There are many ways to make an event greener, writes Event Greening Forum (EGF) member Greg McManus, director of Heritage Eco Events. But implementing event greening measures doesn’t automatically make your event a green event. Here’s why.
Event greening essentially means implementing sustainable practices at your event that carefully balance environmental, social and financial considerations. The aim is to mitigate or lessen any negative impact the event could have, such as waste generated, energy and water used, the carbon footprint associated with transport and travel systems, the effect on the local community, and so on.
Event greening is a practice that I wholeheartedly encourage and endorse, for everyone in the events industry. However, a distinction needs to be made between the practice (event greening) and its results (a green event).
Proof is in the assessment
Ultimately, the success of one’s event greening actions will determine whether an event is green or not, which means two things:
- An event can only be called ‘green’ after it has finished, and its impacts have been assessed.
- It can only objectively be called ‘green’ if the assessment is carried out by an independent person who has a recognized and fair assessment method.
Carrying out event greening does not guarantee a green event.
For example, an event planner may believe that they have held the greenest event possible – and it very well could be. But without an independent evaluation and audit against a recognised standard, it’s not possible to objectively determine this. Similarly, when it comes to claiming an event is ‘sustainable’ or ‘carbon neutral’, the services of a certification consultant should be used.
Again, this isn’t to disregard event greening efforts, which should always be encouraged. And for those new to it, trying out an aspect of it can be a good way to dip one’s toe in the water.
However, I would argue that that as an event planner strives to improve their event’s sustainability and greening credentials – to become what they can confidently call a green or sustainable event, they need to independently measure and assess their impacts to benchmark and improve their performance. Without this, they will never really know how effective their actions are and if they are achieving their greening goals.
Bringing in the experts: sustainability consultants
Often event planners contract a sustainability consultant to provide greening advice, guidance and support – all of which can greatly improve the sustainability of an event. These consultants will have experience in identifying and implementing processes and systems to effectively improve the sustainability of an event.
In some cases, these consultants can also audit the event to give it a green score or rating. This is very valuable, as it helps event planners better understand the results of their efforts, what is working and what isn’t.
However, this is not the same as seeking certification for a green event – which is ultimately the most credible option for planners wanting to market their achievements and their event as green.
Certification provides certainty and credibility
Although certification consultants can also provide consulting and guidance to a client in the pre-event stage, they are bound by the ISO [International Organization for Standardization] prescript with regards to the extent to which they can provide consulting and when they need to disengage before taking the audit and evaluation roles of certification.
Generally, they take-over from the greening or sustainability consultant from build-up to strike of an event, measuring, evaluating and scoring compliance to a pre-set standard by the client. They work to a recognised standard of sustainable eventing, and their methodology and scoring processes must be as transparent as professionally possible.
Currently, the EGF has several sustainability consultants including Borena Energy, Steadfast Greening, WrapZERO and my company, Heritage Eco Events.
In terms of certification consultants, Heritage Eco Events is the only one currently operating in South Africa, and our certification label is the only South African one, too. It’s never ideal to only have one option in the market, which is why I have worked with the EGF to develop a technical standard that can assess and recognise private certification labels as they are developed.
The EGF’s technical standard ensures that all certification labels meet a minimum standard. In a sense, it is a way to certify the certification label. The EGF is hoping to support and encourage the development of more local certification labels, as well as their uptake, in order to professionalise sustainable event practices. You can find out more about it here.
Keeping marketing honest
Going back to the point that an event can only be assessed and certified after it has taken place, any pre-event marketing must be careful to not make claims that it cannot back up (greenwashing). Having said that, it is good practice to promote an event’s greening efforts, and I encourage this. However, the focus should be on what is being done to be more sustainable, rather than claims that it is sustainable. It’s a subtle nuance, but the difference between saying something has potential health benefits and saying it will cure all your ills (without being able to back this up).
Heritage Eco Events is a proud patron sponsor of the EGF.