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.


Yi Shun at The Hub said...

Oh, Shawna, how lucky we are to have you as a champion of these standards! Yes, you're right, 392 components is off-putting. But it's our hope at The Hub that folks will also remember that they have to first sell the green standards within their own company and make sure that they are understood from the top down. That's most important, and the first step.

Shawna McKinley said...

Bang on and an important point to add to the list - thanks for chiming in! The hook for senior management support is often how "green" practices save money. Thus far I don't think that's something that will hold water with these standards, but I may be wrong - it's early yet. Cost neutral may be possible for the planner, but not if you include time spent managing the standard for each event. Other aspects of the business case will need to be stressed to build the foundation of support - alignment with broad corporate responsibility policy, risk reduction, transparency, stakeholder priorities, attendee attitudes, anticipating regulation, etc. It would be great to get help from the CIC member associations in endorsing the standards and providing resources for their members to "make the case". That's a definite gap waiting to be filled, methinks. Could go a long way to grease the wheels of adoption. Thanks for raising the point!

Laura Bell Way said...

Thanks Shawna, you are reading my mind this week! I am actually in the process of taking all the standards and putting them into a large excel spreadsheet, from which I am going to import into MS Access to create reports and contract/rfp addendums from standards that apply to that event. I appreciate this blog post and totally feel the pain of trying to create without all my ingredients!

Shawna McKinley said...

Thanks for weighing in Laura! Sounds like you've got some great tips of your own to share so look forward to how things work as you go through your process. Interested to see how the Excel/Access approach fits. I've not gotten beyond Excel yet - baby steps!! Makes sense to be able to manipulate, export, report - thanks for sharing the tip and feedback!

Paul Salinger said...

Nice approach, my green queen :-).

I was just talking about this with Tamara and Claire today in reference to next year's GMIC's Sustainable Meetings Conference.

We need to find ways to remove, or lessen, the technical jargon in the standards and bring them down to lay level where people can, as you suggest, more easily digest them and find ways to implement them that make sense for their particular circumstance.

Standards are good in terms of creating some common vocabularies and definitions and creating some roadmaps for those that want to do the work and want to take responsible event management seriously. We just have to be careful not to drown all the good work being done in too much minutiae and keep planners and suppliers from even trying.

Shawna McKinley said...

Couldn't agree more, Paul. I think it could be helpful for associations like GMIC to continue to explore what stepping stones need to be laid to move people along a continuous improvement path that makes sense in their every-day event world. I think many folks are still at the need-to-get buy-in stage Yi Shun talks about above. Helping us over that hump so event professionals feel engaged and enthusiastic to move forward with something like a standard is an important role for groups like GMIC to play, I think, along with supporting the more technical needs of folks who want to take the more advanced step. While standards are important, holding people to too extreme a standard out of the gate will frustrate adoption. Definitely need some bridges.

Michael@fightinggoodfights.com said...

Mamma, baked goods. Nice post, Shawna, and a good discussion, I wonder if, in some ways, we built a mountain with these standards we're not yet bold enough/equipped enough to tackle. I support the sentiments here by Yi Shun (leadership engagement and education is needed) and Paul (focus on technical nuance and particulars can--and have, I think-- disenfranchised the very people we need to reach).
We need to build momentum for greater engagement and that will happen faster when people across the industry associate value with sustainability.
Question: Now that the standards are out, and Level 1 is out of reach for many planners and suppliers, do you think a different criteria and recognition should be considered to get uptake of the standards by industry? A badge to show that people are on the path (purchased the standard, developed policies and measures needed for planners, say)? A level 0?
Thanks for being there!