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Contributing to a Healthier Planet Through Event Sustainability

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Have you ever thought about the waste that big events leave behind? When there is a concert, a big game in town, or even a corporate event, like an expo,  have you ever thought about all the plastic used, like drink bottles, eating utensils, plates etc. You’d be forgiven for not considering it, however, now more than ever, it’s a question being asked.

Society is putting some thinking on the environmental impacts of events, alongside their societal, economic and sometimes – depending on the type of the event – political impacts, and the development of standards such as ISO 20121 proves precisely that.

Even though events planning and management might sound like a fairly contemporary idea and business activity, it is in fact very old. Since early humans started to get organized into groups, the idea of rituals was born, and thus the organization of “events” took place. Then, when the society started to get hierarchized, royalty would have extravagant weddings, birthdays, celebrations, funerals and so on.

In other words, even though perhaps the nomenclature did not exist as such, events were planned and organized from a long time ago.

Events Planning

With the evolution and the sophistication of societies, events planning took a whole new dimension and it got more complex.

One of these dimensions is also the environmental footprint that events, especially big ones leave behind. This matter was materialized in all its seriousness in 2012, during the London Olympics, when the Organizing Committee implemented the freshly developed ISO 20121 – the first international standard on sustainable events.

The standard was developed by ISO during the time of the London Olympics because sustainability was a central idea in London 2012.

While the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has a myriad of standards concerning the environment and environmental management, such as:

–    ISO 14001 – Environmental Management System;

–    ISO 50001 – Energy Management System;

–    ISO 14015 – Environmental Assessment of Sites and Organizations;

–    ISO 14063 – Environmental Communication;

–    ISO 14031 – Environmental Performance Evaluation and many more.

However, ISO 20121 is very specific to events, and offers guidance on how to organize an event with a minimum environmental footprint while enhancing productivity and efficiency, saving costs and increasing profit.

While being aligned with other management systems standards, such as ISO 14001 and ISO 9001, ISO 20121 is also a very good management tool to show social responsibility, or the “People” bottom line of the “Triple Bottom Lines”, famously known as the “three P’s of Sustainability”.

It is a very interesting approach to sustainability, because it does not undermine the importance of profitability, while putting the same weight on sustainability and social responsibility.

The TBL or “Triple Bottom Line”, or “Three P’s” stand for three bottom lines that a company should take into account, and which measure a company’s success: Profit, People and the Planet.

In an article on ISO 20121, the three P’s and the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle, it is argued that an events management company can integrate these three and tackle a number of issues with one solution: implementing and maintaining ISO 20121.

Some of the more general benefits of implementing ISO 20121 for sustainable events include:

  • Reduced environmental footprint
  • Cost Reduction
  • Increased efficiency
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Increase labor productivity and motivation
  • Improved image by proving to be socially reliable
  • Possibility to integrate several management systems

Moreover, while the urgency and imminence of the effects of global warming and climate change are the main reason of investing in the implementation and maintenance of the ISO 20121, the latter is also a very good PR tool which can be used to display how responsible an organization that organizes events is towards the future of the planet and the future generations.

As environmental issues have never been paid more attention to, people all over the world, both in developed and developing countries are being careful and increasingly showing interest towards doing their part to contribute to the global effort of saving the planet.

In this sense, a company which showcases interest, to the point of investing time and resources in being environmentally responsible, to interjecting their input in this matter of cardinal importance, shows alignment with the contemporary values and principles of their clientele.

If we look at it closely, a company or organization which organizes big events implements a standard like ISO 20121 and commits to not polluting the environment through their business operations, is not committing to “clean” the environment, but rather to leave it as it is. It is rather a matter of balanced principle of non-interference than a heroic act of salvation.

About the Author

Julian Kuci is the Marketing Quality Assurance Manager at PECB. He is a graduate of RIT in Economics & Statistics and Public Policy & Governance. Julian holds a diploma in Transitional Justice from the Regional School of Transitional Justice and is certified against ISO 9001 – Quality Management and ISO/IEC 27001- Information Security Management.

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