Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

One event. 
One day. 
3,600 participants.
1,616 pounds of food waste. 

Looks good, no? Having hand-picked through it I can tell you it was a mix of fruit, vegetables, bread, rice, coffee grounds, pasta, french fries and beans. I can also tell you it does not smell all that zesty after sitting in the summer heat for a few days. But what can I say? Event planning: we do it for the glamour, am I right?

For fun, let's assume my one day of food waste was a single food item. 
How much water did it take to grow the food that was composted, 
assuming it was 1,616 pounds of:

Tomatoes: 146,601 litres of water, or enough to grow 2,932 tomatoes.
Lettuce: 175,921 litres of water, or enough to grow 2,154 heads of leaf lettuce.
Apples: 610,838 litres of water, or enough to grow 4,886 apples.
Bananas: 586,404 litres of water, or enough to grow 3,665 bananas.
Rice: 1,224,119 litres of water, or enough to grow 403 bags of rice.

Bread: 1,339,200 litres of water, or enough to grow wheat for 2,443 baguettes.

Coffee grounds: 13,853,800 litres of water, 
or enough to grow beans that would brew 
104,715 cups of coffee.

“More than one-fourth of all the water we use worldwide is taken to grow over 
one billion tons of food that nobody eats. 
That water, together with the billions of dollars spent to grow, ship, package and 
purchase the food, is sent down the drain.” 
Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director 
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). 

It's World Water Week. Want to save water at events? Stop wasting food! 

For easy tips that also save money check out this post from the archives.

Water footprints estimated using Waterfootprint Network Product Gallery.
Thanks to Global Green Integrators for measurement support!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Confessions of an Event Standard Junkie Chapter 3: GRI EOSS

You can't really blame MGM Resorts for wanting to share some of the sustainability goodness they're doing. Nor Hyatt. And you can't really blame Leon Kaye or Gina-Marie Cheeseman for critiquing their approach.

After all, we live in an era of radical transparency. We expect companies to share what they are doing to create a better future for us all. And we want to have confidence we can trust what they're saying so we can feel good about doing business with them.

For the uninitiated event professional it can be intimidating to talk about your sustainable event efforts. Why? Because while we're somewhat familiar with marketing and communications, we're less versed in sustainability reporting. And we know enough to know that mixing the two up can be disastrous.

What event professionals don't know about sustainability reporting can, indeed, hurt us. So if you work in the event industry and you're thinking about talking about your sustainability program at all, it's important to know that there are ground rules to follow and yardsticks against which you'll be measured.

The Global Reporting Initiative provides the standard against which many corporate reports are assessed. GRI has created guidance for how and what event organizers should report in their newly launched Event Organisers Sector Supplement.

If upon opening the guidance you're intimidated, take heart: you're not alone. I still feel that way even after attempting two reports based on these guidelines. Even if you're not quite ready to publish a detailed event report there are kernels of wisdom in the GRI EOSS that can help you prepare sustainability communications for your event or event-related business. Applying and practising these rules will reduce risk and improve your event brand.

So the next time you want to 'talk' about your sustainable event program in your exhibitor kits, on your event website or in your attendee program run your communications through the following basic questions. In time, you might become comfortable enough to attempt a sustainable event report of your own.

(Note: to help expand familiarity with sustainability reporting principles GRI 'keywords' are included in parentheses).
  1. Are significant impacts of the event identified or addressed? Although it can vary, most events typically have large carbon and waste impacts that should be addressed at a minimum. (Materiality)
  2. Does the communique indicate important audiences are being listened to and is feedback welcomed? It's important to think about primary stakeholders like event staff, volunteers, attendees and sponsors, but also parties that might be indirectly affected by your event, like community residents. (Stakeholder inclusiveness)
  3. Are connections to obvious issues related to the environment and social responsibility at events made? Things like water conservation, climate change, accessibility and risk management are big, global issues that affect all events and may need to be addressed. Are you linking things like your water bottle elimination program and attendee transit programs back to these bigger issues? (Sustainability context)
  4. Is everything included? For example is it important to think about pre-event as well as onsite impacts? Is it clear what kinds of things can be controlled, such as your direct purchase of name badges, and what can merely be influenced, such as event attendee behaviour? (Completeness)
  5. Are negatives and positives included? Is it relatively free of bias? Communications that only report the awesome parts of your sustainable event program may draw criticism. (Balance)
  6. Is it possible to evaluate efforts from one event to the next? Can you tell if things are getting better? Worse? Staying the same? If you're making claims about reducing, increasing or improving things be prepared to answer the question "compared to what?" (Comparability)
  7. Is the data right? Are any errors evident? Likewise, if you've made assumptions about any data it's best to footnote these in the interest of transparency. (Accuracy)
  8. Is there a regular schedule and pattern to reporting? Getting your communication out early enough so that it can be included in decision-making by sponsors and attendees can be important. (Timeliness)
  9. Can people understand what is being said? Confusing and jargon-laden language can frustrate readers who may not be familiar with the technical aspects of sustainable events. (Clarity)
  10. Is there evidence of any kind of auditing? It can help build trust if you have your work reviewed by an outside expert. (Reliability)
If you're looking for guidance on how other organisations are approaching sustainable event reporting under the guidance of GRI EOSS check out the following case study reports. Each is pioneering sustainable event reporting using the sector supplement:

Look forward to adding your report to this list in future!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Confessions of an Event Standards Junkie Chapter 2: APEX/ASTM

I'm a lazy baker. I like to bake. I like to eat the results of my baking even more. But I do not like to spend a lot of time baking.

