Walking the sustainable walk
We’re so proud to have co-produced the Global Sustainable Events Summit 2016, which saw the launch of new research into corporate event planners’ thinking on sustainability.
Now in its fourth year, the Summit has been a forum enabling events industry professionals to share best practice and innovation in the design and delivery of sustainable events.
But this year the Summit – a collaboration between sustainability consultancy Positive Impact, live events agency Smyle and RLC – has taken its thought-leadership content to a new level.
RLC Managing Director Rachel Ley explains: “After three successful years of industry discussion we’d reached the point of needing to understand the thinking of our clients – in-house corporate event planners – towards sustainability. By conducting research during the run-up to the Summit we were able to use the qualitative and quantitative data gathered to influence the agenda of our onward discussions.
“We were particularly keen to identify any perceived barriers to the application of sustainability practices in event planning and delivery.”
The research involved in-depth interviews with six leading brand clients, plus quantitative data received from 102 corporate respondents. The emerging five key themes were then examined and discussed during the Summit.
· Asked to select the most important of the three pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Economic and Social sustainability, 61% of our respondents chose Environmental. In fact, as explained during the Summit, this pillar gives event planners the toughest challenge, given the carbon impact from the travel, light and heat consumed by an event.
Speakers touched on the value of focusing on the other two pillars. Social sustainability means benefiting local communities and people – an area which clients are happy to explore within their event programmes.
The ‘Economic’ pillar includes the optimisation of available resources and efficient use of assets to minimise waste and duplication. One of the Summit’s speakers mentioned the £3.5 trillion of idle resources worldwide, explaining that businesses should explore opportunities for ‘accessing’ rather than owning; of sharing rather than renting; of swapping and borrowing rather than hiring. This can be typically applied to logistics, venue set-up and production.
· Our respondents didn’t identify with any one sustainability accreditation label – and speakers advised event professionals to align themselves to an accreditation scheme that reflects their own needs and business profile.
· Only 18% of our respondents admitted to sharing or publishing their event sustainability reports. In-depth interviews had revealed reservations around negative media coverage and fear of criticism for not achieving a 100% success rate. Speakers from the events industry media stressed the value of positive sustainability stories, as a means of sharing best practice in as many ways as possible.
· Respondents agreed that sustainability is not a barrier to creativity. In fact 81% believed that it supports rather than hinders innovation. Examples were given of events that had explored new ways of engaging and motivating delegates, such as the building of 12 homes in New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
· Although brands are applying sustainability within their businesses they’re not consistently applying it to their event delivery. Understandably location and cost are key factors in the decision-making process and may overshadow sustainability factors; also it isn’t always possible to incorporate a CSR component within an event programme.
Summit delegates were told that the Paris Accord of 2016 saw 196 countries adopt the first ever universal, legally binding deal to combat climate change. The UN has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
This means that in the face of potential increasing government legislation businesses are likely to expand their sustainability focus to their events. In 2017 we can expect to be asked to share best practice, take part in education initiatives and champion new innovations to support our clients’ own sustainability drive.
RLC’s Rachel Ley concluded “The big story coming from this year’s Sustainable Events Summit is that the events industry now has a great opportunity to communicate our progress and the successes already achieved in enhancing and influencing sustainable tourism. We ignore sustainability at our commercial peril”.