Should Events Cost The Earth?

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Autumn 2018

Environmental sustainability is a current hot topic, encouraging event managers to change their plans and adapt to greener events. The United Nations defines sustainable development as one which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 2018, para 4).

Whilst there is legislation related to protecting the environment, there is none directly aimed at the events industry with regards to environmental sustainability. There are principles, policies and procedures which are viewed as best practice, such as ISO 20121, however due to different event priorities and resources, not everyone is adhering to the same extent.

Furthermore, frameworks such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) are vital to the future of events, as they pressure both potential sponsors and event managers to act responsibly and consider the interest of all stakeholders, including the Earth.

How much will environmental sustainability cost event managers?

(Source: Pixabay)

Event managers can achieve many economic benefits from being more environmentally sustainable. For example, companies that go ‘green’ can apply for different funding schemes, as well as receive tax deductions, by demonstrating a more efficient and less waste producing approach which will be less damaging to the environment. This will also avoid the risks of financial penalties, as seen in Glastonbury Festival which was fined after polluting the White Lake River in 2010.

In addition, being sustainable can increase event sales as some attendees are more likely to attend if they know an event is successfully practising sustainability and being cautious of their actions on the environment.

On the other hand, planning a more environmentally sustainable event can be a lengthy process and sourcing eco-friendly products can take longer to source – they are also more expensive. Would this be worth it in the long run?

How much will environmental sustainability cost the event?

(Source: Pixabay)

As times are changing, there are increasing pressures arising for event managers, from a more environmentally literate audience. Using more environmentally friendly methods, can improve a company’s image and reputation. It will set the event apart, giving it a competitive advantage, attracting new customers sharing the same values, and sponsors who are looking to meet their CSR objectives.

In addition, reducing the environmental impact of an event, will also improve its longevity. This is because it will become less dependent on natural resources, meaning the event will be one step ahead of its competitors and will have a greater chance at long-term success. This however, isn’t always the case, as seen with Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts and Music Festival in New South Wales which went bankrupt in 2013.

How much will it cost the Earth?

(Source: Flickr)

Frequently used practices to decrease the impact of an event on the environment include waste management, recycling, going paperless and alternative energies amongst others. However, modern technology can fail at the worst of times and recycling can often be unsuccessful if it’s not completed accurately.

On the other hand, a less adopted practice is the reduction of animal products used and offered onsite. A report released earlier this year in the Science journal states that the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the environment is by avoiding meat and dairy products, this has been backed by the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, highlighting the urgent need to act now. WeWork for instance, has already made the change and banned meat from all of their staff events, which in turn means they are reducing the use of water and the production of carbon dioxide as well as saving the lives of animals.

Furthermore, by encouraging the use of local transport and car sharing or offering remote access via virtual tickets, for example, event managers can help reduce the carbon footprint of the event. This on the other hand is subject to attendees’ preference and cannot be fully controlled by event managers, which impacts the success of this initiative.

Last but not least, the ground also suffers from exhaustion from events, due to its overuse, pollution and toxic waste. For instance every 3 years Glastonbury festival has a fallow year in which they don’t host the event to allow the ground to recover and avoid irreversible damage.

(Source: Pixabay)

The power is in your hands

Overall, “no one is going to change the world by banning plastic straws.” Many event managers like to believe that by making a small change like banning plastic straws, they are running an environmentally friendly event and green-wash attendees to believe so. However, this is a very minor element of the costs that events have on the Earth.

How far do you go to make your event environmentally sustainable?

What actions do you take/have you seen being taken, and what effect has this had on the event?


Megan says:

Thank you for your helpful blog about environmental sustainability. Waste management, plastic and recycling process are the main topic of our class discussion recently. As event students, we need to look forward and think of solutions and methods to control the issue within the event industry. I have read many different articles and blogs on ways to but nothing got my attention so far. Do you have any suggestions?

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your comment.
I’m glad you are noticing the issues of waste management as a student.
What type of event contexts would you like suggestions for (i.e. Exhibitions, Conferences, Festivals or Weddings?

