Glastonbury Festival has long held a philosophy of ‘Love the Farm, leave no trace’ when it comes to limiting the rubbish sent to landfill. At this year’s event, the focus was on eliminating single-use plastic throughout the site: single-use plastic drinks bottles were no longer available, plates, cutlery and drinking straws were compostable or reusable, disposable single-serve sachets weren’t even supplied and all organic waste, cans, wood, paper and glass were hand processed for recycling from the 15,000 bins on site.
Impressive, and timely. Sustainability is rightly huge on the event agenda and it’s about time that the events industry, which has in the past perhaps been guilty of using significant amounts of energy, creating significant amounts of waste and generating significant amounts of pollution, was turned around to have a positive environmental impact rather than simply reducing a negative one.
Sustainability is a responsibility for us all, and it takes professionalism, effort, planning and commitment. From a commercial perspective, even though it adds value to both client and agency brands, there is a concern that it also adds time and money. Though many companies’ budgets may be tightening, clearly, having a sustainable focus is good for both the company and the world.
So, with that in mind, how can you make an event successful and green?
Firstly, you decide right from the start that sustainability is integral to the event agenda – not an addition to it – and if some things do come at an increased cost remember that better planning and efficiency should reduce costs elsewhere. The best way to balance the budget and make an event successful is professional planning. Having an objective and aiming for it will mean that decisions are made in a timely fashion and sustainability can be integral from day 1.
Then, you think ahead to develop a sustainability plan. You need to know what the event’s environmental impact is, or is likely to be, before you can take steps to reduce it. Dividing the environmental impact up into manageable chunks will make it easier to manage and improve.One area in which large events can either create or reduce impact is food. Implement accurate ordering systems that calculate food per person – or have guests pre-order – through the use of a specific app for example. Using technology to provide digital menus keeps printing and paper costs down and allows for easy agenda changes whilst locally sourced and organic produce reduces the carbon footprint throughout the supply chain. And don’t simply throw left-overs away – in conjunction with the appropriate legislation – consider donating. This can be great from a CSR perspective, support your own values and at the same time generate word-of-mouth, you could even get the attendees involved.
It is important to keep your goals realistic and measurable. Then you know what you’ve achieved and how to improve further. High aspirations may feel like a good start but it’s unlikely that a 100% reduction in food waste per event is possible – however a 50% one will still create a significant and tangible impact.
It’s also important to decide what you are going to measure before you start. It could be the amount of diesel or electricity used, the percentage of waste you were able to recycle, or the number of local food suppliers you were able to involve. Consider them your environmental key performance indicators – set targets and achieve them.
You also need to make sure that your contractors and suppliers understand and can deliver their services to fulfil your requirements. If you want recyclable cutlery and plates, they need to know early, and they need to be able to supply them from the start.
Recycling is also of crucial importance. Help attendees by getting the bin signage and opening size right – making it easier for people to bother than not. There’s no reason why you can’t add a bit of fun and innovation to the proceedings either. For instance, we’ve recently introduced basketball nets for recycling rubbish which are surprisingly hard to resist. If you can re-use items rather than recycling them, or not use them at all, even better. In fact, we’re working on creating assets that can be re-used at future events or even back at the office, as well as creating stage sets for clients using recycled materials for when they do have to be disposed of. Obviously, we make sure that the contractor recycles or disposes of waste correctly.
Often, a key part of the process for event planners is organising transport for attendees. Clearly, travelling to an event is an integral and necessary part of it, but organisers who care about sustainability are looking for a more sustainable transport process. It’s relatively straightforward to use an events app to support car sharing – we put carbon calculators on pre-registration sites so that attendees can actually see their impact and are encouraged to share – massively reducing the impact of single car use. You could even manipulate this information and use it deliberately to integrate teams and break down silos within your organisation.
Now, if this all seems too much in one go, try adding a measurable impact area to each new event – building on the success of the previous one.
Better to have an impact on five areas after five events which then become an integral and ongoing part of your process than be overwhelmed by trying to add five impact areas to one event and giving up. Remember that small changes can be pivotal and their impact huge.
One important thing is to choose an agency with sustainability as a core value which can support you in developing your event and meeting your objectives.