In today’s climate (literally), more and more event organisers are looking to move their events towards a socially-responsible and sustainability-conscious focus. This is good news for the planet; after all, according to a report by Hope Solutions, the UK events industry emits a shocking 1.2bn kg of CO2e every year. Consumers are also looking to make better choices for the environment, with a study by Unilever showing that a third of consumers consciously opt to support brands that are actively cutting their carbon footprint - the definition of putting your money where your mouth is.
So how does this apply to venues? Well, with public demand for corporate responsibility rising across the board, event planners are going to be looking for evidence that venues can live up to their clients' standards. Within the next few years, we're expecting to see a huge increase in the number of event briefs asking for venues that are committed to sustainability, so it's on venues to move with the times.
We know that even with the best will in the world, making the transition to a more sustainable way of operating your venue can be a daunting task. Here we delve into how to start on the journey, how to continue, and how to make sustainability a core part of your venue’s offering. You’ll find plenty of practical resources and templates, from sustainability policy templates to carbon calculators, so wherever you are on the journey, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in!
Why Should Venues Care About Becoming More Sustainable?
Sustainability has become somewhat of a buzzword in our industry, with the term passed around as regularly and widely as canapés at a networking do. So why should venues be investing in it at this point? Well, there’s absolutely no doubt that sustainability is set to be a key requirement across events and beyond in the very near future, and venues should be staying ahead of the curve. Here are a few key reasons it should be high on your agenda:
1. To meet client demand
More and more event organisers are looking for ways to minimise the impact of their events, and we find that clients are often looking for venues with quantifiable commitments to sustainability. In fact, if venues ignore the push for emissions-management now, they risk becoming obsolete as customers look for greener solutions elsewhere in the next few years.
2. To stay ahead of the law
It’s not just customer demand that’s driving a transition towards lowering our impact; laws and restrictions are slowly being put in place to hold businesses and venues to the country’s sustainable commitments. With the UK aiming for Net Zero by 2050, businesses that drag their feet are going to have a tough wake-up call and potentially some hefty fines to pay down the line. The message is: either get green, or pay the bills for failing to do so.
3. Going green saves money
On that note, while the initial outlay may be high, there’s often a significant cost saving when it comes to making systems more sustainable: when you consume less and waste less, there’s less coming out of the pot!
4. Doing your bit keeps everyone inspired
Of course, the main compulsion behind improving on a sustainability front should be that it’s the right thing for all of us to do: after all, this is the planet we’ll be leaving to future generations, and we should do all we can to stop further destruction to it. We all need to play our part in this, and leaving a positive legacy is well worth the investment in our eyes!
As an added bonus, the chances are that your employees will feel the same, and demonstrating that their workplace is making positive changes is likely to be a boost for recruitment, retention, and workplace culture.
How Can Venues Assess How They're Doing On A Sustainability Front?
Starting out on transitioning to sustainability can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know how your venue is performing already. That’s why it’s key that you know the different areas to look at, and have eyes on the steps you’re already taking, or could take, to improve your record. We’ve put together a sustainability checklist venues can use as a guide to help benchmark their operations against the forerunners in the industry.
Measuring Your Carbon Footprint
Measuring your carbon footprint can be a minefield if you don't have experience in the area. Luckily, there are many organisations that provide footprinting guidance and can even do the measuring and reporting for you. This is beneficial as it saves a lot of time and ensures you get accurate results that are standardised across the board. You can also benchmark yourself against other venues and see where you can improve, or where you’re tracking ahead of the curve.
There are plenty of resources out there to help. isla, the sustainability body for the events industry, offers a tool called TRACE to members of their network, which allows you to input your own data and work out your carbon footprint independently.
For organisations who aren't a member of isla, there are plenty of other tools out there, such as the Carbon Trust's business carbon calculator and Creative Green Tools' calculator, both free calculators that factor in everything from energy and water use, to waste and fleet travel. Other organisations like event:decision provide measurement and reporting for events, which is a useful service to recommend to clients hosting events at your venue.
Understanding different scopes
When measuring your carbon footprint, it's useful to know some of the context around how the activities around your venue apply to your footprint.
Emissions fall into three categories: Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. These refer to the source of emissions and the way the ownership of them is broken down. It can be confusing to get your head around how the different scopes apply to your carbon footprint, so we’ll dive into the breakdown, and explain the differentiation below.
