By their very nature, in-person events require a significant amount of travel and infrastructure to bring people together, which inevitably creates emissions. The emissions associated with manufacturing and transportation of vendors’ goods, as well as the energy and waste produced at the event, have wide-reaching impacts for the overall footprint of the event.
For climate-conscious event organisers, this poses a difficult conundrum: how do you create impactful events that don’t leave a negative legacy for the planet? There are several facets to this (and you can read up on everything from setting and measuring sustainable event objectives, to how event technology can help drive your sustainability targets on our sustainability hub), but one of the largest opportunities for improvement is an event’s supply chain.
The good news is that many suppliers across the industry are getting on board with minimising their emissions to help reduce the environmental impacts of events. In fact, greening your supply chain has never been easier, with resources like the Sustainable Event Buyers Guide helping organisers to find suppliers who align with their sustainability goals.
In this article, we'll delve into the impact your supply chain has on your events, how to set objectives to source sustainable suppliers, and how to find suppliers that will help you deliver low-carbon events.
What is Sustainable Sourcing and Procurement?
The official definition of sustainable procurement is “a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services and works in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis and generates benefits not only to the organisation but also to society, the economy and the environment”.
To apply this to the events industry, sustainable sourcing is about finding suppliers and venues that have less of an impact on the world, both environmentally and socially. This likely means that they’re actively looking to minimise their emissions and reduce their carbon footprint. It also means that they're investing in the long-term viability of the industry, as transitioning towards greener operations is essential for both the health of the industry and the planet.
Sustainable procurement is gaining traction across different industries, with government contracts already requiring suppliers to have Net-Zero commitments. With sustainability on the uptake in the events sector, too, sourcing is a key issue which is coming under increasing scrutiny. So how can we bring considerations of sustainability into the procurement and sourcing process?
Sustainability is a nuanced area, and we're all learning as an industry how to approach it. Sometimes that may mean compromising on certain aspects of an event - like not building an entirely new staging layout when one already exists - but creativity is a driving force in the field, and sometimes being pushed to find alternative solutions leads to really unique events, and new, exciting partnerships.
One key area to consider is cutting down on transportation wherever possible, as the further your suppliers have to travel to get to the event, the more emissions will be produced in the process. With each journey by car or van emitting four times the carbon emissions of public transport, the more you can reduce journey distances by private vehicle, the better for the planet.
By narrowing down your search to suppliers who source of produce products within a 5 or 10 mile radius (easier in some places than others, we know) you’ll be slashing the emissions associated with the event - plus, less packaging is needed for local deliveries compared to long distance or overseas shipments. Of course, products often have a significant journey before they reach your suppliers, which is where collaboration comes in, as we'll look at below.
Transparency is vital as we work towards a greener future for the events industry, and working together is key to encouraging transparent communication. Most suppliers who have a commitment to sustainability will be able to track the origins of their products and pass on the details of their own providers to you.
They'll likely also have sourced their products more locally than others might, and will be able to disclose their supply chain where required. This helps to trace the origins of your supply chain and to make conscious decisions around it. It also helps to build relationships with your suppliers so that you can discuss alternative sources of products, reduced packaging, and more sustainable methods of transportation.
Transparency and accountability go hand in hand, and you should hold both yourself and your suppliers accountable to the goals you've set. If your suppliers aren't able to demonstrate that they're working on their own supply chain, make it clear that you'll find others. Change is driven by choices, and who you work with has a large impact on the direction of the industry when it comes to sustainability.
To be accurately measuring your progress, you need to communicate your sustainable goals to suppliers, and gather information from them on their products and delivery methods so that you can measure and report on the results of your efforts. We'll go into both of these areas in more detail below.
Going Green Is Non-Negotiable
The main compulsion behind improving the events sector 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.
