Strong on Sustainability pt 1: Going from Zero to Hero

8 Nov, 2021

As we hesitantly start to put dates in the event calendar for later this year, there are some questions worth asking.  It’s very easy to identify what we have lost, but let’s be positive – what are the real gains that we can hang on to, and should fight to preserve? What are the key takeaways for all of us in the event industry?

Travel by and large went out of the window and is only just beginning to feature in our lives again.  The ancillary to that, you would think, is that we made a positive impact on climate change.  Carbon emissions fell dramatically during the lockdown periods. But – and it’s a big one – a handful of months, while long and tortuous for us, represents a tiny drop in the ocean in terms of the damage we have wrought over decades.

At the end of 2020, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported that there had been little impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2. But that doesn’t mean that there are no positives to hang on to. We have all had plenty of time to think and reflect on how we can change.  As a prominent CO2 emissions scientist Oksana Tasaova commented, “the pandemic demonstrated to us is that there is a hope, in the sense that if we need to take action, we are capable to take massive actions”.

The pandemic provided an unprecedented catalyst for sustainable innovation, accelerating programmes for change. From Greta Thunberg to David Attenborough, environmental activists dedicated their platforms to tackle the global problem of climate change, inciting action in governments and businesses worldwide. The events industry was no exception… a year of near physical inactivity allowed an opportunity of hindsight, the cut in the industry’s carbon emissions provided a time to recalibrate and refocus our efforts into prolonging the importance of sustainability long after the return to the show floor.

Environmental policies are no longer a tick box exercise – the importance of a good environmental policy begins with an initial evaluation- calculating a baseline carbon footprint, energy audit and efficiency report resulting. From there, appropriate and sustainable policies can be put in place. Organisations like ISLA and Green Circle Solutions were formed over the past year to support the acceleration of the event industry towards a sustainable future. Providing support, courses and guidance to organisers, agencies and in an effort to embed sustainability into the heart of events.

However, whilst having policies and solutions in place are a step in the right direction, with physical events now firmly on the horizon, it’s time to take action.

The pandemic has introduced a new set of challenges for us to address – social distancing introduces more energy use, the need for continuous sanitisation relies on cleaning chemicals and more water usage – contributing overall to a much higher individual visitor impact despite smaller numbers.

Hard-hitting measures are needed to counteract this. While getting rid of plastic water bottles and reducing paper are important, they are not enough. Hybrid events tick many boxes again for sustainability, contributing to two of the four main pillars – environmental and economic. Hybrid events can help reduce travel, with in-person visitors travelling shorter distances.  Food and drink can be locally sourced, reducing the impact further.  And we have some clients that are adopting plant-based catering, as part of their quest to achieve their sustainability goals. Find out more about the Hybrid return to the show floor here:

Many companies use the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as their corporate guide, and their event strategies need to conform.  From our perspective, we focus on SDGs 9, 11 and 12 as key components in our design and planning process. We apply a sustainable approach at every stage of our creative process, from modular and reusable installation designs with low-emission LED lighting, and material-sourcing policies, to on-stand practices.

The key is not to try and turn the clock back to where we were, but to tackle environmental and sustainability issues head-on by integrating online and hybrid models in the future as intrinsic elements.  Perhaps the real lesson here is the philosophical one, in that the months of lockdown forced us all to recalibrate and rethink our strategies.  While there is no single “hero” gain, there are many elements that we can piece together to make a positive difference.  We do need to think “big” collectively but that doesn’t mean that small steps are not important.  Above all, we need to act and nurture the green shoots that we had so much time to think about in the past year.