Scope 1 emissions are those which are produced directly from your assets that your venue owns or controls. This includes any boilers or furnaces in your venue, as well as the emissions from your work vehicles. For example, if your venue has an onsite diesel generator, any emissions produced by this would fall under Scope 1 emissions.
People often get confused over the distinction between Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Scope 2 emissions incorporate all those produced indirectly from sources that the company doesn’t own, but purchases from a third party, such as electricity, heat, and gas. While these emissions are created by another party, they are attributed to the venue because the venue is the one using them.
Scope 3 emissions are not owned or controlled by the venue, but come from purchased goods and services (like furniture, cleaning products, and equipment for events), transportation (for instance of suppliers and equipment), and waste, to name the big culprits. This scope also covers employee travel, investments, and leased assets - basically anything associated with the venue’s operation and existence that isn’t directly owned or controlled by it.
You might find it easier to concentrate on Scopes 1 and 2 to begin with, before moving onto assessing your Scope 3 emissions, as these are harder for the venue to control (though still important to be aware of!). Understanding the scopes should allow you to see where your venue has the most potential to cut down on its emissions.
Where To Begin With Making Changes
If you’re just starting out on your sustainability journey, there are a couple of key steps to check off to get you set up and ready to start making a difference to your operations. After reviewing the above checklist as a starting point, you’ll be more aware of the steps you could be taking to reduce your footprint, and ready to use the takeaways to get your sustainability efforts off the ground. Here's where to head next:
Set long-term targets
The UK's goal is to reach Net Zero by 2050. This means that every business in the country should be setting this as a minimum target - and preferably meeting it much sooner. If you want support on setting your targets and pledging to cut down to Net Zero by a certain date, the Science Backed Targets Initiative (SBTi) provide a step-by-step process for developing and meeting targets, while the Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge offers an industry-specific roadmap to reducing your carbon footprint.
Appoint a sustainability team
To get your goals off the ground, you’ll want to appoint a representative or team to oversee and implement the changes you’re planning on making. This individual or committee will be in charge of educating and spreading awareness of the sustainability measures within the team, and keeping the business on its toes when it comes to measuring up to its commitments. Try to engage employees from different areas of the venue's operations: the more diverse the team, the better for getting buy-in from decision makers.
Create an action plan and sustainability policy
If you’re serious about making changes within the venue, you’ll need a sustainability action plan to keep you and the team to task. You’ll also need to create a sustainability policy that goes along with it to share with the team and clients as a guide to your actions. Here’s our advice on implementing both.
Creating an action plan
A plan of action is important whatever stage of the sustainability journey you’re at, as it allows you to lay out your goals and set out a roadmap to meet them. For some more practical guidance on steps to reduce your footprint, check out our action points below.
- Take stock of where you are currently. Use our checklist as an example and, ideally, bring in a third party organisation to measure and report on your annual emissions as a venue. Think about which areas are particularly impactful or important to you as a venue - energy and waste are often large contributors to a venue’s footprint, but you may also want to address travel, biodiversity, and water use, for example.
- Set targets based on your current standards that lay out where you want to be in 1, 2, or 5 years’ time. This could be, for example, a 20% reduction in emissions from heating, or it could be cutting the non-recyclable waste you produce by half in the next 2 years. Keep these goals SMART (Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Time-Bound) to ensure you can measure your progress efficiently.
- Think about which actions you can take to achieve these targets, and start planning how you’re going to implement them. For instance, this might see you going paperless, or closing off parts of the venue when they’re not being used to avoid wasted heat. These should include short- and long-term solutions.
Creating a sustainability policy
Once you have goals in mind, it's time to put them onto paper. If you haven’t made a sustainability policy before, it can be a daunting process, but a sustainability policy doesn’t have to be convoluted. Here are a few key steps to get you started.
- Use your action plan to write clear goals, detailing what you’re going to do in each area. A sustainability policy usually includes action points on water, heating, electricity, waste, and transport as a base, but you can add your plans for your digital footprint and any other areas you’ll be focusing on as well.
- Your policy should discuss your mission and the vision you have for your venue, to give others a clear idea of the scope of your commitments.
- Host your policy clearly on your website and share it with suppliers, clients, and stakeholders. Make sure it is updated regularly to reflect your work, and make sure to celebrate the successes you have on the journey - this is great for inspiring others!