When I cruise for recipes I adopt a simple formula for judging if I want to embark on a new baking adventure:

The number of ingredients required in a recipe is directly proportional to the amount of time + amount of effort required before I can enjoy the fruits of my baking labour.

So imagine my reaction upon opening the recipe for an "Environmentally Sustainable Event" according to the APEX-ASTM standard and learning that it has.... wait for it....


Oops. Sorry about that. Choked on the number...I mean...shift-key. What I meant was....


That's right. A "green event" checklist that is three-hundred and ninety-two items long. And that's without an accommodation section. And only assuming you want to achieve Level One of the four-level standard.

Needless to say, it's not the recipe you want to try spontaneously. You know the kind: the go-to recipe you pull out at about 9pm because you have a hankering for a late-night snack. This one requires special planning. Mining the cupboards to see what you have in the house and itemising on a grocery list what you have to go shopping for tomorrow.

My point being, the APEX-ASTM standard is not really 'at a glance' accessible. Either in the way it's written or in terms of what it requires. It's intimidating, and that unto itself will alienate some.

Is that a reason not to try? No. After all, some of those hard-to-translate, need-imported-ingredients, using-imperial-measurement recipes of my Gramma's that came before the days of buy-your-own Jello lemon meringue pie mix are the best tasting desserts on the planet. But do you take the effort all the time? Unlikely. Sometimes you just need the help of a ready-made three-step cake mix.

So if you're looking for a quick, easy way to say your event is "environmentally sustainable", this standard may not be for you. Now for the time when it absolutely counts to get technical about what you did to make your event more sustainable, APEX-ASTM might be the standard you turn to.

When you do, plan for it to take extra time. Time to translate what it means. Time to decide what your commitment will be. Time to communicate the expectation. Time to prepare workable versions of the standard you can use. Time to educate and train your staff and vendors to prepare. Time to implement. Time to double-back and verify measurements.

Time. Time. Time.

It's not a bad thing, after all when I slaved over my first (and only) homemade pastry what did my Mum tell me? Good food takes special ingredients and time to prepare. So, it seems, do "environmentally sustainable" events. Isn't it about time we were honest about that? We asked for standards, now are we prepared to implement them? Are we willing to take the time? Break a sweat for sustainability? Maybe even pay a little extra instead of focusing only on the sustainability stuff that saves money?

I hope we are. Greenwashing concerns abound and many people contributed many hours into putting the recipe together. Our task now is to roll up our sleeves, put on an apron and get to work.

With that in mind, from my test kitchen to yours, here are some practical things I've found have helped to get me started:
  1. Buy the recipe book. Single and compiled standards are available on the ASTM web site.
  2. Start logging your time.You owe it to yourself to know how much time it takes to implement the standard if it is to be a viable business process.
  3. Transcribe the standards into a format you can use. Yes, I know it's a pain and it should have been put in a usable format from the beginning. Welcome to the "Wonderful World of Standards" (Lawrence Leonard, TM). Take the time to draft your own working checklist of the standard. You only need to do it once. Then you will have a template you can use over and over.
  4. For each specification add options for "yes" and "no", as well as "does not apply". When you start to assess an event, hide all those items that don't apply so the checklist feels less overwhelming.
  5. Consolidate similar specifications. If you've read the standard you'll see some items are repeated. The need for a sustainable event policy on the part of the planner, for example. Or having a designated representative to be responsible for your strategy. Lump these together in your template as one task if you can: write one policy that meets the varied requirements of all 8 standards. Do the same with your training and communications.
  6. Involve suppliers. Layout your checklist in a way that allows sections to be sent to individual suppliers to complete. This will save you time and help communicate expectations through the supply chain.
  7. Deploy the above steps as early as possible! My interpretation of some items in the standard suggest it's more realistic to accept a one to two-year time line to achieve Level One. Why? Because some specifications require a baseline and proof of performance against it. For many events this may require two event cycles.
  8. Get support. This standard is new to everyone. We're all learning. Turn to your peers, and your industry networks. Ask for help. Mentor and be mentored. We can all better learn from each other if we ask for and offer help.
  9. Keep a log of questions and changes you think need to be made. Having used it a few times now, I've found there are things that are unclear in the standard, and in all honesty tough to achieve. It's only going to improve if we all take responsibility for using the parts that work and sharing what isn't so users' experiences can be considered in future updates. The Convention Industry Council has even been kind enough to give us a place to share comments here.
Welcome tips from others and invite you to check out Chapter 1 of this series: ISO 20121.