This week the sustainable events summit took place. The day started off well with a delectable breakfast, including edible flower displays. I became increasingly enthusiastic as I watched a sizeable crowd gather for the worthy event – to think that all these people were eager to learn more about one of my passions! However, as the day progressed my excitement waned.
There is no denying – the event was executed to perfection and at times it felt like I was in a staged propaganda rally. I was very sad to discover that it was more about adding to the hype surrounding sustainability than anything else. And that most people seemed to be buying into it.
The constant filming certainly added to my discomfort throughout the day, but, more importantly, I felt certain key issues had been overlooked, or at most vaguely glazed over. Very little practical information was given regarding risk management, better supply chain practices, as well as increasing legal requirements – compliance being described as “boring” in one of the workshops. It may well be so but when companies are seeking a business case for ‘doing sustainability’, legal risk is probably a principal driver for large-scale action. In addition, people contemplated talking to clients, communicating internally with procurement, but when it came to the supply chain it was black or white: do we demand these changes from suppliers or do we wait for suppliers with the right credentials to come to us? What’s wrong with extending the dialogue to suppliers and sharing the know-how and resources? Wouldn’t a proper stakeholder engagement include suppliers, too? Isn’t that where there is real opportunity for innovation?
I spoke to one attendee who had not gathered that sustainability was as much about transparency and governance as it was about the environment, labour and the community. In addition, many of the panellists seemed to focus only on reducing their impacts and very loosely touched on minimising their dependencies. In my view, a reference to both in equal measure, with a few supporting figures, would have sold sustainability much better as a business imperative.
Moreover, it seemed demonstrating leadership was encouraged simply by embracing sustainability and joining the debate. This is simply not true – most organisation talk about sustainability these days. It’s understanding and embedding it properly which makes a genuine leader. Not only that but this advice is not practically useful to any one and in no way tailored to the events sector’s needs.
Why should the events sector specifically care about sustainability if clients aren’t asking for it? There could have been mention of so many material issues for the sector – such as the prevalence of casual workers in events, their potential exploitation and the associated reputational loss and potential legal liability…or perhaps some more constructive information regarding waste management and due diligence. None of that.
Finally, the day was peppered with references to ISO 20121. I was disappointed to see that virtually everyone saw it as obtaining a stamp of credibility for “things they were already doing” and not an opportunity to ensure continuous improvement operationally and gain strategic advantage. There was no talk about the after ISO 20121 – how does one mature the system and continue to add value?
I did end the day on an interesting note, however, where one discussion with a fellow attendee from a productions company revealed that without their ISO certifications over the past four years they would have lost out on roughly £1million worth of business.