Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Is Complexity Killing Event Sustainability?

Shibui: simple, subtle, unobtrusive beauty.

To explain it runs counter to the Japanese artistic concept embodied in the word, but alas, I will try. In describing the concept's relevance to raku pottery it is mentioned shibui is that element that is neither the artist, or the object, but the tension that connects the two of them together. It's the fire of the kiln, the pattern a watercolour brush stains the page. It's the process that transfixes us when we become absorbed in an experience; time passes without knowledge of it and we emerge changed.

Change of course is what we need in the event industry. Especially if we are to contribute to a more sustainable society. But the path to transformation needs to be paved with tools that embody the principle of shibui: simplicity, subtlety, unobtrusiveness. In other words: to make sustainability mainstream it must use tools that naturally fit with how events work.

Yes, the devil is in the details and people need guidance through sustainable event standards that are robust. But if the design of event sustainability standards do not provide a point of entry that encourages and allows professionals to use them, they become impermeable, sterile, inert. Like a piece of complex art you set on a shelf and observe from a distance: not able to relate to it, intimidated to attempt it.

There is a very wide gap that exists between event management and sustainability. And I don't just mean in terms of footprint. I mean in terms of skill set and knowledge. Event managers have a deep knowledge of their supply chain, relationship building and experience creation. Sustainability professionals have a deep knowledge of environmental and social responsibility approaches that can ensure business success. Standards  need to build a permanent bridge between these sectors in a way that does not disable action through intimidation. And eventually enables toll-free ownership of event sustainability by those able to take responsibility for it: event planners and suppliers.

While we need event sustainability experts, or artists, what we really need right now are more apprentices. We desperately need people to get started. To find apprentices event sustainability artists need to make what they do accessible, and less intimidating. We need to accept that perfection is not the goal: active and informed participation is. We need to cultivate standards that can be accessed to educate, enable ownership and promote innovation, while not being so foreign that they paralyze initiative from the outset. We need to break down the barriers that exist between sustainability experts and event industry professionals with carefully-designed and simple stepping stones that bridge the divide. To do this we need to embody less of the baggage that has come to (negatively) define bureaucratic standards. We need act like teachers, mentors and educators, and need event sustainability standards to do the same.

At least that is my take, as an apprentice seeking shibui.

The time is now to make your voice heard as pivotal event sustainability standards are being offered for comment. As you review them ask yourself:
  • Can they be understood by an event professional who will be a primary user?
  • Are the requirements reasonable and feasible enough to make them a daily practice?
  • Is a more sustainable event industry really being enabled by what is recommended?
  • Most fundamentally, consider: Could I do this? Can these help me be a better apprentice?
If you're like me, I'm becoming absorbed in the process, but I'm not emerging changed. If anything I'm confused and concerned standards lack the simple and natural fit with event planning necessary to gain traction with the mainstream event industry.

Help make emergent event sustainability standards effective, accessible pathways to a better industry. Have your say:

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