Posted on Thu 11th Oct 2018 at 12:33pm
Identified as a key event trend by ICE research recently, sustainability has been a matter of growing importance. There’s no doubt that it has now has reached the public consciousness and is a matter of national concern and debate.
Events, of course, have had sustainability standards and guidelines for many years – embodied by documents like the eGuide, BS 8901 and latterly ISO 20121 – and there is an army of sustainability experts employed by venues, suppliers and organisers to ensure that their events meet and exceed the standards being set. But what does ‘sustainability’ even mean when it comes to events?
In a nutshell, it means maintaining industry growth in a balanced way so that it can continue, without being compromised in the future by wasteful, unethical or environmentally damaging actions taken today. Sustainability is important at every scale too, from the individual to the corporate, out to the industry as a whole.
Sustainability matters – it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the economical and efficient thing to do. And more importantly, it’s what our customers increasingly want. As Generation Z moves out of the classroom and into working life, the expectation of sustainability amongst event customers will become stronger and stronger.
The environmental and social views of this generation show a marked shift compared to the generations that came before – they want to interact with people and businesses seen to be ‘doing good in the world’. Half of them want to work for a company that ‘makes the world a better place’.
They’re not fooled by spin, they know ‘greenwash’ when they see it, and they are quick to make their opinions widely known which, thanks to the internet, means globally and instantly.
So how do you make an event more sustainable? Most of this you can work out from first principles, taking the three pillars of sustainability – environment, social and ethics – as starting points:
Environmental sustainability means, amongst other things, reducing your carbon footprint, minimizing waste materials, and adopting a strategy to reduce, recycle and reuse as much as possible.
Social sustainability involves things like paying fair wages, investing in the local community, philanthropy, creating a supportive and safe workplace.
Ethical sustainability requires you to embed as much transparency in your business as possible, to create a hostile environment for corruption, theft and bribery. You also need education and training in regulatory and financial compliance, an effective whistleblowing process and safeguarding schemes in place where required.
Our experience has shown us that there’s a great deal of work to be done on sustainable events – with rising numbers of event visitors and increasing concern over the problem of single-use plastics, for example, it’s a challenge. But there is a great deal we can do at Showlite, in terms of advising our customers on how to deliver sustainability without compromising the impact or effectiveness of their stand or event.
If you start thinking sustainably at the planning stage of an event, you will find that there are many opportunities to improve your sustainability credentials. By choosing projections over wall graphics, iPads over brochures and websites instead of printed catalogues, you can eliminate an enormous quantity of waste print and paper.
Instead of giving away plastic promotional items like pens, keyrings and mousemats, create experiences and competitions to entice visitors. Think about your travel to and from the event, are you sending empty vehicles back to HQ? Is everyone arriving in their own car? If you’re providing hospitality, like tea & coffee, use porcelain cups and metal spoons instead of paper cups and plastic spoons. For single use items, look for ‘vegware’ made from wood or other plant-based polymers or fibres.
Ultimately, sustainability means striking a compromise between the ideal and the achievable. Because every event depends on multiple supply chains that stretch across the globe, it isn’t easy to do a complete sustainability audit, and some things will be out of your control or influence. But by being judicious in your choice of suppliers, and asking a few tough questions, it’s possible to improve sustainability by switching to suppliers that align with your sustainability ambitions. We also have a great asset in our associations, supporting the cross-association Sustainability Working Group to help every event business understand and implement sustainability.
As Rob Davies our Production Manager explains here, we’re always looking to add to our sustainability initiatives. “Over the last 3 years,” said Rob, “we’ve made enormous strides in sustainability, from upcycling timber and material offcuts by offering them to school DT departments, cutting down damaged poles and beams to make connectors and shelving brackets plus switching to LED lighting. We also recycle our carpets and PVC foam, offering logistics firms early show schedules for better road planning and less fuel consumption and reuse all our stand infills, frameworks and shelving. Recently a Whatsapp group has been established between a few local exhibition companies, to share last minute deliveries to many venues instead of running independently.”
With public awareness at an all-time high and the prospect of a greater customer expectation and a stiffer regulatory regime in the future, now is the time to get ahead. The future, quite literally, depends on it.