This is a guest post by Ed Cook, a consultant at Resource Futures; an independent environmental consultancy which specialises in providing advice on the efficient use of material resources and behavioural change for sustainability.

The 5 steps for more sustainable events are:

  1. Know your impact
  2. Make a plan
  3. Consult contractors
  4. Organise waste management
  5. Start simple

Most event professionals these days have a personal interest in reducing the environmental impact of their events. Although they increasingly view green issues as adding value to their brand, they often fear that it will add additional expense and time.

In my experience, event organisers are also some of the busiest people I’ve come across. So, asking them to add yet another task to their project plan can go down really badly.

Will it cost you lots of money? The truth is that some of these measures will cost a bit but many of them are just about running things more efficiently.

My main piece of advice is like with all changes, you should bring things in a bit at a time; starting with simple planning but with a full sustainability plan in sight.

1. Work out your impact

Before you try and improve things, you need to know what impact your event is already having on the environment. It doesn’t always follow, but higher carbon impacts tend to go hand-in-hand with increased costs. The best example of this is managing power consumption and transport. However, this also rings true in the use of (often unnecessary) disposable materials, which add to the disposal bill and also the cleansing bill if they become litter.

Dividing up environmental impacts into groups like the ones below can make them easier to manage. When I’m speaking to event organisers who are short of time, I usually suggest that they introduce one impact area each year to measure and try to reduce.

Consider the public profile of a particular impact area; for example, this could be your food waste. To reduce this, you could capitalise on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign about food waste by running your own in-event campaign to reduce food waste – you could even ask him to come along!

2. Make a plan

As with everything in event management, if you don’t plan properly it will either go wrong or possibly not happen at all. Once you’ve chosen which environmental impacts you’re going to focus on, you should set some realistic goals which you can improve on each year.

Make sure you choose the right person to see through your plans. Giving the responsibility to someone too senior may mean that things don’t get done and someone too junior might not have enough influence to encourage other stakeholders to get involved.

It might sound obvious, but you need to think about when you’re going to get everything done. This is not just about planning when you’re going to implement your project but when you’re going to achieve the targets you’ve set. Create milestones and stick to them.

There’s no point in going to a lot of effort if you can’t work out whether your plans have worked; so make sure you decide what you’re going to measure before you get started. This could be anything from the percentage of waste you got recycled or the amount of diesel you used. For your catering, you could audit whether all your contractors used the local food supplier you told them to use.

3. Involve your contractors

Delegating tasks to your project team can lighten your load, but if you pass them on to your contractors then it can free up time for your whole team. The best time to get input from contractors is when they’re bidding for the job. They’ll really think outside the box to look better than another bidder, so make sure you stipulate that you want their help with reducing environmental impacts.

A good example if you’re running an outdoor event is to get your power contractor to start measuring power usage using remote monitoring systems. These systems can tell you how much power is actually being used by your generators in different parts of the show.

Make sure you involve contractors early so that they have plenty of time to prepare. I’ll never forget the year when the bar contractor at a major festival turned up with a billion shattering plastic glasses, utterly destroying the beautiful deer park and leaving tiny shards of plastic in the mud forevermore. Had we been better prepared we would have contractually obliged them to ensure that their glasses were shatter-proof. These days I encourage event organisers to put clauses in their contracts which oblige caterers and bars to serve their food and drinks in recyclable serve-ware; ensuring first that we’ve got somewhere local to recycle the material before we tell them which materials to use.

4. Organise essential waste management

Okay, as a waste manager of 15 years I’m biased, but I have to say that providing recycling bins for your public is a must in this day and age. Most event-goers will visit a bin at least once or twice during a show, so it’s an ideal opportunity to show them that you care about the environment and enhance your overall brand.

Choosing the right bin is important. Signage should be clear and bold and state exactly what needs to go in each bin. Avoid long lists of dos and don’ts which will confuse the hell out of people especially after a couple of ales. There’s no point in taking a standard bin and plonking a sign on the side at knee height, no one will see it and the recycling will get contaminated. Restricting the aperture is also a good plan, it gets people to think twice before they throw something in – if you take a wheelie bin and simply flip the lid up they fill it with anything and everything. There are plenty of contractors around these days who’ve got bespoke event equipment like the ones in the picture below from Critical Waste; don’t stand for anything less.

Make sure that your contractor is being honest about what happens to your waste too. Make it part of their contract to tell you where the rubbish and recycling has gone and do some poking around to make sure they’ve told you the truth. They’re legally obliged to provide you with a duty of care note which shows you when and where the recycling was taken.

Remember that ‘waste-to-energy’ (i.e. incineration) is not the same as recycling so you have to be careful what to report. Zero waste to landfill might be a good slogan but it’s not much use if you’re just burning all those valuable resources instead. Even better, why not consider re-using some of your waste materials or not using them in the first place.

It shouldn’t stop in the front house areas. Providing recycling services for your catering units can really bump up your recycling figures. Food waste is one of the biggest problems in landfill because it breaks down without air and creates methane gas which is 25 times worse for the greenhouse effect than CO2.

