Event Sustainability Standards in plain English

Sustainable Events Standards

Why use International Event Sustainability Standards?

In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published The Green Meeting Guide, which defines a sustainable meeting/ event as “one designed, organised and implemented in a way that minimises negative environmental impacts and leaves a positive impact for the host community.”

There are a variety of ways that this definition can be interpreted and the challenge for an event planner will be to ensure that their understanding of a sustainable meeting/ event aligns with the needs of the event owner. Utilising the criteria and requirements of an established standard for sustainable events such as the ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management Systems or the APEX/ ASTM Standards for Sustainable Meetings when planning an event will solve this conundrum and assure the event owner that the event is sustainable as per internationally accepted measurements.

Adhering to international event sustainability standards also enables event planners to measure and monitor the required metrics as outlined by the standards which could result in lower overheads for the event which is just practical business sense. The three widely accepted event sustainability standards that event planners can consider are briefly introduced below:

ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management Systems

ISO refers to the International Standards Organisation, and the ISO 20121 is a voluntary international standard for sustainable event management. It consists of a set of criteria that provides the framework for identifying potentially negative social, economic and environmental impacts of events by removing or reducing them, and capitalizing on more positive impacts through improved planning and processes. ISO 20121 offers benefits to all parties involved in the organization of an event, at all stages of the supply chain, including event organizers, event owners, workforce, supply chain (caterers, transport companies), participants, attendees, regulatory bodies and the surrounding communities. This standard gained prominence during the preparations for the 2012 London Olympics.

Thailand was the first country in Asia and second in the world to adopt the ISO 20121 standard. Kingsmen CMTI Co Ltd, which specializes in designing and building structures for exhibitions and trade shows, was the first MICE operator in ASEAN to be certified with the ISO 20121 standard. In a press release from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), the head of the company revealed that “ISO 20121 provides more than just a business benefit; it also helps boost confidence among clients, both domestically and overseas.”

APEX/ASTM Standards for Sustainable Meetings and Events

In 2012, the APEX/ASTM Standards for Sustainable Meetings and Events were published. The development of this standard was led by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Green Meeting Industry Council in collaboration between APEX (the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange) and ASTM (an ANSI-certified international standard development organization). The standards are made up of nine individual standards that encompass key components of most meetings and events e.g. destination selection, accommodations, food & beverage, etc. Further, within each of the standards, eight specific criteria pertaining to the processes and environmental impacts related to meetings and events are addressed e.g. staff management policy, communications, waste management, etc. One of the key features of these standards is that it holds both the supplier and planner accountable for implementation.

In 2013, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore became the first event and conference venue outside of the U.S to obtain the Level One Certification to the ASTM Standard specification for the Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows, and Conferences, which is one of the nine standards in the APEX/ASTM Standards for Sustainable Meetings and Events. According to the Las Vegas Sands Corporation 2013 Sands Eco360 Environmental Report, by earning the certification, Marina Bay Sands “significantly enhanced their capability to help meeting clients achieve their sustainability objectives and improve their event results. In addition, having international certifications such as the one from APEX/ ASTM increased the consistency of their services and expanded collaboration with their stakeholders”.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Event Organiser Sector Supplement (EOSS)

The Event Organiser Sector Supplement (EOSS)  was published in 2012 by GRI with the aim of guiding event organizers intending to measure and report their sustainability performance The EOSS provides organizations in the sector with a tailored version of GRI’s G3.1 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. It includes the original Guidelines, which details the Reporting Principles, Disclosures on Management Approach and Performance Indicators for economic, environmental and social issues. The EOSS’ additional commentaries and Performance Indicators, developed especially for the sector, capture the issues that matter most for event organisers including site selection, transport of attendees, recruiting and training of the event workforce, participants and volunteers, sourcing of materials, supplies and services, managing impacts on communities, natural environments, and local and global economies, planning and managing potential legacies and accessibility of an event.

The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) published the country’s first sustainability report which will also be used as a roadmap for hosting international mega-sporting events such as the Olympic games. The report titled “PyeongChang 2018: Opening New Horizons for Sustainability – Furthering Benefits to Human and Nature” was written following the requirements of the GRI G4 EOSS Guidelines. POCOG intends for this report to be a key communication tool for all its stakeholders with regard to its commitment to socially responsible management.  

It is important when deciding between which of these three standards to implement for an event, that the event planner is aware that each of these standards approach the concept of sustainable events differently. The ISO 20121 standard is a management system, similar to ISO 14001 (an environmental management system), which provides guidance on the process of organizing an event that is sustainable. The APEX/ ASTM standards specify definitions of operational actions using a key performance matrix and scoring for planning a sustainable event. The GRI EOSS however, informs an event planner on how and what it should report pertaining to the sustainability aspect of events held. The event planner can decide to implement the standards independently or choose to implement them in collaboration as frameworks for sustainable events.

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