Sustainability: back in the spotlight

Sustainability is back in the spotlight following an uncertain few years where the focus shifted to businesses getting through the tough economic climate. According to the American Express Meetings and Events’ 2012 Meetings Barometer, the focus on more environmentally friendly meetings is likely to continue to increase.

From the smaller things such as reducing paper and car sharing to larger initiatives such as setting green SMART targets and obtaining benchmarking data, the industry is trying to minimise its carbon footprint.

AMEX Meetings and Events’ UK Director Peter Manning told CN: “Our studies and on-going experience show us there is a keen interest in more ‘green meetings’. Hotel suppliers reported 47 per cent of clients having green requests for their events.”

In North America a partnership is already in place between AMEX Meetings and Events, Maxvantage and Green Hotels Global, which helps compare standardised footprints of carbon and water use as well as waste diversions across all properties generally and per meeting. Additionally, once the event has been completed reports can be generated calculating the hotel’s component of a meeting’s environmental impact.

“We are regularly asked for creative ways to incorporate green measures like reducing print materials, encouraging recycling and cutting down on waste and helping companies find cost-savings to meet their sustainability goals,” said Manning.

Caroline Ellison at event management agency, Clear Presentations, said her company has seen an increase in the importance of sustainability in events from the briefing and pitching stage through to evaluation, particularly in the public sector.

“It’s not just our clients considering sustainability, delegates also have certain expectations,” she said.

“Things like the venue selection, public transport links and using only e-communication are all key as well as selecting a locally-sourced menu, not serving bottled water and managing post event waste,” she added.

Venues, too, are seeing the benefits of having green credentials to attract more business. London venue 15Hatfields was recently named the UK’s Most Sustainable Conference and Event Venue by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming. The award is presented to organisations that can demonstrate ’exceptional standards of leadership in sustainable business practice’. 

Jonathan Pauling, Greater London Authority and Kath Dalmeny, Sustain, presented the award, and said: “15Hatfields is a conference and events venue with a list of sustainable credentials as long as your arm and has shown a particular commitment to food sustainability.”

15Hatfields has introduced a number of measures to reduce greenhouse emissions. Since 2010 the venue has pursued a zero waste to landfill policy and introduced the latest energy saving devices, reducing its utility bills by 50 per cent. Its no bottled water policy has prevented 1m plastic water bottles ending up in landfill (the venue filters its own water on site and serves to clients in reusable bottles).

Warren Campbell, General Manager at 15Hatfields, said:
 “I hope this award will help encourage and improve sustainable business management practice in the events industry. There is no reason why the events industry cannot lead the way in helping to create a more sustainable future.”


The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has published a new standard to support the organisers of meetings and events in integrating sustainability with their activities. 

ISO 20121:2012 is suitable for all members of the supply chain and for ensuring that events, ranging from local celebrations to ‘mega events’ such as the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, leave behind a positive legacy.

Conferences, sporting events, exhibitions and festivals can offer a wide range of public, local community and economic benefits. However, staging an event can    also generate negative economic, environmental and social impacts, such as material waste, energy consumption and strains on local communities. ISO 20121, its sponsors claim, provides the framework for identifying the potentially negative social, economic and environmental impacts of events by removing or reducing them, and capitalising on more positive impacts through improved planning and processes.

The Head of Sustainability at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, David Stubbs, said: “London 2012 is proud to have been the catalyst for ISO 20121. This is a piece of legacy with the potential to transform how events around the world consider their economic, environmental and social impacts.”

The new standard takes the management systems approach familiar to thousands of organisations worldwide through the success of standards such as ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management).
 More than 30 countries and liaison bodies participated in the work to create ISO 20121.

Experiential events and communications agency, Logistik Group, claims to be one of the first UK companies to receive the ISO 20121 Certification. “The move across to ISO 20121 came at a good time,” said Logistik’s Corporate Responsibility Manager, Sharon Ward. “We’ve been working on aligning our ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 (Quality) systems for some time and this gave us the perfect framework.

“It’s taken us six years but we can now boast a fully-integrated holistic approach aligned to our business plan and core activities. We can see some good improvement and employee engagement is high.”

Fiona Pelham chaired the ISO team of experts who developed ISO 20121, and added: “The development process has been led by members of the event industry from around the world who have experience of event management and sustainability leadership initiatives.”

Pelham identifies ‘Best business practice’ and ‘Reputational advantage’ among the new ISO’s key benefits.

“It makes sense to take an organised, processed approach to managing economic, environmental and social impacts. In addition, what gets monitored and measured gets reduced, so there are likely to be lower overheads. Using a recognised international framework will enable leaders in sustainability to demonstrate their actions in a credible and transparent way,” Pelham added.

Not all companies, however, are experiencing a readiness within the industry to accept and embrace sustainability in their events.

Carlson Wagonlit’s Business Development Director, Jane Baker told CN: “Clients do
ask about a venue’s CSR credentials but they are not a critical decision making factor and the focus of our clients remains value for money and return on investment.

“We were regularly asked about venue CSR credentials prior to the recession, but since then this focus has dropped away and is not returning with the growing demand. We do share a venue CSR policy if they have one, but it’s definitely a nice to have, not a critical factor that influences purchasing decisions. Our clients rarely make specific requests for ‘green meetings’.”

While over the past couple of years there has been an increase in the meetings industry embracing green, Clear Presentation’s Ellison agrees with Baker and said there is still a long way to go for our industry.

“It is becoming more and more expected that events are ‘green’ and it’s not always easy, but as planners we have to be creative and innovative and find solutions to making events as sustainable as feasibly possible.”

The question is, can you afford not to be sustainable?  
How to minimise your event’s green footprint

  • Think about what your key issues are such as waste, water consumption, procurement, communications, education
  • Set SMART targets for improving in each of these areas
  • Serve jugs of tap water instead of bottled water to delegates
  • Provide memory sticks with the event data instead of print outs
  • Suggest car sharing to and from the event
  • Select a green venue to host your event
  • Use the web and social media to promote the event instead of sending out paper invitations
  • Produce a locally-sourced menu
  • Look at how much you are purchasing and only buy the amount required
  • Measure your event impact to obtain benchmarking data and implement standards such as BS8901 or the future ISO20121.

This was first published in the October edition of CN. Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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