James Hitchen, General Manager of Event Marketing Association (EMA) on what it costs to go green in the events industry.
Although I am not an expert on sustainability, I am aware it is a very important subject and one that is gaining more and more traction. The simple fact as I see it is the world’s natural resources are being depleted, the temperature of the planet is rising and if we all don’t do something, the impact will be negative.
Sustainability is such a broad topic but how does the events industry fit into it? As an industry we are good at wasting things. So much of what we do is for one-off use, wasting electricity, food, materials, and plastic. In the 17 years I have been in the industry I have been known to waste things sometimes – it is hard to avoid when you are planning an event in the middle of a nowhere and everything has to be brought in. It is however getting easier to have a more sustainable, greener event that is not so cost prohibitive.
About 10 years ago I produced an event to launch a biodegradable shower gel. The event had to be carbon neutral and as sustainable as possible. In theory it should not have been a problem but as always, the budget was extremely tight which made things more challenging. Every aspect of the event had to be looked at in great detail to make sure products were as locally sourced as possible. We had to use LED lighting – which is standard these days – travel distances for the team had to be as short as possible and any item that was fabricated had to be upcycled or recycled. We had to take things into consideration that, until that point had, rightly or wrongly, never really crossed my mind before. The event did go over budget, but we achieved everything that was asked, and we hit the sustainability goals that had been set. It taught me a lot!
I recount this story as it begs the question of how it might be different if I was to do it all again tomorrow. Well, I am now definitely better equipped to know the pitfalls and challenges. There is still a cost attached to being sustainable, and the cost can still be a barrier and as such, I worry that sustainability, much like wellbeing, can become a tick-box exercise for some organisations.
We are definitely improving as an industry and I hope we continue. It is easy to have a sustainability policy but to have truly sustainable credentials is something quite else: a company has to not only look at how it operates day to day, but also at the events it produces. I think the time has come not to ask the cost of sustainability, but rather what will it cost if we are not?