5. Start simple

I think my favourite green initiative is around tackling audience transport which is thought to be the greatest impact area from most events, and in my view, it’s also one of the easiest areas to tackle.

For many organisers, getting the punters to and from the venue is part of the planning process anyway. The main thing is to put the emphasis on the most sustainable method; discouraging single car use and encouraging walking and cycling. Dedicated coaches are a great way to bring in customers from other cities and it’s much better than having everyone travel by car. Mostly audience travel impacts can be sorted out by providing the best travel information.

Published with permission: Jam Packed: Travel Emissions from Festivals, Julie’s Bicycle 2009

If you have a ticketing system, like Eventbrite, then you can collect postcode data from your visitors at the point of purchase. A short on-the-ground survey can also tell you how people chose to travel to the event. You can use this data to monitor the effectiveness of transport information you provide and that will help you find out what works.

For those events that make money from the car parks, you could consider charging a fee for empty seats to encourage car sharing. That way you’re taxing the non-car sharers and rewarding those who fill their empty seats. 

Here are some examples of things which all event organisers can do to reduce the impact of the shows they create.

7 Examples of More Sustainable Events

Now you know what’s involved in creating the perfect environmentally sustainable event, let’s look at some examples of companies who are already putting the practice into play.

Coachella’s energy playground

Held in the US each year, Coachella offers a series of eco-friendly activities and sustainable initiatives to help reduce its impact on the Colorado Desert in which it takes place. Working with Global Inheritance a NFP that specialises in various eco-friendly initiatives such as the pros and cons of energy sources, some of the initiatives Coachella has in place include:

  • Brightly coloured bins designed to increase recycling throughout the festival site.
  • An “Energy Playground” complete with “Energy SeeSaws”, designed to allow Coachella attendees to power their own energy sources, such as phone charging stations, while they play.
  • VIP ticket competitions for those who car share on the way to the festival.

Glastonbury

Festivals are often renowned for being the most damaging to the local environment, which is why the UK’s Glastonbury music festival is a good example of a more environmentally sustainable event. In 2017, Aggreko helped Glastonbury to measure its machines and determine how much energy and fuel could be saved. Glastonbury also implemented other environmentally sustainable measures including:

  • Only using bio-diesel generators since 2014, to ensure the use of renewable energy.
  • Providing a reusable, 100% stainless steel water bottle for visitors and multiple water refill points.
  • Encouraging volunteers to help pick up rubbish and recyclable materials to return the site to its normal state as a working farm.

Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014

If you want a good example of a sustainable event, check out the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow in 2014. These were the first Games to secure the ISO 20121 sustainability standard, which was brought in alongside the London 2012 Olympics as a measure of sustainability. This voluntary standard ensures that the event leaves behind a “positive legacy”. This includes reducing impact on the environment and also the local community. For Glasgow 2014 this included:

  • Ensuring all competition venues were car-free.
  • Use of a modern and locally based company (Aggreko) to provide clean and efficient energy.
  • Ensuring that the Games HQ was on a Green Tariff energy supply.

ICCA Congress in Malaysia

At the 2016 ICCA congress in Malaysia, instead of handing out speaker gifts (which often contain plastic or other non-biodegradable materials), a charity donation was made. Delegates were also able to adopt an Orangutan to contribute to the sustainable development of the region. This project was presented beforehand using a hand puppet and a booth at the show where visitors could find out more information.

MLB All-Star Games

Major League Baseball is the first professional sports league to ensure that its members are part of the Green Sports Alliance, which provides environmentally sustainable guidelines for the games. Some of the highlights include:

  • Green Teams that collect recyclables throughout the games.
  • Solar panel installations to provide a renewable energy source – previously game events such as Fan Fest have been powered by energy obtained from 100% renewable wind power.
  • Red Carpets that are created as “green” carpets using recycled content.
  • Working with “Rock and Wrap it Up” to ensure that any food which is prepared but untouched, is recovered for donation to those in need.

Wood Festival UK

This UK-based festival is a family affair, which is perhaps why it has such eco-friendly credentials. Some examples of its commitment to sustainability include:

  • The site is powered entirely by renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wood burning stoves.
  • Portaloos are replaced by composting toilet facilities, which have less impact on the environment.
  • 85% of waste is targeted to be recycled, rather than going to landfill.

 Shambala festival

This carnival-inspired festival has been clamping down on the use of plastic by eliminating any single-use plastics from the event entirely. This has included measures such as:

  • A site-wide ban on the sale of bottled water.
  • Asking all festival attendees to “bring a bottle” that they can refill onsite, with clean water widely available, to reduce the need of plastic water bottles.
  • Selling branded stainless steel bottles for water, that can be reused by any festival-goers who might have forgotten to bring their own.

With all of these global festivals, events and sporting occasions doing more to make their events environmentally sustainable will you commit to the cause? We’d love to hear about your efforts!

Useful resources

There’s absolutely loads of information around these days about event sustainability and it’s becoming a really hot topic in the events scene. Here are some sources of information and examples of some of the most sustainable events to learn from:

For more information on making your event greener, check out our Guide To A Greener Festival.

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