Melissa says:

Very Interesting read. Government funding will open doors for smaller buisnesses to be more sustainable. Do you truly believe that one small act such as banning plastic straws won’t make a difference as we are taught to believe that if everyone did one small change it would make a difference.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for comment Melissa.
Banning plastic straw is a step in the right direction, “a splash in the ocean” some might say, but there is a bigger picture. We can do so much more to improve the event impact on the environment.
We call these minor reductions a “green wash” companies making us as consumers believe they are causing a positive impact, but at the end of the day, the way in which they dispose of their waste has a much larger impact. If you think banning plastic straws is making an impact, why do you think some businesses still use them instead of paper alternatives?

Dan says:

Interesting read. It seems that it is the responsibility of the event manager to ensure their event is green rather than the consumer. Perhaps it would be worth looking at lobbying the Government to provide financial support to green events and create a precedent for future events.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your comment Dan. There are certain ‘green schemes’ businesses and events can apply for from the Government to help implement different green initiatives, however, this isn’t always enough to cover the extra costs. How do you think event attendees would feel if the ticket price increased to help events become more environmentally sustainable?

Christy says:

Great blog! One thing that you could consider is the use of the “eco-bond”. In many current music events in the UK, such as Boomtown and Boardmasters, a policy called the “eco-bond” has been introduced to encourage festivalgoers to pick up litter after themselves.

Included in the price of the ticket, the eco-bond gives festivalgoers economic incentive to earn £10 by picking up litter. This also includes the separation of recyclable materials and non-recyclable materials, reducing the impact on the planet even more.

By making this a requirement for all camping festivals in legislation, this could inevitably make events alot more green.

eventsustainability says:

Christy, that is an amazing response thank you! I think the “eco-bond” is a great suggestion for all festivals to take part in , but what do we do to encourage attendees who don’t need the £10.00 for the collection or perhaps attendees who don’t want to take part in the incentive? What encourages you to participate?

William Giles says:

I think its incredibly important that event organisers think about their global footprint. Moreover, it’s certainly important that government steps in to make sure there are incentives to achieve this. I thought the article was very thought provoking but of course many of us have a long way to go in making our own lives sustainable, but we should vote with our wallets. If we as consumers prefer green events, then event organisers should seize upon that opportunity and create events that cater to the consciences of their collective audiences.

eventsustainability says:

William thank you for your response! I’m glad you got the sense of wanting to be sustainable from reading the article. A collective audience is a great start to a scheme like this being adopted by events, but we would like to engage the whole audience and get them thinking about their actions at events and the impact it is currently having! What do you suggest event manager can do to engage the rest of the attendees?

Danniel says:

Awesome article! Great job! We employed something similar to Christy’s “eco-bond” idea (before it was a thing?) to clean up an ad-hoc block party with an attendance in the (lower) 1,000s. It was probably easier due to the low attendance and the community nature of the event, but it was still a challenge to inspire a throng of drunk people to clean up after themselves.

Have you seen the efforts Burning Man to reduce environmental impact? From the shuttle service, to the management of thoroughfares (“Pulsing” during the “Exodus”), the general Leave No Trace principles and the Playa Restoration Crew, and the permanent solar arrays built to offset the carbon footprint. With an attendance of 70,000, in a pristine desert, it’s amazing to watch how Black Rock City comes together and then disappears nearly entirely over the span of a week.

Even though no-one should be leaving a trace, the transition to this mentality for a society of event-goers can be tricky. For smaller events, the organisers should just hike up the prices and collect it themselves if it’s a problem (while inspiring attendees to care more is great, it’ll be a while until they’re fully self-motivated)! For events attracting 10,000s, an idea could be to create an inter-event body that offers a discount to the next event, depending on the amount of MOOP collected at the previous one.

eventsustainability says:

Danniel, Fantastic response. The suggestion to put the prices of tickets up to cover cost is great, to then offer discounts to those who come back, but what if they can’t/don’t want to come back because it would make it non applicable to them and reduce the incentive to get involved?

With regards to the different number of attendees it can be difficult but it is possible to reduce the environmental impact of the event. What motivated yourself to support these principles and engage with the event?

Adam Tattersall says:

Great read, i agree with many of the points raised, being paperless and cutting out single use plastics and non recyclable cups is a good step! Without turning everyone vegan.
Make festivals green!

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your response Adam, I’m glad you agree with points raised. Cutting out single use plastics is a step in the right direction but cutting out non-recyclable cups could be hard as most plastic isn’t recyclable. There is an alternative scheme events use, by where you purchase a cup at the start of the event for a £1 and if you return it at the end you get your £1 back, is this a scheme you could get involved in? Would it encourage you to re-use that cup?

