Matt Storey: Think big

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GallowglassBig win sustainability needs strategic thinking, says Matt Storey, Eventia board member and director of business development at Gallowglass

As an organisational management system, ISO20121 is a good way to introduce sustainable thinking throughout a business. But delivering major savings and making a substantial difference to the carbon footprint of events involves planning right from the drawing board, rather than simply aiming to reduce, reuse and recycle along the way.

It’s basic housekeeping to make responsible transport choices, reduce waste and recycle materials, but the truly sustainable method sets the end goal of returning event sites to their original form, and planning onward use of materials and components used, particularly for bespoke elements.

Priorities vary for each project and event type. Corporate events in permanent facilities rightly focus on operational energy and water consumption – but the carbon footprint of delegate transport is likely to be far greater than that associated with power use. However, bespoke showcases and event spaces would miss the most significant opportunities if they were to take the same focus.

The architectural, bespoke structures that are big features at major sporting events and expos should be designed from a kit of parts as far as is reasonably practical. Whenever extensive new manufacture is required, the project should be approached with a permanent end use in mind. Ideally an end user needs to be in place right from the start, to positively influence the planning, programming and contract award.

We’re all on a learning curve; sometimes the apparently green solution turns out to be prohibitively expensive or impracticable. It’s only when you introduce the discipline of post-event measurement and proper interpretation of metrics that you begin to see the missed opportunities. Achieving a high rate of recycling doesn’t look as sustainable if your project has produced twice as much waste, or used twice as much new material as another.

So this is not about following a box-ticking formula, but analysing data and utilising experience of past projects to define an individual sustainability strategy. Only this will show where the biggest impacts and opportunities really lie.