Doing the right thing – but where to start?

Andrew Furness recommends an Initial Environmental Review for events businesses wishing to implement an environmental sustainability initiative.

Increased environmental regulation is going to be a fact of life in the future but this should not be the only reason for embarking upon the planning and implementation of a sustainability strategy.

Some notable event industry players have already introduced sustainability programmes and will no doubt continue to develop and improve those not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing to do as well as making good business sense.

While many of us share the ambition of making our businesses more environmentally sustainable, getting started on this increasingly important journey can seem daunting. However, with a real commitment from senior management and a small investment in resources, the benefits of implementing a formal or informal Environmental Management System (EMS) are equally accessible to SME’s as they are to large corporates.

An Initial Environmental Review (IER) is a great place to start your environmental sustainability initiative. Suitable for either company-wide or individual shows, the IER will identify and help understand those environmental issues relating to your business activities. The results will inform management of priority areas for action based on those identified risks and opportunities or where further investigation may be required, particularly if there are compliance obligations to be met.

An IER is often the first step in the process of implementing a formal EMS such as ISO 14001 certification, but is equally valid for those businesses simply looking to start their own internal programme.

From the IER a register of ‘environmental aspects’ is compiled which lists any element of your business activities that interacts with the environment and so enabling you to identify environmental legislation that may be applicable. For many companies operating in the events   sector, current regulations are not too onerous as they will primarily relate to waste and waste management (including hazardous materials) and pollution e.g. emissions, noise, leakage or spillage. 

More recent thinking focuses not only on waste minimisation but also on reducing the level of resources we use through greater efficiency, a fundamental principle of good business practice.

Cost savings can be found in the use of human, financial, energy or material resources.

So, what is typically involved? This, to a large extent, depends on the ‘scope’ of the activities you wish to incorporate into the IER. A single show will require significantly less input than a full portfolio or company review covering multiple geographies and regulatory regimes, albeit the process will basically be the same.

The main tasks are gathering and analysing data which will require identifying the relevant documents to be reviewed e.g. current policies and procedures etc., site visits and interviews with key staff. We should aim for a holistic approach where data collection is not restricted to just the internal information of our own organisation but extends to cover other stakeholders. For example, an exhibition organiser should include contractors such as venues, stand builders and freight forwarders, etc and consider what environmental sustainability policies and procedures do they have in place? What are their performance indicators and how do they measure up against those historically? How often are their policies and targets reviewed? Other stakeholders would include exhibitors and visitors which opens up a wide range of exciting possibilities for new initiatives.

By analysing the data, we can create a baseline for the business or activity reviewed and so set objectives against which we can measure future performance. This framework will support your action plan where objectives and targets should be prioritised to deal with the most significant environmental impacts first, as they represent the greatest risk.

An IER doesn’t have to be resource intensive to carry out and it presents an opportunity to enhance your reputation with stakeholders while adding value to the brands reputation.

We are living in unprecedented times and there is much talk about change, as well as speculation about the future shape of the events industry resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. So, as we scrutinise previous operating practices and plan the way forward, let us put environmental sustainability at the heart of our future plans and collectively start to tackle arguably the most challenging emergency of all.

Andrew Furness is a consultant to the international events industry and Associate Member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.