However, at this point we're beyond the carrot approach - there isn't time to waste on gently pushing the benefits of going green. Businesses know the ethical argument but there are many reasons to green your supply chain, which aren't solely to do with having a clearer conscience. With public opinion and legislation turning quickly towards safeguarding a sustainable future, here are just some of the factors that make going green a necessity.
1. Keeping clients on board
According to a 2021 survey by SAP, 83% of UK adults say they would be more likely to engage with a business that sources products from the local area, while 55% would be happy to pay more for ethically-sourced products. As such, being able to demonstrate that your operations as a business are less harmful to the world is a real string to your bow.
Indeed, the alternative is falling behind competitors on this front, and losing customers and reputation as a result. Trends point towards sustainability becoming an increasingly significant factor for consumers in coming years, and it's vital that companies stay ahead of the curve by starting the transition now.
This will also help to accelerate uptake of sustainable operations across the industry. When organisations opt to support and use suppliers because of their sustainability track record and commitments, they give them a competitive advantage, which ripples outwards and is adopted by others more quickly.
2. Lower consumption means lower costs
As Agility puts it: one of the key principles of sustainability is reducing energy use and waste, which inevitably leads to more savings on a cost front. For instance, by opting to source products and services locally, you'll likely save a significant amount of money on shipment and long-distance deliveries in the long-run.
At the other end of the event, lower consumption also benefits the organisers' pockets. With reduced materials comes reduced waste, which translates to less need for waste disposal solutions, saving businesses money.
3. Green investments pay off
As the world moves away from materials that are perceived as harmful, such as single-use plastics, investment will be channeled into making alternatives that are more effective and more sustainable, meaning they can be used again and again, saving you money in the long run. It's worth sourcing these products now so that you're ahead of the market on finding the solutions of the future.
Additionally, certain products and services will begin to be phased out over the coming years, meaning it will become harder and more expensive to source these. Moving away from dirty energy, single-use plastics etc. as early as possible gives your business more time to adjust to the transition, and puts your downstream supply chain and events at lower risk of disruption or shortages.
4. Meeting your ESGs
Many companies have ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and CSR (corporate social responsibility) targets, and events generally fall under the umbrella of a company’s actions in these areas. According to a study by McKinsey, setting these goals has a strong positive impact on equity and business growth.
As sustainability becomes ingrained across business, companies will be held increasingly accountable to these commitments, and will need to demonstrate that they're striving to meet and exceed their objectives. Improving your supply chain's sustainability is an essential step towards meeting these goals, and will have a knock-on effect on your business's reputation as a whole.
5. Legal implications
The emissions associated with a business’s supply chain (ie purchased goods or services) fall under Scope 3 emissions, which you can read more about in this useful guide to Scope 3 accounting from The Carbon Trust.
Currently, businesses are only obligated to report on their Scope 3 emissions if they have targets relating to these, but trends show that companies are already preparing to report on Scope 3 emissions. It’s looking likely that Scope 3 emissions will factor into event reporting down the line, so sooner or later companies may have to report on these emissions too.
For businesses, venues, or event organisers looking to get ahead of the curve, looking at how you can reduce the emissions associated with your supply chain is worth looking at early on, so you're ready for if these changes do come into place. It'll mean less work to scrub up your numbers down the line!
Where to Start With Greening your Supply Chain
With so many spinning plates to juggle in the event planning process, factoring in considerations around sustainability can feel overwhelming. However, as the industry moves towards prioritising sustainable operations and practices, bringing these into your own planning process should become easier. Below, we’ve shared some resources on how to make your supply chain as sustainable as possible.
Build sustainability into your plan from the start
If sustainability is at the top of the agenda for you or your client’s event from the outset, this can be factored into the budget, which avoids expensive surprises later on. In fact, green solutions, like hiring suppliers locally and opting for seasonal catering, can be significantly cheaper than the alternative.
As Alistair Turner of EightPR told the audience at a Sustainable Breakfast Briefing at BMA House this year, “If you organise an event and then make it sustainable, it costs a fortune, but if you plan a sustainable event, it’s a different story.”
