I am sure, like many, you have joined the sustainability conscious revolution and have proceeded to take the first steps towards personal and professional environmental betterment (unless of course you’re far more socially aware than myself and have been doing it for years). You might’ve bought yourself a reusable water bottle and maybe even a keep cup for your morning coffee fix. A fantastic step in the right direction, not only have you taken it upon yourself to cut down on your reliance on single use plastics, but you’ve also acquired the ‘coolest accessory you’ll ever buy’. But how can we roll this awareness and consciousness in to the events that we are organising and make changes to both what we are doing as the hosts and attendees can do themselves?
The current situation
For the sake of ease, I’ll focus on just the UK for this. Granted we’re by no means the worst polluter in the world but we’re certainly not the greenest. The Earthwatch Institute’s 2019 Plastic Rivers Report is one of many reports to have highlighted just how far we have to go as a country. Here are some of the worst and, more importantly, most avoidable statistics the study outlined:
- 150 plastic water bottles are used each year by the average person
- 5.5 billion plastic bottles are littered, incinerated or sent to landfill, producing 233,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
- 14.6 billion cigarette butts are littered each year
- 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups are used and thrown away each year, 99% of which are currently not recycled
- 4.7 billion straws and 16.5 billion single-use cutlery items are used each year, a huge amount of which are not recycled and are often made from plastic polymers that are particularly hard to recycle
- Despite the use of plastic shopping bags falling by 86% in 2017-18, the seven major supermarkets still issued over one billion bags in the year
Due to the stresses and strains of modern working life it’s often easy to justify the environmentally damaging practices, such as single use water bottles, cable ties and one-time-use branding as a necessary evil. This does not have to be the case. Plainly defining your sustainability objectives for the events as a whole or just on an individual project basis as early as possible allows for far greater ease in the long term. Furthermore, a clear, rigorously implemented sustainability practice makes a strong statement about your event and the forward-thinking aspirations it may represent.
While sponsorships and brand partnerships can provide a great platform for implementing a coherent and credible sustainability agenda within your event, it should be noted that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. You’ll never be able to do everything so identify where you want to get to and the targets you want to hit and put down building blocks that will best enable you to get there. However, it’s ultimately a long-term play and something you have to commit to, not simply a way to garner favour by temporarily greenwashing or to hide any underlying shortcomings.
Leading from the front
Sustainability is now so engrained in popular culture that it’s difficult to avoid reference to it during regular day to day activities. I was delighted to see that it’s even taken a foothold within Fantasy Football, for in the Premier League’s version of the game (played by over 6 million people annually) you’re given you the option to have Sky Ocean Rescue as the kit sponsor for your ‘team’. The Premier League’s partnership with the campaign to #PassOnPlastic and raise awareness of the environmental damage caused by single-use-plastics is now in its second year and remains increasingly relevant.
Glastonbury’s latest edition proved that even huge annual events can take significant steps towards being sustainable. Aided by their partnership with Greenpeace, the UK’s largest music festival banned single-use plastic bottles this year in order to combat the issues highlighted by previous editions, with 2017 alone seeing more than one million plastic bottles sold.
Identify your challenges
As demonstrated by Glastonbury the first course of action is to identify where your potential sustainability challenges are. This may typically take the form of single use plastics around food and drink packaging, branding or resources. Once your difficulties have been identified a feasible plan to eliminate unnecessary waste with a focus on reusing products or avoiding single use ones needs to be developed. Our work with the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race allowed us a significant insight into how this can be put together while their ‘Turn the tide on plastic at sporting events’ guide offers a range of easily implemented strategies, considerations and attainable goals.
As can be witnessed at events both locally and globally, no matter the size, there are numerous ‘easy wins’ that can be implemented to begin this journey. As outlined in the Turn the Tide guide refillable not disposable reusable cups systems and water taps are just some of the many methods that can be easily utilised. International rugby matches at Twickenham are one of the many events that have helped champion this, with the introduction of their ‘Fan Cup’ system saving an estimated 140,000 single-use glasses per match.
In short, it’s time for everyone to ditch the straws, carrier bags and other single-use plastics, from both an event and business perspective ensuring that your sustainability goals align with those of your work is paramount to its success. Not only does this highlight your values and position but it further increases the nuance of your offering, as well as doing the planet a bit of good.
For more information about how sustainability can be integrated into your events you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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