A sustainability policy doesn’t have to encompass everything you’re eventually going to implement, but it should give an idea of the main elements of your action plan. If you need a guide, check out our template to get you started on creating your own sustainability policy.
What Are Some Actions Venues Can Take To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint?
It can be daunting when you begin to look at the scale of the changes that need to be made, but every effort to cut out waste and reduce emissions is a step in the right direction. If your venue is just setting out on the journey, don’t compare yourself to a venue that’s been on the green track for several years - use them as inspiration and work towards the standard they’ve set.
There are plenty of practical steps that can be taken at any stage of the process, whether small actions for those just beginning to transition their systems and mindset, or large investments that pay off in the long run.
Quick and easy first steps
- Suppliers: work with those you know are committed to sustainability. Make sure you ask for evidence of this before signing any contracts.
- Educate staff: make sure that your in-house and freelance team know what to do within the venue, from turning off lights at the end of the day, to not blasting the heat with the windows open.
- Go for more vegetarian or lower-impact menus and reduce menu choices: food and drink waste is a huge problem in the UK events industry, and going for more sustainable menus can have a big impact.
- Go plastic and paper-free: cut out plastic cups, packaging, and cutlery, and reduce printing to a total minimum.
- Encourage recycling and composting: make sure you offer facilities for staff and attendees to recycle their rubbish, and compost food waste to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
- Provide water refill stations: this reduces the need for people to bring bottles, or for the venue to provide them - just provide glasses and jugs.
- Use sustainable soaps and use metered soap dispensers to reduce waste.
- Replace paper towels with air dryers where possible.
- Switch to environmentally-friendly cleaning products.
- Set your venue up with a 3D virtual tour and provide digital floor plans so people don’t have to come see the venue in person before booking.
- Encourage event planners to go hybrid where possible: this might sound counter-intuitive for venues, but bringing in a virtual element at events means more people get to see your venue without having to make the journey - a win-win!
- Change lightbulbs to LED bulbs: LED bulbs reduce electricity by as much as 85%, and last up to 10 times longer than halogen bulbs.
- Add water-saving taps and flushes: dual flushes and water-saving taps are a clever way to reduce water waste and save money.
- Make attendees aware of your sustainability commitments by sharing them on your blog, website, and social media, and signposting actions you're taking in the venue.
- Invest in better waste resource management such as PaperRound.
- Switch to higher energy efficiency AV equipment.
- Make sure windows and doors are properly sealed to maintain temperatures: this has the added bonus of saving tons of money in the long run!
- Insist on engines being switched off while deliveries are unloaded to prevent fumes caused by idling.
- Use composted food waste in the grounds or gardens of your venue.
- Install additional digital signage around the venue so event organisers don’t have to rely on wasteful printing for directional signage.
- Invest in updating infrastructure such as heating, air conditioning, and insulation: this will have long term benefits and is one of the best ways to reduce energy wastage.
- Measure the footprint of your venue and organisation and set targets to reduce your impact to net zero.
- Invest in hybrid event tech at your venue: this will bring cost savings to your clients and encourage more event organisers to opt for a hybrid format.
- Plant native plants to reduce the need for watering and get rid of pesticides containing harsh chemicals in favour of environmentally-friendly alternatives
- Designate a section of outdoor space as a nature-friendly zone, with long grass, wildflowers, and insect sanctuaries to promote biodiversity.
How To Go About Making These Changes
It’s one thing to have good intentions, but putting them into practice can be time-consuming and confusing. Here, we’ve broken down a couple of the key areas that have a large impact on a venue’s emissions, and provided resources to help streamline the transition.
Heating and Energy
Heating and energy are huge contributors to a venue's footprint, but they're non-negotiable aspects of a venue's offering - unless the venue's outdoors, of course! The best solution for energy supply is to use a renewable energy provider that generates their own power in responsible ways, such as Good Energy, Ecotricity, or Bulb.
Further down the line, you may also want to look at greening the infrastructure of your venue to make your heating and electricity use more efficient. This could involve redoing insulation, installing LED bulbs and lower-intensity AV equipment, or even introducing solar panels to generate electricity in-house!
Waste is a huge problem at events, with reports stating that an average event attendee can produce 1.89 kg of waste at a one-day event, with 85% expected to end up in landfill. Of course, the first step is cutting down, from choosing to forego single-use plastic cups, to using biodegradeable tea bags (even small steps take you somewhere!). Taking stock of what materials are commonly thrown away is a good first step, and from here you can look into sourcing more responsibly-packaged items.