Cheri says:

Surely when I buy my event ticket the clean up costs are factored into the ticket cost. Why should I have to clean up after others if they are to lazy to put their rubbish in the bin?

eventsustainability says:

Thanks for the response Cheri! Costs of clean-up are factored into the ticket price, but this is a time costly process but also can have a negative effect on the environment the longer it is left for. We want to encourage attendee to get involved with the ‘Clean-up’ to reduce the discarded waste in following years and eventually have minimal impact on the agricultural surrounds so we can sustain these events for years to come! What would encourage you to get involved?

James Lodge says:

Environmental sustainability needs to be taken seriously for Events to run in the future, otherwise it can have a domino effect for popular events happening across the world, small changes such as the use of plastic and water. But Events are needed so you can argue it both ways. Income, experiences that can last a lifetime in memory etc.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your response James! Environmental Sustainability does need to be taken seriously for our future generations. The suggestions in the article are to ensure we are meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations” (United Nations, 2018, para 4). Event managers need to run events with this understanding, to ensure we have the ability to host these events in the future and uphold environmental legislation and principles. We want to encourage as many people to get involved. What would you do to encourage event managers to get involved?

Courtney says:

I agree that event managers should be doing all they can to make their events more sustainable as I do believe that multiple small changes can make a big difference in the long run. However, if environmentally friendly events have a more competitive advantage, is there a risk that events may claim to be sustainable and look sustainable to the attendees, but may not continue these processes behind the scenes?

eventsustainability says:

Brilliant Courtney! Some events are claiming to be green known as “Green-Washing” for an example the London 2012 Olympics claimed to be the most “sustainable yet”, but sponsors such as coca-cola and BP, were not acting sustainable. Many believed taking money from companies involved in oil, nuclear power and sugary drinks were not the right sponsors for an event that claimed to be “green”, this was a controversial area which to this day tarnishes the spirit of the games. How do you think we can overcome this for future events? Do you think there should be fines for those who make such claims?

Courtney says:

That is really interesting. Yes I do think there should be fines for giving misleading information such as that. Although I think this will always be an issue, as it is usually unethical companies that want to sponsor these events so they can associate themselves with something positive. The events should turn this down and go with a sponsor more in line with their values but this is difficult when the unethical sponsors are usually big companies that have more money and the industry is often so driven by money.

eventsustainability says:

What you’re saying Courtney is very true. There is always going to be issues if there’s no legislation regarding events. If we were to eliminate all unethical sponsors some successful events would be unable to go ahead. Sponsors aren’t necessarily always the right ones for example McDonalds and Coca-cola for the 2012 Olympic games, but it draws attention to the event, ensure it has the sponsorship to go ahead and doesn’t necessarily affect the attendance of the event and stop attendees using these facilities? Although choosing “smaller” more environmentally sustainable sponsors isn’t always viable for smaller events (due to cost, time, etc). However according to the recent UN intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) report, they are calling upon government bodies and bigger corporations to make the change – how do you think event sponsors will react to this? Do you think these sponsors will like the step ahead of their competitors and commit to being more environmentally sustainable and sponsoring sustainable events?

Adam G says:

As a society & events, being able to illustrate that each small change made offers an opportunity to not only reduce the impact of the “event” its self but inform people of how their actions are delivering change. Being able visually to demonstrate what something a simple as three thousand paper cups weighs/ space taken up at the landfill, give people something tangible to see and feel part of, that being said it’s crucial to make the process of reducing waste as convenient and clear to the attendee as possible, as to encourage their participation make the first step as easy as possible to take.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your response Adam G! Small changes do create an impact but it is also opportunity to go that little bit further and constantly improving and making changes to ensure we are having positive and not negative effects! It is true we do need to show attendees what effects they’re having on the environment! How do you propose we do this? How do we ‘spread the word’?

