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).
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- Is there evidence of any kind of auditing? It can help build trust if you have your work reviewed by an outside expert. (Reliability)
- Canada Media Marketplace 2012
- COP 15 Event Sustainability Report
- London 2012 Sustainability Report April 2011
- MeetGreen Corporate Report 2011
- MCI Sustainability Report 2011
- Meeting Professionals International WEC 2011 Report (fee)
- Sustainable Events Ltd 2010
- UN Global Compact Leader's Summit 2010
Look forward to adding your report to this list in future!