In short, if it’s in your RFP from the start, it guarantees that everyone’s on the same page, the event is planned with the goal in mind, and it’ll be less of a drain on time and finances later on.
Set sustainability objectives for your events
All of us in the events industry have a part to play in reducing the impact of our sector on the planet, and the first step of this is identifying targets to reduce your emissions. The Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge offers a roadmap to reducing the carbon footprint of your organisation in the events industry, while organisations like isla help to provide guidance on setting sustainability objectives around events.
Pick focus areas
Committing to cutting down every aspect of your Scope 3 emissions is a hard sell. Instead, it can be easier and more effective to focus on certain areas, and convey this clearly to your suppliers. For instance, you might choose to set targets around cutting down on transportation, packaging, or disposable materials. This will allow you to focus on finding the best suppliers to align with your goals, and you can alway expand your reach each time you run an event.
Create a sustainable procurement policy
Sustainable Procurement Policies, also known as Green Purchasing Policies, or Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policies, are documents that dictate the commitments an organisation or agency has in regards to keeping their supply chain as environmentally-sound as possible. This is a primarily internal document, and should lay out what standards you expect from suppliers to keep your team on the same page. It will also help to explain to suppliers what your goals are and what they need to align with.
If you’re an agency, this may change from event to event, depending on the client’s wishes - sometimes it may be more strict than others, or feature specific commitments that the client isn’t prepared to compromise on. On the other hand, you may choose to have an overarching policy that applies to all events you work on. If you’re a business running multiple events, or a venue looking for preferred suppliers, we recommend creating a Sustainable Procurement Policy that covers your entire event planning calendar and processes.
These policy documents can also be included in RFPs, or simply used to inform your supplier choices when in the procurement process. The important thing is that you and your entire team are committed to sticking to the policy, so that every decision you make aligns with it.
Below we’ve shared some tips to help you shape your policy:
- Take stock of where you are currently
Does your organisation have any existing procurement policies? If so, it may be that you can update these to reflect more socially- and sustainability-driven concerns. It’s essential that this is done in collaboration with key stakeholders, management, and your events team so that everyone’s on board with the policy going forward.
- Identify focus areas
There will likely be certain areas that contribute far more heavily to your event emissions, for instance exhibition builds and transportation of materials. It’s often worth focusing attention on the areas with the largest impact so that you can make tangible changes, rather than incremental swaps across several areas.
You can do this by calculating your Scope 3 emissions using a carbon calculator such as Glisser's carbon calculator, isla's TRACE tool or through an organisation like event:decision that provides guidance on the results. You can also find calculators through organisations like Creative Green Tools by Julie's Bicycle, and The Carbon Trust.
- Establish targets
Once you’ve identified what it is that you’re going to focus on (whether that’s waste, transport, materials, or another area), set a target around what you’re aiming to do in that area. If you want to reduce the emissions associated with supplier transport by 50%, write that into your policy, and consider ways to do this, from setting a radius to source suppliers, to requiring suppliers to have ULEZ-compliant vehicles. See our guide with isla on setting and measuring your sustainable event objectives for more detail.
Sustainable procurement policy templates
Writing a policy from scratch can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help. The ISO Sustainable Procurement Standard provides guidance on targets for companies and organisations on integrating sustainability in their procurement activity, while guides from organisations like GECA and Procurement Tactics can help to shape your strategy - as well as this guide, of course!
Below you'll find a template we've put together that you can use for your own events.
As a venue, you'll have the opportunity to make long-term changes to your supply chain, from bringing in low-waste in-house caterers, to switching to more sustainable energy providers. For more in-depth advice on venue sustainability, including greening your supply chain, check out our complete guide for venues on transitioning to more sustainable operations.
Getting Buy-In From Management
Choosing to work with greener suppliers can be more expensive, as local and sustainable products sometimes have a higher cost. To get buy-in from management, you'll need evidence to show that the investment will be worth it. Below we've shared some pointers on angles to come from.