Sam-L-T says:

This was such a great read! I don’t know much about this topic and issues relating to it but this helped me understand a lot! Brilliant piece of work and well done, will definitely share it.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you Sam-L-T. Glad you found it informative. How important is it to you that events you go to consider the cost they have on the earth?

amy bowen says:

This was a fab read, I currently work for a company called Green King which have introduced compostable PLA straws across its entire UK estate of 1,750 pubs, as part of its pledge to send zero waste to landfill by 2020. This will remove over 30 million plastic straws from use every year. Perhaps this could be a consideration for festivals? If a pub chain can do this perhaps a weekend of a festival could also introduce this when selling products from on-site suppliers?

eventsustainability says:

Hi Amy, Thank you for your comment, this is an amazing suggestion! Do you know the cost impact of using these straws? And do people still use straws as much after changing to compostable PLA straws?

Beth says:

Really interesting to think about the environmental impact of events and the potential to limit this- that’s not an area I’ve ever thought about before. Such an important topic to tackle- thanks for this!

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your participation Beth! There is a vast amount of information and sources out there if you wish to become more environmentally literate, if it is something that interests you if you’re an avid event attendee! From previous events you may have attended, what measures have been put in place to improve waste and become more sustainable? What do you think could be improved?

Karen says:

At events I see caterers are using plastic cups for drinks what would you suggest as an alternative?
You talk about events needing to reduce plastic straws why don’t we see more paper ones in business and events?

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your questions Karen!
A lot of caterers at events use plastic cups out of ease as glass can be a risk. However, events are starting to opt towards offering for customers to pay a deposit when buying their first drink and then with soft drinks getting a free refill and alcoholic drinks having a discounted price. An example of this is Latitude festival who have been using this initiative since 2007 and ask for a £2 deposit you get back if you return the cup and the returned cups get reused every year. There is also the option of biodegradable paper cups.

As for your question about straws there is currently a global movement to ‘ban’ plastic straws as they are regarded as one of the most wasteful plastic products and there are other options out there such as biodegradable paper straws and edible straws along with reusable straw (which could be given to festival goers as part of the package). It’s no secret a lot of businesses and festivals support this initiative but with the speed, it’s growing they struggle to get hold of the alternative straws with them being on back order with most suppliers. Even the alternative straws require using resources that damage the environment.

Jeanne Wilkins says:

I live quite close to the site of the I.O.W Festival and am disappointed that few of the catering companies are from the island. I understand that many would not have the capacity required for such an event, still…….
I do not know if it is still the case but local charities benefitted from good condition tents etc that were abandoned, being able to sell them back to festival goers at a future date. Win, win there I think.
Perhaps there are more opportunities to reduce food miles & landfill?

eventsustainability says:

Thank you Jeanne for the insight, you raise some interesting points, in particular, the charities benefitting. With regards to reducing food miles even if the festival can not choose local caterers due to them not being able to handle the capacity, they can still encourage the caterers they choose to use local, fairtrade and in-season produce. Covering both the reducing food miles and landfill, reducing plate and serving cutlery size, in turn, reduces the food wastage and the waste there is on the catering side the festival could utilise local charities to collect and distribute to homeless. Looking into your point on tents after 2011 where 10000 tents were left the I.O.W festival started a ‘Love Your Tent’ campaign whereby every camper who decides to camp in this designated field signs a code of conduct agreeing to take everything home. In 2014, this camping area saw 1450 campers that signed up to the area leave no waste at all.

Keith says:

Excellent read. Didn’t know much about the subject until reading this but have taken a different view on how events are impacting the environment. Will certainly share.

eventsustainability says:

Glad you enjoyed the read Keith.
Are you conscious about your impact on the earth when you attend events? What will you do differently in future?

Ivan says:

Such an interesting read! I completely agree that planning events that will have a reduced impact on the environment can take more time and money. It can sometimes be difficult to select eco-friendly or compostable materials particularly in catering.
Nevertheless that isn’t to say that alternatives do not exist.

People have generally become very wasteful, taking two plastic cups…a handful of napkins, instead of taking just what they need. We like to use bamboo plates at many of our events, not only are they bio-degradable, but they also add a certain charm and stand out as different. This highlights that we are thinking about our impact, and it tends to distract people from the slightly elevated prices at some events. Our staff can talk about our ‘green credentials’ and we have found that usage of disposables is decreasing as people are made to be more conscious of their own actions.
Unit prices for alternative disposables will come down in time as more and more providers switch to mass produce, paper cups (for example) instead of plastic cups, it’s just a matter of enough of us requiring them for business.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your input Ivan!!
So interesting hearing your experience. It would be great to hear what business this was that you gained this insight and how you found it difficult and time-consuming sourcing these products? Have the higher prices impacted business in any way?

