Events of higher standards

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When it comes to events, big or small, the organisation and management can be done in a way that looks after the environment. ISO 20121:2012 set the path to follow.

Many of us would have attended some sort of event this year, whether it was a local annual festival or gala, a sporting event, a music concert, corporate hospitality event or even one of the health and safety conferences. The planning, staging and holding of such events is a multi-billion-pound industry and the social, economic and environmental impacts can have both negative and positive.

For example, think of an event like the Glastonbury music festival, when over 150,000 people attend the concerts for five days, 2,000 acres around Pilton farm plays host to a tented city in Somerset, England. This is equivalent to a city the size of Oxford being set up in a rural setting and all the commensurate environmental problems, local community issues and economic benefits this can bring.

When people gather together, particularly in such large numbers, they can put ax strain on local transport infrastructure, use large amounts of resources such as water and energy, and create significant volumes of waste.

Other issues relate to increasing social or cultural tensions to the local community. An added challenge is the number of different partners and suppliers involved in organising and servicing an event. However, these events also bring major economic benefits to the area, such as increased spending in hotels, shops and other local businesses.

When people gather together, particularly in large numbers, they can put a strain on the environment. Photograph: iStock/monkeybusinessimages

In response, individual event professionals and companies have begun developing tools to address one or several of these challenges, which also includes the health and safety management as an integral part of sustainability.

After London won the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012, it became apparent there was no formal framework for implementing sustainability at events, in venues and for suppliers. This led to the development and launch of the British Standard for Sustainable Event Management BS 890. It was designed to provide a framework for organisations to develop a management system based on the issues relevant to them when hosting or participating in an event.

After being launched there was evidence that the standard was in further demand outside the United Kingdom, principally within Europe and the USA. This response resulted in BS 8901 being the proposed framework as a starting draft for ISO 20121. The international standard was launched in June 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics 2012. Today, ISO 20121:2012; event sustainability management systems, is a practical tool for managing events so that they contribute to the three dimensions of sustainability – economic, environmental and social – and it is used by event organisers around the world.

There are many benefits to event organisations that implement a sustainable management system. These include:

  • More efficient supply chain management
  • Increased engagement from staff
  • Better risk management and compliance procedures in place
  • Development of sustainable procurement systems – builds in codes of conduct and better purchasing decisions, saving money
  • Saving money through waste, water and energy management
  • Reputation – demonstration of commitment to sustainable principles to stakeholders, including local communities.

ISO 20121:2012 helps to identify, monitor, measure and manage issues in relation to event owners, the workforce, supply chain (such as caterers, stand constructors, transport companies), participants, attendees, regulatory bodies and local communities in a structured manner.

The standards provide a framework for all members of the event supply chain, from event managers and venues right through to production companies and caterers, to consider their social, economic and environmental impacts.

Consequently, the adoption of the standard can help boost employee motivation, attract best talent and improve retention, enhance reputation and strengthen relationships with key clients, suppliers, partners and other external stakeholders who hold similar sustainability values; it helps to achieve costs savings with respect to material consumption, waste and energy and reduce carbon emissions over the entire event supply chain while strengthening the position of the organisation within the community.

ISO 20121:2012 is akin to other management systems as it is based on the plan-do-check-act cycle of ISO 14001 Environmental management and requires the event owners to outline their commitments to sustainability. This commitment should be in the form of a sustainability policy, to develop SMART objectives and targets in relation to sustainability, train staff on sustainability, engage suppliers on it, develop a sustainability communications plan, monitor and measure performance and audit and review documentation.

Photograph: iStock

Good practice and avant-garde

Examples of organisations that have adopted include the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) who obtained ISO 20121 certification for UEFA EURO Football Tournament held in France in 2016. Initiatives included partnering with hotels and food and beverage partners to adopt more sustainable practices, waste, water and energy minimisation programmes at stadia and implementing sustainable transport options for fans.

The standard to make events more sustainable is now part of the FIFA World Cup programmes and will be adopted at the next World Cup in Russia, with the aim of certification to ISO 20121.

Denmark was the first EU country to be awarded ISO 20121 certification for its EU presidential conferences, followed a year later by the Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden. The famous Balélec Music Festival in Lausanne, is one of a growing number of international festivals also certified to ISO 20121:2012. In Dubai, the EXPO 2020 is also developing and implementing a sustainable event management strategy to ensure compliance with ISO 20121:2012, while the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre has also been certified to the standard.

In the UK, UBM plc, who provide events management services, became one of the first global companies to achieve ISO 20121:2012, which means running their events more sustainably. Other events companies and organisations to achieve certification include the Metro Broadcast London and the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. From a sporting perspective, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Manchester United Football club, Goodwood Racecourt horse and motor racing events, Wimbledon and the Ryder Cup are all either certified or follow the standard’s model.

There is a growing list of organisations who now see the need to manage their events more sustainably. So, if you are organising such an event, or purchasing venue space, perhaps consideration can be made of the social, economic and environmental impact of the event as a whole. Moreover, next time you are watching an event on TV or visiting a venue, chances are they may be following the model of ISO 20121:2012 if not actually certified to the standard. If not, there is a good question to be asked.

ISO 20121:2012 available here




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