

Supply chain management

Your supply chain is one of your interested party groups. How do you make sure that sustainability is not just implemented internally, but how it can cascade through all of your interested parties? For example, if you have a particular sourcing policy, you may have a supplier that doesn’t currently meet your requirements. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop your relationship with your existing supplier, and move to a new “green” supplier, for example.

Part of your interested party engagement process can be talking to your supply chain to see if you can work together to implement sustainability. One example is a venue who wanted to reduce their waste. Originally, their supplier had provided food in polystyrene trays which were not recyclable. They did that because that was the way it had always been done.

The venue asked if they could change the packaging to make it easier to recycle, and when the supplier looked into options, they found that it would be more cost-effective to change the packaging, so the supplier was saving money and the venue was able to reduce their waste. By engaging with your supply chain you can make a real difference.

You should also consider how you manage sustainability within any tender processes. If you have processes relating to sourcing and your supply chain, how are these represented in your tender documents, and how is it considered in the selection process? This section is really about applying your objectives and thinking creatively about how you can engage others and share the benefits of sustainability. 


Case Study

Manchester United used a resource management programme tool to engage with suppliers and identify opportunities for minimising waste.

Manchester United WRAP Waste Reduction Case Study 

Supplier Engagement Guide

As part of their work with London 2012, Coca-Cola produced a sustainability guide for suppliers, which outlined their expectations and practical actions what suppliers could take. 

Coca-Cola Sustainability Guide for Suppliers


Activity 1

Identify the processes that you have within your organisation to prevent you from reaching your objectives, for example if somebody leaves or if you face an unexpected change.

 Include where and how these processes are documented. 

Activity 2

Identify the processes that you have within your organisation to ensure that your supply chain and any outsourced tasks align with your objectives (for example tendering documents which refer to sustainability). 

 Include where and how these processes are documented. 

Katy Carlisle