Promote the ESG benefit
It's often useful to frame the investment in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies. If your company has committed to either of these (most large organisations engage in impact reporting), then they'll have to report on the goals they've set for the business around sustainability.
You'll need to be prepared to justify why a slightly increased spend is worth it for lower emissions at your events, particularly if the manager in question isn't involved in the event planning side of the business. We recommend presenting a case to management by comparing the emissions produced by a typical event, and the emissions produced at a similar event run with sustainability in mind - check out our blog on understanding your event impact for more guidance.
There are many organisations that can help you to track and calculate the footprint of your events, or provide case studies of others, like event:decision, Green Circle Solutions, and TRACE by isla. With data from real events to back up your proposal, you should be able to build a strong case for investing in more sustainable suppliers and get the green light for increasing the event spend to factor them in.
Finding Sustainable Suppliers
There are more options available for sustainable services, as sustainability is adopted more widely across the industry, but finding sustainable suppliers can still be a daunting task. Here are some tips for streamlining the process.
Reduce from the outset
Sustainable procurement begins with the concept of “Do we really need to buy this?”. If something can be refurbished, borrowed, reused, or simply taken out of the event planning process, it is far more sustainable to do this than to bring in new items for each event (for some perspective, the average event attendee can produce 1.89 kg of waste at a one-day event).
To really consider where materials can be cut out, we recommend bringing in experts like Event Cycle or isla who support planners on the most sustainable way of sourcing. If it's essential that you bring in large, difficult-to-recycle objects, Event Cycle offers end-to-end support on rehoming and repurposing these items after events.
London-based waste-management company First Mile also provide zero waste-to-landfill recycling, where items are reused and repurposed as much as possible, where you aren't able to entirely cut them out of your event.
Tap into your networks
The events industry is filled with people who are eager to recommend and share advice on suppliers - not least of all Hire Space's own team! Get in touch with event briefs and we'll help to find the suppliers that align with your goals.
There are many suppliers out there that are making an effort to go green, from sustainable wholesalers to small, independent suppliers. Guides like Event Industry News' Sustainable Event Buyers' Guide offer curated resources, while Hire Space can provide recommendations on sustainable event venues, caterers, and more.
Choose a sustainable venue
The venue you choose for your event will likely have a sizeable influence on your overall impact, both through its own sustainability measures, and through requirements it sets on suppliers. It's important, therefore, to choose a venue that shares your commitments to sustainability.
Many venues are making big investments in greening their infrastructure and operations, and there are plenty of great locations to host your event that won't leave a negative legacy on the planet. With waste-reduction schemes, energy- and water-saving policies, and exciting initiatives like pollinator gardens becoming more commonplace, a huge number of venues are making the transition towards sustainability, which is good news for planners.
Hire Space works closely with venues to understand their sustainability measures and support them in their progress, and we're always looking to promote venues that are playing their part in reducing the impact of the event industry.
Check out our selection of the top sustainable venues in London for an idea of what the venues at the top of the green game are doing, or get in touch to find out how we can help you to find venues that align with your sustainability objectives.
How To Make Sure Your Suppliers Align With Your Sustainability Objectives
Check suppliers’ green credentials
Make sure you’ve done your homework before you bring suppliers on board - jumping the gun could lead to some awkward scrutiny at a later point. Getting suppliers to provide evidence of their sustainability measures - whether through case studies, accreditation, or a targeted sustainability policy - is an important step.
Ask for a sustainability policy
Most suppliers and venues will have a sustainability policy, especially if you've identified them as having a sustainability focus. Ask for this when requesting quotes from prospective suppliers - or if you're already working with suppliers and want to be sure their commitments align with yours.