Will K says:

Very Interesting read!
Whilst we currently see companies recieving government funding as positive encouragement to consider more sustainable options, do you think more companies will start getting penalised in a similar manner to Glastonbury? For example being given fines or losing out on contracts?
How soon do you think it could come into effect?

eventsustainability says:

Thank you For the interesting viewpoint Will K! It is very likely that as this topic becomes more prominent over the coming years and there will be a greater pressure for festivals to waste less and be more sustainable you can already see the changes over the last few years with introducing schemes to aid clean up, recycling, use of biodegradable and have a greater concern for the damage to the earth. There currently is not any legislation to penalise these festivals just guidelines and recommended best practice. it is difficult to know how long if at all it will come into effect however it is believed that festivals are becoming more conscious of their cost to the earth.

Jess says:

Interesting read. In some countries in Europe, for every plastic bottle you return to a drinks outlet you get a reward e.g. 50 cents. And in Germany, they have machines that you insert empty bottles into, which then scans them, shreds them and you get money vouchers in return. Although on an event scale it is probably a long way off, this sort of on the spot recycling could be useful in the disposal process, and with the ever increasing prices of food and beverages at events, could provide incentive for people knowing they are going to save a few pounds here and there.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your contribution Jess! That’s a really interested methods to be used in events to help towards the sustainability of the environment. However, the installation of those machines can cost money and as you mentioned above, it can be a long process that might not be suitable for a larger scale event. It is a good measure for smaller scale events or even to be implemented in the business facility if the event organisation has one. Nevertheless, this does not avoid waste being generated. Do you have any suggestions on what could EM do to avoid generating waste?

Ollie C says:

A great read. I agree with the point about the lack of effectiveness of ISO standards due to them only being best practices. I believe that quantifying the environmental impact of an event in the standards would be more effective in reducing it, and potentially lead to legislation offering financial rewards or penalties to companies that meet or exceed these limits.

On the point of environmentally friendly products being expensive for event managers, this is a big issue, especially for smaller companies, however it is one that I think will be short lived. As with other green technologies, such as solar/wind power generation or electric vehicles, they are initially very expensive due to a high investment requirement and unit production cost, however as they are slowly adopted by consumers the price begins to fall as the unit cost decreases. With an increasingly environmentally concerned customer base, it will only be a matter of time before consumer demand affects the market significantly and thus causes enough of a reduction in cost, resulting in these products becoming a cheaper alternative to traditional, non environmentally friendly products.

Ultimately, no event will have zero impact on the immediate environment, and as such the aim should be to reduce it’s impact in other ways. One suggestion would be to redirect some profits towards sustainable projects, such as planting trees to offset the CO2 produced by larger events.

Finally, I believe that it will always be in event managers and companies best interest to run sustainable events. From a long term perspective, over use of natural environments will cause irreversible damage, meaning that alternative spaces will have to be sourced, leading to inefficiencies, higher costs, and even more environmental damage. It is simply untenable for event managers and companies to not think about their impact on the environment.

Great article!

eventsustainability says:

Hi Ollie C,
You seem very informed and I hope you found our blog informative and thought-provoking. We agree that events cannot be 100% sustainable nor have a zero impact but events can aim to have as minimal impact as possible. There are a lot of festivals and events that are already trying to be low impact however there are some that are only just looking into this. You suggest it is in an event manager’s and companies best interest to run sustainable events but is this beneficial for event attendees both now and in the future? should it also be a concern for event attendees?

Ollie C says:

I certainly did find it interesting, it’s a point that I believe has been overlooked for some time now and it’s great to see so many people taking an interest in it here.
The question of the benefits to attendees is a difficult one, simply because of its scope. It largely depends on what the attendee themselves see as ‘beneficial’, as this has very different meanings depending on what the individual concerned prioritises. I’ll consider three points.
Firstly, I’ll look at the cost of attending an event. Given that currently sustainable events are more expensive than the non-sustainable counterparts, they are not cost beneficial to the attendee. However, further to my original point, I believe it is only a matter of time before they become cheaper and therefore it will be beneficial to attend these events from a costs perspective.
Secondly and more interestingly is the question of conscience and morality. Do people consider a more expensive event beneficial if they know that they are having a more positive impact on the environment, despite the additional cost? I believe that the majority of event attendees, especially the younger generations, are particularly concerned with this and would be happy to pay a premium for a sustainable event, and still see it as beneficial.
Finally, to follow on from your comment of Glastonbury’s fallow year. One year in every four represents a 25% loss of entertainment, due to damage essentially caused by attendees. If the events were run more sustainably, with a greater focus on the preservation of the environment led by the attendees along with rotating the land used each year, it may be possible for the festival to run without a break. Surely then all attendees would see this as beneficial?

