On 7th September 2022, Hire Space ran a ‘Venue Talk’ event at the stunning Grade II listed 41 Portland Place. The event brought together a community of over 50 venue managers across London to explore event booking trends, sustainability in venues, and provide insights into working effectively with corporate planners.
This important panel discussion tackled the issues around sustainability within the events industry. Our expert speakers included Carina Jandt, Founder of Event Cycle, Duncan Reid, CEO of Reset Connect, and Mark Bannister, Head of Production & Operations for COP26. Cameron Roberts, Editor, Conference News moderated. Read on for our key takeaways below.
It's time to change the narrative
Previously, the term sustainability was seen in a negative light, with a lot of scaremongering around how we live our lives in recent years. It's time to look at sustainable living in a much more positive way: being sustainable is something that will help us all long term, so we shouldn't be afraid of making changes.
It's also important to recognise that sustainability is not solely about our CO2 emissions and measuring our carbon footprints. It's about a plethora of areas, such as education and improving equality, that come together and help make our world and corporate businesses more sustainable.
We must address energy usage in our venues
We all know that the current state of energy prices in the UK is going to make it extremely difficult for the events sector going forward. Every single UK business will be affected and venues, in particular, will really suffer. The issue is that in the UK, our energy pricing model is linked to gas prices, even though we don't use much gas in the UK (4% of our energy is Russian gas). Due to the current situation in Russia, gas prices have increased by 215%, which in turn has driven our energy prices higher.
However, the solutions we find to get around the energy crisis can also provide opportunities to help with the climate crisis. For example, venues could install solar panels if possible, but on an internal level, dimmer light switches so that they can save on energy when no one is using a particular space.
Venues could also look at their DDR rates and consider better ways to price events, such as using a rate card: some venues price their venue hire and electricity charges separately, which allows organisers to be aware of just how much electricity they're using. With DDR packages, everything is all in, so there is less accountability for electricity use. This often means there is less thought about energy-saving choices throughout the event, which isn't good for the planet or the venue's energy bills. Ultimately, if we don't figure out ways to reduce our energy usage at events, and subsequent costs, many venues could go out of business.
Switch to 100% renewable energy ASAP
For venues, the biggest change they can make is switching to 100% renewable energy. Put it on your website, on your sales brochures, everywhere! It's also important for venues to stay on top of what's going on in the UK and the rest of the world in terms of legislation around sustainability.
For example, learning about the Scope 1, 2, 3 model is going to help venues get ahead of the competition. For context, at COP26, the countries in attendance all agreed to start reporting their carbon emissions and energy usage (which encompasses Scope 1 and 2). This means all businesses need to start measuring their emissions and staying up to date with the legislation, which will soon be extended to Scope 3, which is all about the supply chain (every venue, organiser AV company etc).
If venues don't stay up to date with what's happening, they will unknowingly blacklist themselves from being selected for an event if they aren't already demonstrating that they're committed to measuring their carbon footprint. This is why switching to renewable energy is so important, as is working out carbon emissions through tools such as isla's TRACE model or Reset Connect's carbon measurement workshops. Find more information about the Scope model and measuring your venue's carbon footprint in our sustainability guide for venues.
Keeping social value in mind is also important
When organising COP26, the organising team's priority was of course measuring and reporting carbon emissions down Scope 1, 2 and 3 - this was a no-brainer and a non-negotiable. But the team also looked at things beyond carbon emissions, such as social value. This is arguably harder to measure, but there were some easy steps that the organisers could take to help them towards their goals.
This included taking on a large number of local students as paid interns onsite, which helped boost the local community and gave the students an incredible learning opportunity. The team also worked with local charities and organisations, sending their carpenters and other skilled labourers down with their tools to improve their centres and facilities.
They also brought Event Cycle onboard, which meant that everything that couldn't go back into stock or be reused, was repurposed. This included things like furniture, graphics, and materials. For example, they managed to donate 2,000 sqm of fabric to Calluna Upcycling, who turned it into bags which were then sold to raise money for charity. They also salvaged 15,000 sqm of carpet, which Spruce Carpets refurbished and used to furnish 1,800 homes within the local community.
These small things are fantastic examples of ways the events industry can support the local community, give back, and improve the sustainability of events simultaneously. Venues should always be looking at what charities or organisations they can support, whether that's through the donation of food or surplus event materials. You could even get some of your staff to volunteer some of their time. Connecting your venue to the local community is a fantastic way to support your area, boost your sustainability efforts and stand out from the crowd.
Venues need to find a point of differentiation
There is a huge opportunity for venues to tap into the younger generations and focus on what's important to them. Generation Z hold different values than previous generations did and individuals are much more focused on sustainability which, in the context of events, comes down to choosing green venues over less sustainable options.
As a venue, this is an opportunity to gain a point of advantage to put those values above all else, even if this needs to be in creative ways. For example, a historic venue will likely be a listed building, meaning there may be less they can do in terms of implementing new systems to reduce their emissions, but they can create a point of differentiation to stand out in other ways, such as by focusing on sustainable catering instead. We've created a guide specifically for historic venues on becoming more sustainable, so check that out for more ideas.
Shout about the things you're already doing
No matter how small your actions may seem, if you're doing something as a venue to try and be more sustainable then talk about it! Put it on your websites, mention it to potential clients and make it something you sing about. You could also set up a green team internally, where you work out the things you care about as a venue or organiser, and focus on those in your comms.
Another tip to keep sustainability a priority is to put it top of your agenda for every meeting. When it comes to planning events, particularly large-scale complex events, time is tight and priorities can get shifted. But carving time to discuss sustainability at every meeting will ensure you keep it front of mind throughout the whole planning process, and will help you stay on track and meet (or even exceed) your targets.
Think about food waste
Events generate so much food waste every single day, which could all be donated to those in need. A good place to start is to talk to local charities and food banks - they can come and talk to venues and organisers and explain how they work and how they want to receive the food.
There are rules around how long food can be out for, so do your research, talk to organisations and make preparations to combat the challenges surrounding this. For example, you could get keep an extra fridge in the venue to keep spare food fresh, as well as avoiding buffets and pre-cooked food as this is harder to control and donate. Guardians Of Grub, Too Good To Go and City Harvest are good resources for more guidance.
To make more sustainable food choices, offer less meat, go seasonal if you can, and add in the carbon footprint/food miles information on the menu so attendees have more visibility on what they're eating and at what cost to the planet.
3 key things venues can do right now
- Create a data sheet and record everything you do, such as the water and electricity used at your event. Write down all your facts and figures, and make it presentable and useable for organisers to include in their proposals.
- Put sustainability at the top of your agenda - you’ll be surprised to see how quickly it’s picked up by colleagues, and how much change can be made. Involve your team and make sure everyone has visibility on your sustainability goals and how you'll get there.
- Switch your individual pension to a green fund. Venues individually can make small changes in their local community, but as a collective society, taking money away from fossil fuels is going to be the most direct impact we can make. If possible, it would be even better to change your company pensions - discuss this with management to see what can be done. Be the change you want to see!
Next, check out the Hire Space blog below, full of helpful guides and resources designed to inform event professionals and help them make their events more sustainable.