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Essay: Sustainability in the events industry

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  • Subject area(s): Environmental studies essays
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  • Published: 5 August 2022*
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  • Words: 2,131 (approx)
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Events use up resources, send out emissions, and create waste; if we ignore the urgent call of nature, the events industry will contribute to the continual devastation of the environment and earth’s natural resources (Jones, 2018). The issue of environmental practices and sustainability is at the epicentre of international concern, with pressure on all industries to reduce their negative impacts (Dickson and Arcodia, 2010). There is no exception for the events industry. They have to reflect on practices, overcome barriers, and appease the pressures put on them. Events can have both positive and negative impacts on their immediate and wider environments. Events touch everyone and it is important for event managers to minimise the negative and to achieve positive impacts (Masterman, 2014). This essay will discuss sustainability, the pressures put on organisers, barriers, positive and negative impacts of events and how events can become environmentally friendly on a tight budget. Events can be environmentally friendly and there are numerous pressures put on organisers to encourage them to achieve sustainable goals.

WECD (1987 p.16) describe sustainability as,

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
If we use up resources faster than we can replenish them, we will destroy our environment and lifestyle for future generations. The recent growing concerns for the environment have forced the events industry to reflect on its sustainability (Bladen et al., 2012).

Events are known to have major impacts on the environment, economic, and social structures. However, the environmental impacts are often still put to the back of event organisers’ minds.

There are a number of influences forcing event organisers to reflect on their sustainability and environmental policies. This includes; pressures from stakeholders, legislation, standards, bidding for events, funding, consumer demand, and competitive image.
Events do not have the best track record for being environmentally friendly or sustainable. The 1992 Winter Olympics resulted in leaks of toxic ammonia from the race tracks and deforestation and erosion of the Alpine mountains (Timsheva, 2001). This resulted in locals protesting at the Games Opening Ceremony. Stakeholders such as the local community, businesses, and venue/land owners put pressure on event organisers to avoid causing disruption and damage to their local area.

Legalisation and the creation of standards is a major influence in the events industry. Getz (2005) states that, events are legally bound to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The UK Climate Change Act commits the UK to reduce 80% of C02 emissions by 2050 (Committee on Climate Change, 2018). All organisers have the legal responsibility to make sure that they operate with a ‘Duty of Care’ for our environment. Scotland’s regulations around the disposal of waste are strict, as they aim to be a ‘Zero Waste Scotland’ by recycling 70% of waste by 2025 (Resource Efficient Scotland, 2015). This requires event organisers to clearly identify waste containers with instructions. An International Standard (ISO 20121) was developed to help the events industry operate in a sustainable manner. The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games were the first games to secure the ISO 20121 by creating a ‘Zero Waste’ event. They achieved this by composting all food and reusing 260,000 items from the London Olympics (Edie.net, 2014). If organisers do not use legalisations and standards it will be seen as a lack of competence for our environment.

Mega-events have a major impact on the host destination. The development of environmental strategies is crucial for competitive bidding for mega-events (Laing and Frost, 2010). London 2012 Olympic Games were designed to be the most sustainable games to date. The sustainability plan addressed three environmental themes, minimizing negative impacts such as greenhouse gasses, reducing waste across the whole project, and reducing negative impact on wildlife (Ferdinand and Kitchin, 2016). Environmental assessment has become an important factor in determining where and how these events are hosted (Collins and Flynn, 2008). Many large and small events may acquire funding. Funding agencies require environmental approaches to be highlighted in their application forms. Tourism NI requires applicants to identify the impact their event will have on the environment and plan measures to minimise them.

Consumer demand for sustainable products and services has increased in recent years. In Northern Ireland, 56% of people are fairly concerned about the environment (Tourism NI, 2012). This growing trend has resulted in people wanting to know what is going on behind the scenes and what is being done to reduce the environmental impacts. According to Ferdinand and Kitchin (2016), creating sustainable approaches increases the level of satisfaction among visitors. Consumer demand and expectations has had a significant impact on the way event organisers implement sustainable practices.

Many organisers create environmentally friendly events to achieve social corporate responsibility goals and for a marketing and public relations perspective (Dickson and Arcodia, 2010). No company wants to receive bad publicity for their lack of competence and duty of care. Therefore when creating environmentally friendly events they use it as a major factor in driving business and brand value (Crowther, 2010). Event organisers use environment strategies to build their image and gain a competitive advantage.

However, event organisers do face many barriers and challenges to keep up with this new trend. Money for environmental resources and upsetting the event experience are barriers for organisers (Getz, 2009). Often organisers fall short of the mark because of factors such as; the lack of reliable information, inertia, employee perceptions, and failure to use standards (Raj et al., 2017).

Events can be a positive force for sustainable development. Getz (2007) states, that if events are managed effectively they can be used as a pervasive tool in achieving strategic goals. Events can transform the visitor’s learning of eco-friendly practices as they have the ability to reach large numbers of people. Sustainable procedures can be ‘piloted’ and their efficiency can be assessed for wider implementation (Collins et al., 2009). Events can help achieve the local government’s environmental plan. At Londonderry’s recent Halloween festivities they featured recycled sculptures created by Colin McKnight. The Council wanted the event goers to reflect on the amount of waste they create and how they can help to reduce this volume of waste in day-to-day life and at the event (Derry City and Strabane Council, 2018).

