When there’s a will and a way…

From complying with the BS8901 industry standard to offsetting carbon emissions or even setting up a wormery, there are many ways marketers can make live events sustainable. By Ian Whiteling

Considering the huge potential environmental impact of the live marketing industry, it’s incredible that it hasn’t received more criticism from environmental groups and consumers. Live events use a wide variety of materials for everything from invites to flooring. Plus there’s crockery and glassware, which is often plastic. Then, of course, there’s the energy used to light, heat and cook, and the fact that visitors can travel miles to attend, often by air, potentially creating a sizeable carbon footprint.

Until relatively recently, little was done to curb this. The industry has now realised the need to clean up its act, making sustainability one of the hottest topics on the events agenda. As a result, the live marketing sector is the first to have a dedicated sustainable standard devised by the British Standards Institute. BS8901, launched last year, provides a guide for companies looking to host sustainable events.

all talk?So, with the goodwill and a clear mechanism in place, it looks like the events industry is doing more than just talking about becoming more sustainable. Although Fiona Pelham, founder of Organise This, and a key player in the creation of BS8901, is not convinced. “It’s certainly a hot topic, and everyone is jumping aboard, but much of it is all talk and little action,” she says. “The standard has come out at the right time, because it provides a route through the greenwash and token knee-jerk reactions to the issue, providing a clear structure for companies to follow.”

Unfortunately, BS8901 is yet to be embraced by many companies. They are put off by its complexity. With this in mind, Pelham devised a series of courses called Positive Impact where organisers can get advice on applying the standard.

A particular bugbear with those who have strategically devised sustainable events policies – and they are growing in number – is the trend for offsetting. “It seems that some companies are paying more lip service than anything else,” says Bryan Leatham, managing director at Show Presentation Services.

“It has become almost trendy to donate money to a town in Africa or help plant trees locally,” he continues. “I am not saying that fund-raising events and donating time and money to areas of the world that are less fortunate than us are wrong. I am simply suggesting that every company should first look at the impact it is making on the environment and what it can do to reduce this.”

That’s not to say offsetting doesn’t have its place. After all, it is practically impossible to create a totally green event. But once as much as possible has been done to reduce energy consumption and waste, the remaining emissions can be offset. And there are many steps that can be taken before offsetting need be applied.

“Looking at materials, sustainable strategies can range from using recycled paper for handouts and ensuring any wood used carries the Forest Stewardship Council logo, to using UV rather than solvent-based inks when printing graphics,” says Rory Sloan, head of production at experiential agency RPM. “It is also worth looking at generally reducing the amount of material used, such as not carpeting an indoor event.

Planning is vital”Of course, the whole issue needs to be considered at the planning stage,” Sloan continues. “Is paper needed for communication or can information be sent digitally via e-mail, MMS or Bluetooth? What elements can be hired in and what bespoke items can be reused after the event, either for the same brand or for another owned by the same client? For a touring roadshow, what elements can be sourced locally? Can a site be used for multiple events back-to-back, to maximise efficiency when it comes to infrastructure?”Joe Russell, events director at Momentum UK, says: “With respect to festivals and larger events, ticketing using mobile phone technology reduces paper and the carbon footprint from postage, while recycling initiatives for glasses cut waste.”

Russell also provides some practical examples. “Millets gave out biodegradable bamboo tent pegs at Glastonbury this year,” he says. “At the Sky Arts party at Hay on Wye, rugs were given out rather than using gas heaters to keep people warm outside.”

What’s more, Jack Morton Worldwide managing director Julian Pullan points out that there are now excellent sustainable alternatives available to standard coatings, plastic laminates, foils, adhesives and labels. “For Marks & Spencer’s annual meeting, rather than use plastic, we printed the security badges on PLA corn eco cards,” he explains. “PLA corn is an annually renewable resource, unlike oil, which takes millions of years to regenerate.”

Of course, an event’s sustainable credentials can be boosted if the host venue has its own policies in place. “We have a wormery on site and so can recycle 78% of our waste both on- and offsite, while other initiatives have led to us reducing our gas consumption by 56%, electricity by around 31% and our carbon dioxide emissions by 32%,” says Gemma Parkhouse, communications and brand manager at ExCeL London,”It’s clear, therefore, that not only are the will and mechanisms in place, some companies have also sourced and devised methods to create far more sustainable events. Yet there is still a long way to go.

“The industry is still not doing enough,” says Helen Moon, business development manager at the Barbican. “Initiatives like BS8901 and the Green Tourism Business Scheme are great steps in the right direction. However, the whole industry needs to follow the standards, become assessed and be more responsible.” v

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