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Show organisers rely on quality suppliers and, with environmental issues coming to the fore, they are starting to examine their green credentials as ‘sustainable eventing’ takes off. By Ian Whiteling.

The buzzword in marketing at the moment may be “experiential”, placing a greater focus on live marketing and events, but every live experience relies on its suppliers. They may not be as high profile as corporates or organisers, but they are an essential component of a successful event, and even the biggest agencies acknowledge their importance – from lighting, sound and audio visual equipment suppliers, to construction, cleaning and waste management, and catering.

“We have a specific roster of preferred suppliers that we use for events and this gives us a certain level of service that enables us to deliver high-quality events,” says Chris Richards, technical director at global events agency Jack Morton Worldwide. “We generally select suppliers on suitability for a project and during this process we try to achieve the best possible value and quality for our clients.”

value not costDespite this quest for value, unlike many industries, the criteria for supplier selection is not simply judged by cost.

“Price and delivery are not really issues,” reveals Andi Swain, managing director at Evolution Partners. “Creativity is a big factor because we are looking for services and ideas that we can pass onto our customer to make their event more spectacular or more cost-effective.”

Grass Roots director of event services Mark Taylor agrees, adding that reputation and reliability are also vital. “We seek to build long-term partnerships with key suppliers,” he says. “Chop and change is a recipe for disaster. Above all, the delivery of an event needs seamless interaction between all parties involved.”

Meanwhile, for Duncan Beale, managing director of Line Up, supplier selection comes down to trust. “This is the single most important factor,” he says. “Saving an extra few pounds can come back to haunt you on the day. You only get one shot at a live event – you can’t go back and do it again.”

Interestingly, most events agencies interviewed did not cite green issues as a major supplier selection factor, with the exception of Out of the Blue and Jack Morton. “Sustainable eventing is very high on our priority list,” explains Out of the Blue head of partnerships Colin Hampden. “It is an important part of our business offering, and an area in which we are fast becoming experts. It is a complex subject and one that necessitates the buy in and enthusiasm of all our partners, particularly our suppliers. It is not easy to produce sustainable events and often there are considerable time and cost implications.”

Jack Morton also carefully assesses its suppliers’ green credentials. “We look at the type of materials they use, what kind of recycling processes they have and if they follow the three Rs principle of reduce, recycle, reuse,” says Richards. “For instance, does the sound company recycle its batteries rather than throw them away? We also look at what measures suppliers have in place with respect to sustainable processes and the reduction of carbon emissions.”

high-profile causeBut, ultimately, for many companies, it comes down to what the market wants. For example, Taylor points out: “The subject of carbon emissions is extremely highprofile in the media at the moment, but we have yet to see this translate into a significant demand from clients for carbon neutral events.”

However, with more agencies offering sustainable events as an option, increasing pressure will be placed on suppliers to conform. Last month, for example, Paragon Live Event Production launched a new service called OnePlanet, aimed squarely at the growing green market.

Some of the many options include sourcing venues and suppliers with proven eco-credentials, ideas for alternative methods of travel and CO2 offsetting, increasing energy efficiency and waste reduction, and the use of reusable and recyclable materials in stage and set design, build and theme. “A totally green event may be the ideal,” says Paragon managing director Jacqui Loftus. “but we realise that many clients will simply want to take a first step and choose from a range of recommendations. They can opt for one, some, or all.”

Suppliers, too, have spotted a shift in client thinking. “I have noticed a change in the events briefs we have been getting over the past two years. They are becoming far more concerned about being environmentally friendly,” says Carly Mitchell, marketing director at event caterer Tapenade.

The company recently won the contract to provide the catering for a launch event to mark the start of a week-long “sustainable exhibition” designed to highlight ways of making London greener. The event was held at the Truman Brewery in London in September. Tapenade had to take part in a competitive pitch for the business by showing how environmentally friendly its catering would be.

“We sourced local and organic ingredients,” says Mitchell. “But as with any brief of this kind, there are always going to be compromises; the client wanted champagne and, of course, that has to come from France, so we tracked down an organic Champagne.”

Green point of differenceAs one of the largest venue-finders in the UK, Zibrant is also finding that more clients are looking for ethical and responsible business partnerships, which the company warmly welcomes. Sales and marketing director Fay Sharpe says: “It’s high time that business took its environmental responsibilities seriously. I don’t think clients use environmental responses from suppliers as key, but environmentally conscious organisations will be more favourably viewed than those that aren’t, other things being equal.

“Hopefully this will change in the future,” she concludes, “and environmental considerations will become far more central to the decision-making process.”

Surely it is only a matter of time before this is indeed the case. •

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