Negative impacts can occur when the events impact level is greater than the environments ability to cope. This can put event organisers under scrutiny and can destroy the image of the event. The Rio Carnival in Brazil was scrutinised for the amount of glitter used in their parade. The Guardian (2018) wrote that the environmental impact glitter has is damping the mood at the world’s largest party. Glitter is a single-use micro-plastic which can pass through our sewage treatment processes with ease, reach the ocean and can be ingested by small marine life. Single-use plastics have become an international concern within the past year. Collins Dictionary announced ‘single-use’ as word of the year, which reflects the global awareness of this issue (Independent, 2018). This is not the first time that Rio has failed to incorporate environmental practices. The Rio Olympic Games 2016 promised to treat the contamination in the Guanabara Bay ahead of the games by 80%. However, this target was not met which resulted in star athletics competing in the water getting sick (The Telegraph, 2016). This is an example of greenwashing. Where event organisers claim to be more environmentally friendly than what they really are – words and actions don’t line up!

An environmental policy should integrate all elements and all stages of the event planning and running process. An environment-conscious attitude is required (Raj and Musgrave, 2009). Many areas need consideration when creating environmental event policies such as; waste management, transport, office management, noise pollution, CO2 emissions, and wildlife.

To create an environmentally friendly event on a tight budget can be discouraging for event organisers. However, with innovative ideas and strategies this daunting task can be overcome. Information is the first step in a chain leading to involvement of visitors and stakeholders in enhancing the sustainability of events (Ferdinand and Kitchin, 2016). Once the strategy and environment goals are set, all relevant stakeholders that are impacted by the strategy need to be made aware of all information. Not all stakeholders may necessarily be supportive and can have conflicting interests; event managers need to offer information and support (Laing and Frost, 2010). At the Sunflowerfest in Hillsborough, traders were not allowed to sell any plastic bottles (Sunflowerfest, 2018); this could have an impact on the trader’s business as they had to source recyclable cans. Visitors are led by the example of the organiser. Marketing materials should present the event as environmentally friendly, so eventgoers are aware of what is expected by them. With the correct signage, volunteers and information sustainable behaviours can be achieved.

Event planning can commence many years before the event. Therefore efficient management of sustainable practices in the office is also important in the measurement of the overall environmental impact. Simple changes can be made which require little or no cost such as, going paperless by sending email invites and only printing necessary documents. Use more recycled and compostable items and also ban single-use plastics. Virtual meetings or conference calls can be held to reduce travel impacts. Encourage co-workers to change behaviours and commit to an environmentally friendly office protocol.

Obtaining volunteers for a low budget event can help achieve green initiatives. Roles can be advertised on social media, their website and free advertising platforms. To help attendees recycle volunteers can demonstrate the target behaviour in front of bystanders, influencing and encouraging them to also engage in the behaviour (Sussman and Gifford, 2011). At the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, they appointed volunteers to become ‘Recycling Ambassadors’ who helped eventgoers recycle. To encourage volunteer retention the organiser can offer lunch and breaks and also an award for helping. The Belfast City Marathon sends all their volunteers a medal for helping on the day. This is a small expense to incorporate into the budget for the overall money saved on a paid wage.

Organisers may look for venues to host their event. A simple way to reduce environment impacts is to look at venues which already have practices in place. The Edinburgh International Conference Centre is an environmentally friendly multipurpose events venue. The EICC have developed a Green Team to implement environmentally friendly practices at all the events they host. Many meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE events) offer their attendees light refreshments or lunch. Precise catering numbers can reduce food waste and left overs can be offered to charities; this will also reduce unnecessary spending.

Using renewable energy as a means to reduce CO2 emissions may not be practical for events with little resources and tight budgets. To help overcome CO2 emissions that an event creates, this effect could be reversed with the planting of trees, which will have a positive long-term effect. Money from each ticket or donations can fund this, as 48% of people would pay more for a green event (Greener Festival, 2008). However, recent comprehensive cost reports have found that renewable energy will be cheaper than traditional fossil fuel energy by 2020 (IRENA, 2018). This will have an immense impact on the future of sustainable event management. Travel contributes to around 80% of total CO2 emissions of UK festivals (Powerful Thinking, 2015). To reduce impacts from travel, venues can be chosen with good links to public transport. Incentives such as discounted rates, competitions, and free merchandise can encourage visitors to eco-travel to the event. Coachella offer event goers the chance to win VIP tickets, if they carpool with four or more people.

Event organisers can take audits to benchmark and improve performance and achieve accreditation. For regular or yearly events on a tight budget this can help organisers understand the areas which they need to improve. Green Mark reviews sustainable event practices and offers a ‘Greener Event Award’ to businesses with a limited budget (Green Mark, 2018). Environmentally friendly events should be accredited for their work no matter how big their budget is.

Events are of local, national and international importance; events touch everyone and understanding the environment impacts is significant to the future of the industry (Foley et al., 2012). Events will continue to destroy the environment without strict policies in place. With the growing concern for the environment event organisers cannot ignore the pressures explained in this essay. Implementing environmental practices offer a challenge to the events industry but also an opportunity to be seized. Innovative and captivating ideas are crucial in designing environmental strategies with low budget events. Budget friendly ideas such as acquiring volunteers, funding schemes, offering incentives, choosing an environmentally friendly venue, office management and concise communication of information can help achieve sustainable goals. Future event organisers will need to continually meet the needs of the eventgoer while embracing sustainability across all different event types and budgets. So much more can be done to help protect our planet through events; we are only at the tip of the iceberg (Jones, 2018).


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