However, there's always going to be some materials and packaging that can't be eliminated entirely from your venue. In order to deal with this waste responsibly, you need the infrastructure to sort it. If you don't already have facilities to recycle metal, glass, plastic, and paper separately, invest in these, as it will encourage people to think about where their rubbish is going, and make the impact of your waste much lower by stopping recyclable materials ending up in landfill.
Make sure you signpost these facilities well, and make it clear what belongs in which receptacle to avoid errors! Make a map of where these receptacles should be placed to catch attendees at the right time by looking at bin use at events - particular areas of note tend to be in catering areas and just outside the main event space, where people drop off rubbish they've brought from outside the event.
You may also need to explore organisations who can collect and process these recyclable materials, if your local council doesn't offer this. Companies like Paper Round offer a robust solution for typical event waste, and ensure that anything that can be kept out of landfill, is. For more unusual items, such as furniture, electronics, or items that are difficult to recycle, Event Cycle, offer end-to-end support on rehoming and repurposing these items after events.
Purchases and supply chain
The products used in a venue - and we're talking everything from cleaning products to coffee - can have a big impact on its footprint. Luckily, it's a relatively easy area to make changes in, with so many options of sustainable wholesalers popping up all the time. There may be a slight discrepancy in cost when using Fairtrade or FSC-certified products, but these are a real selling point for climate-conscious clients - which we're prepared to wager is a rapidly growing demographic!
Importantly, you should also be vetting your supply chain to make sure your suppliers are aligned with your commitments. We'll dive into this in more detail below, but make sure you have it written into your RFP that you expect suppliers to comply with the measures you're taking to reduce your impact.
How To Demonstrate Your Commitment To Your Targets
Having a sustainability policy is a good way to share your commitments with clients, agencies and suppliers, but external certification goes the extra mile on helping your offering to stand out from the crowd.
Having a benchmark of how your venue is performing on sustainability compared to others can be useful. It also helps to demonstrate to clients that you’re really making the grade and are actually doing what you said you would. There are several creditable organisations that provide awards and credentials to venues and event organisations who are making a mark.
Some of the most recognised include:
The ISO 20121 was developed as a standard for the events industry to keep agencies, stakeholders, venues, and suppliers working to the same universal standard, and keeping the sector's contributions to global warming to a minimum.
Green Tourism provide a sustainability standard certification for the tourism and hotel industry. They work with organisations across the world to make sustainability a global standard.
Hotels and venues that complete Greengage’s audit successfully are awarded sustainability status from Bronze to Platinum. Greengage provide advice and resources to help venues improve, and reassess the venue’s status each year.
Green Key is an international standard for venues and hotels. Started 25 years ago, the organisation has accredited over 3200 tourism establishments in 65 countries.
Getting Buy-In From Management And Stakeholders
We get it: asking for sizeable investments into your venue’s infrastructure is likely to draw pushback from stakeholders and budget handlers. However, in almost every case, the long-term returns far outweigh the short-term outlays. Less waste should mean lower costs, which no finance manager can argue with! Whether you’re making savings through fixing poorly-fitting doors and windows to reduce energy wastage, or getting rid of bottled water in favour of jugs and water refill stations, your sustainable choices are guaranteed to be on the money.
Additionally, businesses have commitments to ESG goals, so once you put the case to stakeholders on what they should be doing it should be hard for them to say no. With sustainability becoming a more prominent client demand every year, the business case for transforming your systems now, while you’re ahead of the curve, rather than later, is strong.
Finding Suppliers Who Align With Your Goals
To make sure that you’re able to meet the targets you’ve set for your venue, you’ll need to ensure that any suppliers who sign on to work with you are fully on board with your commitments. This should be one of the first things you determine with them, as it’ll be too late to make requests for drastic changes down the line when the event’s in the planning stages.
Asking for evidence of sustainability in your RFP is a good way to set expectations from the start. If you have specific goals that you’re working on, you could specify in which areas you want to ensure that the suppliers are reducing their footprint to align with yours. This might be waste-related, or travel-related, it depends entirely on your targets. The more venues that make this a requirement, the more it will become standard for suppliers to move towards this.
If you're looking for suppliers who are making the green grade, we can help to put you on the right track. Just email email@example.com or fill out an enquiry form and we'll get back to you with suggestions on the top suppliers for your requirements.
