Key Point 7: Improvement

Key Messages

Understanding the context of your organization is really important when implementing sustainability.

What does context mean?

It's all about the history of your business, the values, the vision, the way you work with your staff and your customers.

Watch a video from Fiona Pelham, ISO 20121 Chair, who explains in more detail what the context of your organization means.

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

The final part of ISO 20121 is improvement. This includes two sections: non conformity and corrective action and continual improvement. Remember that when you are reading the standard, although it is written in a linear way, you should be doing different parts of the standard at different times. So you may find that with non conformity and corrective action, and with continual improvement you are doing this regularly throughout the implementation of the standard.

So, what does non conformity and corrective action mean? Well, it’s about looking at things that aren’t working, taking reactions to make sure that you are putting in place changes to address those things that aren’t working. Evaluating what isn’t working and why it is not working, analysing those results, taking time to review and put in place new actions. Remember that these steps that you take should be appropriate to your size and scope of the management system standard that you are implementing. So you may experience a lot that doesn’t go to plan and you may have a scope which is quite small.

What are they key things that aren’t working, what could you address, what could you have done differently? It is also about making sure that you have regular intervals to identify things that aren’t working and you don’t leave it a whole twelve months with something that isn’t working and doesn’t go to plan but you address it as soon as possible. You should have a process in place for identifying who is responsible and who has the authority to deal with non conformities. Non conformities basically mean when things don’t go to plan.

Then finally there is continual improvement. Continual improvement is very important for ISO 20121. This is about making sure that in everything you do you are considering how you can constantly improve. Sustainability is an ongoing journey so continual improvement will always be one of your considerations. Remember to think about the suitability of your plans that you are going to put into place, the adequacy of them, the timescale that they may take, the resources that they may require. You can probably think of some very small steps that you can take to constantly improve and then maybe some larger ones which take more time and more resources to plan. You should also think about how effective you're being in terms of your constant improvement. 


Non-conformity and corrective action

A non-confomity is something that does not go as planned, meaning that the requirements of the organization are not met. Corrective action is the steps that are taken to remove the reason for the non-conformity and stop it from happening again. 

Continual improvement

Regular and recurring activities to enhance the organization's performance in relation to sustainability, the management system and its objectives. 


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

Identifying non-conformities

This part of ISO 20121 deals with anything which hasn’t gone to plan, and therefore could be a risk that you will not achieve your objectives. It also includes taking steps to address any aspects of the standard which are not being met (non-conformities). So what is stopping you from getting to where you want to go?

Evaluating the non-conformities

Depending on the seriousness of the non-conformity, you may need to take different actions. For this reason, you should also evaluate the non-conformity to see which are the most appropriate steps to take. For example, some non-conformities may require additional training, or external support, for example.

Addressing non-conformities

You could address non-conformities in a number or ways; through providing additional resources such as technology or infrastructure, creating a new or amended process, or by providing education. Essentially it is about getting you back on track so that you are working towards where you want to be. 

Continual improvement

This is a key aspect of ISO 20121. Sustainability isn’t something that you “get” and are then sustainable with no more action required. So how can you do this? You can do this through reviewing the objectives that you have set and creating new objectives. Try to create new objectives which are challenging, but achievable.

You can also identify areas where you could improve your sustainability communication, for example engaging more people on your sustainability journey. You can improve your ways of working, so by changing your processes to make them more efficient, and you may also wish to start setting aside additional budget, training and resources for sustainability initiatives. Do remember that you should not just consider new environmental initiatives, but to think about your economic and social impacts too.

Next steps

One of the next steps that you can take is to start reporting on your sustainability. You may already be doing this, either formally or informally, and one framework that you can use for support is the Global Reporting Initiative Event Organizers Sector Supplement (GRI EOSS). This free framework includes categories or “indicators” which are specific to the event industry, and there are three basic levels of reporting: A, B and C. To produce a C level report, you need to provide some background information about your organisation, and then share data from ten categories – so it is an accessible option as you will probably be measuring a number of those as part of your management system.

However, even if you don’t feel that you are able to produce a level C report at this stage, you can still begin to report with the GRI EOSS categories in mind, so it will be an easy transition to a full report, should you choose to pursue that option.

Linked to this, you can consider the best ways in which to share your learnings and best practice, and to leave a positive legacy. You can share what went well, but also your challenges – this will demonstrate your transparency and also help others who may be facing similar challenges.

Another option that you may wish to consider is certification. There are three options available:

Self certification

This is where you claim compliance yourself to the standard – you should still have the evidence to back up your claims as your interested parties may ask how you demonstrate your compliance.

Second party certification

This is an area which is currently developing, and will involve an interested party certifying your management system. This is likely to be more cost-effective than third party certification, and has the benefits of a) more objectivity and therefore credibility and b) the people carrying out the certification will be from the event industry (e.g. from an association) and therefore understand how the management system and the standard applies in the real world.

Third party certification

This is where an external person who is trained in standards and certification will assess your management system for compliance with the requirements of the standard. They will not necessarily be event industry experts, but they will have expertise in the standard itself, and will be able to provide a recognised “stamp” of approval.


Fiona Pelham talks about improvement from the Olympic Park.

Sustainable Development Repor

The IOC's publication, entitled "Sustainability through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement's Agenda 21", contains a summary of progress made over the last 20 years in the area of sustainable development, including environmental protection, education and socio-economic development.

Sustainability Through Sport


Activity 1

Identify how you currently review changes or problems that could affect you acheiving your objectives. For example, what happens when things don't go as planned?

Activity 2

Identify the opportunities for you to continually improve your ways of working around sustainability.

Activity 3

Identify how you will make sure that you are continually improving (for example regular training). 

Katy Carlisle