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for continuing the discussion Ollie! You are very right at pointing out that “beneficial” is seen very differently by individuals and although some would be happy to pay a premium for more environmentally sustainable events, others believe it is the responsibility of the event manager.

With regards to Glastonbury Festival, I understand what you are saying. However, it is usually with larger events like this where it becomes more difficult to implement environmentally sustainable practices – how do you suggest event managers promote their actions and inspire attendees to follow?

John says:

Something that frustrates me, on the subject of waste management and potentially ‘greenwash’ that you refer to, is the use of ‘mixed recycling’ bins. Whether inside venues or at outdoor events these are becoming common, occasionally with ‘advice’ on what to put where. The reality though is that human nature, inadequate information or anecdotally apathy results in ‘general waste’ being mixed into that destined apparently for recycling, contaminating the latter. I wonder to what extent this reduces the true volume of recycled waste. Should event organisations and venues assess and even publish the amount or % of waste going to landfill, being recycled or re-used, or is this not cost-effective? Should they instead accept human nature and actually invest in information or innovative waste solutions that help sorting and recycling of all the waste possible?

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your input John!
You raise a very good point, there are a lot of events and festivals that legitimately make the effort to recycle more and reduce the waste left on the event site that would otherwise end up in a landfill. There will always be event attendees that don’t consider recycling as a priority and disregard separating waste into correct bins, therefore, contaminating the recycling. Educating event attendees on the consequences of recycled and non-recycled waste is the first stage however the second stage would be implementing, but the issue is getting event attendees to action this when their focus at a festival is enjoyment. One way around this would be targeting suppliers, event sponsors and coordinators to use and distribute information and sustainable products. Event managers need to have a greater focus on promoting the greener side of their event in the lead up as well as the overall experience of the event itself. For example, the Isle of Wight Festival that offers the ‘love your tent experience’ which enables festival goers to have discounted camping on the basis that they sign a contract agreeing to clean up their area and leave no waste after the festival.

Have you seen any initiatives in an event environment that have been successful?

John says:

An interesting read. Whilst changing plastic straws and other consumables is a start, do we go far enough as event managers? Simply waiting for legislation to “force” us into doing things shows a very basic level of moral reasoning (e.g. I will do this otherwise I will be punished). Why don’t we embrace this and be more positive in our environmental policies? Lets be a force for positive change!!

eventsustainability says:

Thank you John for your enthusiastic response!
We agree that changing plastic straws is a start and yes this has been influenced by the modern pressure to change. However, this isn’t enough and as Event Managers, we shouldn’t be waiting for legislation to be enforced, we should be proactively pushing the change and creating a standard for future generations to develop upon in order to sustainably maintain an events platform for future attendees.

Do you believe that there is a cost-effective change that will bring a solution to this issue?

Kesia says:

great great read! Thank you for sharing these useful informations containing both sides of the coin. I don’t have much knowledge on the event sector from a manager’s perspective. However, from an attendee perspective, I can share that the planet should be our biggest concern no matter what side we are on. At the end of the day, if we don’t preserve our homeland, events’ purpose ceases to exist.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your very valid comment Kesia! Unfortunately not everyone thinks this way and do not prioritise the Earth. How do you suggest Event Managers could help raise awareness of the environmental issues at events?

