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:
- Buy the recipe book. Single and compiled standards are available on the ASTM web site.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.