By Andrew Furness- a strategy and sustainability consultant to the international exhibition industry and a founding member of the MBB-Consulting Partner Group.
Paraphrasing the 14th Century author and ‘Father of English literature’ Geoffrey Chaucer may seem an odd start point for an article on sustainability, but recent experiences have highlighted to me, that ‘time’ or more correctly, ‘time management’, is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing organisations wishing to become more sustainable.
It is a truism that for any organisation seeking to improve its sustainability performance, it will not only take time, but it will also require dedicated time allocated to the task. A simple question for those businesses that have already embarked on this journey is, how many have asked an existing employee to take on the role of ‘sustainability lead’ in addition to continuing with their previous responsibilities? The point is, do they have sufficient time in their working day to make a material difference?
Of course any improvement in sustainability performance should be applauded but the time allocated to this function should recognise its ability to deliver greater efficiencies, cost savings and enhanced commercial resilience to the business.
It is never too early to be thinking ‘sustainability’ whether in respect to the performance of the organisation itself or relating to the needs of a specific project e.g. a future exhibition or conference. To effectively collate and review data takes time and this process is fundamental to enabling informed discussion, which ultimately determines the scope and direction of the sustainability plan being putting into place.
To communicate those plans along with consulting and educating those impacted by them i.e. as to what it means for their responsibilities, is an area where significant time can be lost particularly if, as is often the case, it involves external stakeholders who may not be as appreciative or conscientious about observing appropriate timelines. It is vital to impress upon all stakeholders that, as with many aspects of business, having more time often translates into having more choice resulting in a much greater likelihood of achieving your sustainability objectives.
Becoming more sustainable invariably requires making changes not only to the way we think but also how we do things. A cost-benefit analysis of implementing those changes needs time to be properly considered, but we must all guard against not letting this drift into prevarication or possibly more aptly put, inaction.
As our industry celebrates the return of in-person events and numerous glossy pictures from the show floor are shared, I do ask myself how much time organisers will have given to considering the sustainability performance of their latest events e.g. is that aisle carpet reusable or recyclable, is it needed? Are the materials in that self-build stand going to be reused or recycled? And so on. Or, has improving sustainability become a victim of the overriding pressure to simply run an event during these uncertain times and highlight to the market that things are almost back to normal?
For our industry, along with many others, the effects of the pandemic should challenge us to do things differently and as an industry we probably all agree it’s time to change, but in reality are we ‘making time’ for change?