Anonymous says:

I work in the educational events sector. A lot of information provided at events is available online or through other sources. However, the human contact and associated emotional responses can’t be replicated online so there will always be a need for face to face events. As a society we need to become more responsible for protecting the environment and shouldnt rely on the CSR of corporations. This is a complex issue with complex possible solutions – I hope you students can find a suitable sustainable solution! Good luck

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your comment! There are so many different factors needed to be taken into consideration when planning an event, and relying on corporations wanting to achieve their CSR objectives shouldn’t be the main reason an event should choose to be environmentally sustainable. However, it is often these corporations that contribute the most funding to events and help make them happen – how would you suggest events tackle this? On the other hand, we are noticing more event attendees becoming more aware of environmental issues associated to events and they are increasingly being more conscious of where they spend their money and the events they choose to attend – how do you suggest the events industry can continue to inform and motivate attendees to make more environmentally sustainable choices at events?

Emily Knight says:

We very much encourage the use of public transport to all our City events, and we organise extra buses from the park and ride on very big events.
With waste created on-site during an event, we have always provided extra bins (both general waste and recycling) when an event is on. I saw at an event this year wheelie bins being kept open, to encourage people to place their rubbish in the bin and save them having to open it! It’s amazing how effective this was. There was also a 2 minute litter pick for the visitors to voluntarily take part in – which I think should be an option for all events.
Rewards for good deeds are a great idea. A great example is found in Leeds, this is not specifically aimed at events, however, the BID is working with Hubbub, a recycling/green living blog, that have produced a plastic bottle recycling bin that blows bubbles as a thank you, and a can recycling booth that rewards the recycler with a voucher for money off at a local, independent grocer. These are just two of the examples which I think the interaction and reward will encourage a greener mind-set.
Great article BTW. Let us know if you’d like to try any ideas out.

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for sharing Emily! It is very interesting to hear about leaving the bins open and amazing to see how much more it can encourage attendees to use them! Voluntary litter picks after an event sound like a great way to help event managers clear-up after their event, however it isn’t always easy to get many people on board – how do you manage to motivate your event attendees to help? The recycling bins sound like a great initiative, and we agree with the idea of rewards encouraging people to interact – how do you think this could work at an event?

Ashley says:

It’s a good blog and puts forward some points I wouldn’t of necessarily considered. Looking at the bigger picture however, putting on events is a business and the goal is to make money (not all but in the main part). Yes, there are schemes and benefits for being more green and environmentally friendly, however those green financial benefits need to become significant enough to challenge the profits of running an event without environment considerations. Until that happens, sadly the environment will always be second place to profit…

eventsustainability says:

Thank you for your comment Ashley, you raise a valid point! However, we are noticing a shift in consumer demand, and environmental sustainability is becoming a bigger priority for event attendees, meaning that an event who chooses to be more environmentally sustainable, could gain competitive advantage and in turn sell more tickets for example. Do you think event managers should listen to the consumer demand and use this to their advantage?
More importantly, we should not forget about the sustainability of the event itself – if the event destroys the land, then we will no longer be able to hold the event, therefore, it would make no profit. There are clear advantages to choosing more environmentally sustainable practices, but as you said, events are a business and many are held with financial gain as a priority – where do you think event managers should draw the line between being environmentally sustainable and earning a profit?

Marcela says:

Very interesting indeed, and I also agree with all the points apart from becoming a vegetarian. Events managers may however have their hands tied when it comes to adhering to all the promises, in reality they rely solely on the venue itself which may not always be as green as it promises.

eventsustainability says:

Hi Marcela, thank you for your response. Although event managers may not be able to achieve all aspects of being sustainable they can try to implement as many as possible. In 2008 a VSR (venue sustainability rating) was created which is a database of green venues and rated the venue on what actions they took to be sustainable. Within the UK now 1500 venues have been scored to make it simple to find and compare a venue that is ‘green’. Do you have any suggestions for event managers as to how they could make their venue more sustainable?

Noah Reis says:

Thank you for spreading out the knowledge! There should be more blogs such as this, to keep on educating the audience as well as the masters of the event.

I see that a few comments raised a discussion on the subject related to audience awareness of the consequences of unsustainable practices or the waste generated in events. So, I would like to suggest a sustainable yet interesting idea a friend had, that organisers may educate us on environmental sustainability.

More and more industries are adopting the digital tickets to avoid wasting paper. Taking the advantage of this opportunity, EM can launch apps to promote the event and obtain info from the participants as well as obtaining feedback post event.

How about also incorporating an interactive game where info on stats, facts or suggestions about waste management/ benefits of eco-friendly approaches to events, are made available, in a short yet effective way.

