Thursday, 17 January 2013

The inside scoop on sustainable event reporting

Psst....want to know what really goes into a sustainable event report?

This week Oracle OpenWorld San Francisco published their 2012 Sustainability Report. It includes both successes and setbacks in their on-going effort to improve the event through responsible practises. I admire the company, and particularly program champion Paul Salinger, for being brave enough to share their progress so transparently.

(Full disclosure: I play a role in collecting, auditing and writing the report, so know intimately the trade offs the team is often balancing.)

The report this year has some notable successes:
  • An 8% improvement in diversion of waste from landfill across 14 venues compared to 2011, including a record-setting 91% diversion at the Oracle Appreciation Party at Treasure Island. All 14 venues are improving diversion rates overall.
  • Fuel use for attendee ground shuttles dropped to the lowest level in four years, to 60% of 2009 levels due to integrated transit and walkable accommodations.
  • The amount of signs sent to landfill dropped, with approximately 16,000 square feet of vinyl and adhesives eliminated.
  • More detailed information about food purchases was provided, enabling research into labour practises at the farm level for the first time.
  • 17 charities benefited from event donations.
The report is also honest about real challenges:
  • Accurate energy and water use metering is difficult, making it hard to measure success against reduction targets that result directly from planning decisions.
  • The overall event diversion rate is not yet meeting a 75% target and per attendee waste is holding steady, rather than dropping as is desired.
  • Although carbon offsetting improved, emissions per participant dropped only slightly, with activities causing most material impacts not able to be directly controlled by Oracle.
  • Name badge systems were a challenge, with affordable, sustainable options that meet event needs proving difficult to source.
In the coming weeks I know the Oracle team will dissect the report and deliberate on how to continue to succeed, and address shortcomings.

In the meantime I want to pause and reflect on a story that isn't told in the report: How is a case study like this put together? How do you get information about impacts in order to make effective sustainable event planning decisions? What goes on "behind the scenes"?

Here is what is involved in producing this event report:
  • Leadership is provided by an executive level-sponsor who inspires and motivates involvement on an on-going basis.
  • A half-day, in-person "green" team meeting is held once per year to debrief and plan, typically nine months before the event.
  • This team includes approximately 15 core members, both Oracle staff and vendors.
  • Priorities, action steps and reporting milestones are identified and documented at this meeting, then communicated to all event vendors. Norms for reporting have been reinforced for 5 years, helping to make the process habitual.
  • Core team members may serve on smaller working groups that include additional members. These working groups vary year-to-year and are established to focus on priority issues, like food, transportation, signage and venue waste.
Each event venue may have a whole team of contributors that support the sustainability program. With 14 venues used that makes for many hands involved in making action and reporting possible (photo: San Francisco Marriott).
  • Administration of the action plan and reporting is coordinated by two people: one Oracle staff member and an outside contractor. Vendors may have their own sustainability reporting coordinators as well.
  • Reporting forms and methods are clearly scoped, standardised and typically sent to responsible parties at least six month prior to the event, then again within a month of the event as a reminder.
  • A third party is engaged to audit on site practises. This ensures post-event data fits with what is observed on site.
  • It can take 15-45 days to receive post-event data.
Hauling and weighing hundreds of composting, recycling and landfill bins takes time! Up to 45 days to be exact (photo: Hartmann Studios).
  • 25 individual reports are received from Oracle staff and vendors. These reports cover everything from sign use to freight fuel, menu ingredients, audio-visual equipment, donations, energy and water use and much more.
Signage reports from three different vendors measure compliance with manufacturing and end-of-life sustainability considerations (photo: Freeman).
  • 14 venues submit reports on waste, donations, energy and water use.
  • Collectively, reports include in excess of 100 data points from more than 90 vendors.
  • Each report is analysed for errors, completeness, accuracy and to ensure they make comparative sense.
  • The final report is reviewed by auditors, the "green" team, and Oracle editorial prior to release, which can take approximately 30 days.
So there you have it: over 30 team members, 90 vendors, 100 data points, 25 reports, two staff champions and one third-party auditor working toward common goals through a clearly communicated action plan. It all adds up to one event sustainability report and an ongoing journey of continuous improvement.

This is one formula, but it's not the only formula. What is your sustainable event reporting process? Or if you're just getting started, what do you aspire it to be?

Author note: Sincere thanks to Kelley Young of Oracle who devotes many hours to administer the Oracle OpenWorld Sustainable Event Plan and Report. Wouldn't be possible without you, Kelley!

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