You can also check out Event Industry News' Sustainable Event Buyers' Guide to find sustainable suppliers across catering, furniture, waste management and more.
Communicating Sustainability With Clients and Agencies
In the case of sustainability in events, it's often clients putting the pressure on venues and agencies. However, this isn't always true, and some clients and agencies may not be fully on board with the changes that venues are making to their infrastructure. Our top tip: take this as an opportunity! Venues can educate clients and agencies on why measures are important - after all, when they understand where the money goes, they'll be more likely to approve the cost. For instance, waste solutions like PaperRound might have a slightly higher cost, but the impact that it has on an event's sustainability is significant.
The best way to communicate your sustainability measures is to break down the key information and statistics to make it easy to read and comprehend for everyone, whether they’re in sustainability or not. Explain why you've implemented certain measures, and what it means for the client.
This should be in your sustainability policy, so that clients can see where your targets and measures are coming from. Many agencies are moving towards sustainability, too, so venues often have a good opportunity to work with agencies to educate and encourage clients to make better decisions.
Looking To The Future Of Sustainability In Events
It’s clear that sustainability is going to be a key driver of change in the events industry in coming years, and it’s critical for venues to stay ahead of the curve. Here’s what to look out for, and how to make sure your venue is ready to meet client demand in future.
Event technology has come on in leaps and bounds, and it’s got a clear role to play in helping organisers cut down on event emissions. This is something that can give venues a real edge: if, for example, your venue offers hybrid event technology or energy-efficient AV, your appeal to organisers will be far higher. Check out what event organisers and tech experts are saying about the role of event tech in sustainable events for more insights.
Carbon neutral events
Within the next decade or so, we expect to see a proliferation of carbon neutral events. What does this mean? Well, as Mark Bannister, Technical and Operations Director for COP26, told us at EventLAB 2021, it means that the event removes at least as much carbon from the environment as it emits. In practice this currently looks like reducing carbon emissions to as low a level as possible, and responsibly offsetting the remaining carbon produced (see below) so that more carbon is taken out of the atmosphere than is released.
To run a carbon-neutral event, it’s critical to measure the emissions of your event very carefully, and venues are going to have a key role to play in this. We recommend suggesting to event organisers that they measure the impact of their event at your venue - and even consider subsidising the first few so that you can use the data for your own promotion. With enough of this data, you’ll be able to paint a picture of the average carbon emissions associated with events at your venue, which you can then provide to future clients and stand out from the crowd.
The events industry, and broader society, is still largely unsure about the validity of offsetting (paying an organisation to remove carbon from the atmosphere on your behalf) for several reasons.
- There's conflicting evidence on how well offsetting programmes work - most involve planting trees which takes many years for carbon to be removed from the environment.
- There's an argument that relying on offsetting lets those responsible for the emissions off the hook, rather than having to engage with reducing the emissions themselves.
However, as recent studies and reports suggest, offsetting looks set to be ingrained in the industry for the foreseeable future, so it's worth being aware of how it ties into your venue's offering. As we mentioned, it's not currently possible for a venue or event to have zero emissions, so if you've done everything you can to reduce and mitigate your footprint, offsetting can be a short-term additional step to lowering your impact. Make sure if you do opt to offset any of your emissions that you do so through a verified organisation - Climate Partner, for example, offer audited programmes to get involved in.
Accessibility should never be an afterthought, even when sustainability is a key concern. At the moment, much of the discussion around sustainability in events centres around removing items that create waste, but sometimes these items - like signs, carpets, and straws - offer essential support to attendees with access requirements. Before removing items from your venue, do your research around what access needs guests may have, and look for sustainable alternatives like biodegradable paper straws, reusable signs, and environmentally-friendly noise-cancelling insulation, for example.
For more resources and advice on this, check out our article on balancing sustainability and accessibility at events, delivered in collaboration with a panel of experts at Reset Connect.
Transitioning to more sustainable ways of operating your venue isn’t an overnight process. It takes time, investment, and continuous learning. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to do everything perfectly straight away to be making a difference - every effort you make to reduce your impact along the way is a step in the right direction!
As the industry becomes more geared towards sustainability, being an early adopter of the charge will serve venues well. And there are plenty of resources available to help launch you on the right path. Check out some of the resources and articles we’ve compiled below for more guidance on making the green grade.