Each fact/info has a designated bar code. These will allow you to collect points by scanning a bar code available in different points of the event. Once you have completed the game, you are then awarded with either a discount to your next ticket or with a green incentive/ get entered to a prize draw to win something.

I thought I would share it!

eventsustainability says:

Hi Noah, thank you for your feedback and for sharing the blog. Digital tickets and event apps are becoming more and more common now due to advanced technology; research shows that 85% of 18 to 34 year old own a smartphone. Whilst event apps do offer easy access to important information regarding the events, technology can fail at the worst of times. Some attendees may also be reluctant to download the app if they are only going to use it for a short amount of time and then delete it. When using an app for example at a 2/3 day festival then attendees will need to keep their phone charged so they can keep using the app, this will then create a demand on the amount of charging stations which increases the amount of electricity used. Maybe an option could be to charge a small amount for the app and then provide attendees with a free power bank?

Lydia says:

Great post and lots of positive food for thought! One thing that should also be factored in for events seeking to become more green is accessibility. In some cases, environmental sustainability cuts down the carbon footprint of the event under an ableist lens, disregarding the experiences of those with disabilities.
For instance, Whole Foods (a grocery store that caters to people inclined towards making a positive impact on the environment and those who have a larger pocket book) once carried pre-peeled oranges packaged in plastic containers. After numerous complaints about the plastic waste, this item was discontinued. For an able bodied person, yes, people should be able to peel their oranges. But for a person with mobility issues or arthritic hands, that became one less source of fresh fruit they had access to.
Is it possible to have an environmentally friendly event that is also accessible to all? I believe it is possible. But it won’t happen if people forget that people with disabilities have just as much a right to attend events as anyone else.
Returning to the main point, the success or failure of an event’s ability to reduce it’s carbon footprint is very dependent on how accessible its resources are. If a large sprawling event doesn’t give attendees paper copies of the schedule and map, it needs to provide locations for attendees to consult maps and schedules. If an event wishes to encourage recycling, there needs to not only be receptacles for recycling, but also staffing that can change the bins frequently to ensure that there isn’t an overflow that leads to recycling going into a trash bin. Attendees of events are generally willing to reduce their carbon footprint so long as it is convenient to them.

eventsustainability says:

Hello Lydia, thank you for your comment and valid points. We agree events should be accessible for everyone to ensure all attendees have the same experience. Tackling your point regarding disability friendly food options whilst not damaging the environment could be to employee more staff or volunteers to help out disabled people to give them a comfortable experience. Some people may see the plastic containers as waste but from an accessible point of view they can be extremely helpful. Do you have any suggestions as to how an event manager could make their event more accessible for disabled people?

Lydia says:

I have been to a few events that factored in accessibility to those with disabilities and some of the things I have observed were:
-Before the event even started, sending out surveys to gauge the dietary needs of those attending. The survey also was an excellent way to know what the accessibility needs were going to be for the event while also giving good numbers to know where their focus would be needed most.
-Making sure that there are options for people who require wheelchairs or mobility scooters. There was a staff golf cart that could pick up attendees and transport them to where they needed to be.
-Ensuring that there was adequate lighting for those with impaired eye sight.
-Laying down clear parameters for attendees that not only made them aware that not everyone was able bodied, but also how to offer assistance without taking away from another person’s autonomy.

Jayne says:

An interesting question and a very thoughtful one. When everyone is focussing on recycling on all fronts, why should event management not also be looking at this side of things. We do need to educate people on this too so good luck with this campaign. This may make things more expensive – you are right, often eco friendly products are more expensive but you have to start somewhere. Perhaps the ISO standards need tightening up to make it easier to follow and comply with. (Although I have no idea how that could be done).

eventsustainability says:

Hi Jayne, thank you for your comment. Event managers should be looking at this side of their event and they do need to educate their staff on the current issue. Being educated on this issue is the first step but the problem comes into play when implementing it due implications such as cost, time planning and subsequent decrease in productivity it can make it more of a task for the event manager. Apart from tightening ISO, what other support do you think event managers need to help them implement more environmental practices?

Jan says:

Very interesting article. I hope it makes people think about sustainability right away but I am sure that in a near future, this will be a “must”. Well done.

eventsustainability says:

Hi Jan, thank you for your positive feedback. We also do hope that event managers and attendees start to think about environmental practice straight away and apply this to their events for the sake of future generations.

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