Look for accreditations
You can also ask prospective suppliers for accreditations or external validation of their sustainability commitments. Many suppliers, especially venues, will have some form of accreditation that recognises their commitments to sustainability, and which provides a more objective guarantee that they're working towards reducing their footprint. This is something you should look for, particularly as sustainability becomes more widespread - and with it, greenwashing.
Some verified accreditation schemes include:
- ISO Standard 20121
- Green Tourism (venues)
- Green Key (venues)
- Green Accord
- A Greener Festival's Greener Supplier Certification
- Green Business Bureau EcoAssessment
ESSA (Events Supplier and Services Association) also run a sustainability course with Sustainability Accreditation for its members. Josh Taylor, who heads up the accreditation scheme at ESSA says: “Making the sustainable choice is rapidly becoming one of the main deciding factors of all decision makers. ESSA understands that it is important to use suppliers that align with your sustainability goals and we are pleased to provide our members with the tools and support to do just that.”
Hire Space Top Tip:
The government’s green claims checklist provides a framework for businesses to check that their claims are genuine, and not greenwashing. It could be worth sharing this guidance with suppliers, or at least referencing the checklist to show that you are serious about them complying with your sustainability objectives.
Be clear with communication
Finally, just because a supplier is committed to reducing their impact, it doesn't mean that they're the right fit for your event, or you client's requirements. Speak to them in depth about any specific requirements your organisation, and your client’s organisation, has when it comes to suppliers - for instance you or your client may stipulate that supplier vehicles are ULEZ compliant, or that suppliers don’t use any single use packaging in the products they’re providing for your event.
There’s nothing worse than thinking that your caterers will be providing compostable cups, only to find on the day that they’ve supplied single-use plastic, against the demands of the client. Communication is absolutely key in this regard, and the clearer and more concise your instructions are, the less room there will be for misunderstandings and mistakes.
Where to find sustainable suppliers
Below we've listed some of the places you can search for and compare suppliers that are working towards sustainability:
How To Monitor and Communicate Your Sustainability Efforts
The more we talk about sustainability, the sooner it'll become second nature to have it on every event brief. Communicating the value of the choices you're making is a key step in this. It’s also really important to share the reasoning and results of your choices with stakeholders as well as clients, so your organisation gains trust and a reputation for responsible, sustainable sourcing both internally and externally.
Create and monitor KPIs
When investing in sustainable sourcing and procurement, it helps to introduce Key Performance Indicators to set measurable targets around what you're hoping to achieve. For instance, you might set targets for the calendar year such as:
- Reduce non-recyclable waste by 20% by purchasing recyclable products, and products that have a minimum life guarantee.
- Ensure at least 50% of products purchased hold environmental or social certification, such as Fair Trade, FSC, or Rainforest Alliance.
These can be added into your sustainable procurement policy, so that the whole team is aware of, and accountable for, the objectives you're aiming for.
You will need to track purchases and suppliers carefully and compare the results to the KPIs to monitor your progress over the course of the year. This should be communicated with clients and the rest of the company: measuring and reporting on your efforts to meet sustainability targets is important to hold you and the wider business accountable to your sustainability goals.
Below you can find a template to develop your KPIs within the scope of a sustainable procurement policy.
Shout about your sustainable suppliers
Social promotion goes a long way in influencing public opinion. Sharing the conscious choices you've made around working with certain suppliers on social media and beyond has a double benefit: it promotes sustainability in events to other clients, and it positions you as a leader in the field, who can help them achieve their sustainability targets.
For event organisers, creating opportunities for attendees to interact with suppliers, and the venue, and become aware of the reasons they were chosen for the event, is an extremely powerful way to spread the word and make your event memorable. At our event, EventLAB 2021, caterers Green and Fortune provided information on where the food had been sourced from, and what they were doing to cut down on waste.
Hire Space Top Tip:
Consider featuring in-venue signage that points out what your venue and suppliers are doing on an environmental front, so attendees can read and appreciate the measures as they arrive at the event. You can also communicate these details in advance of the event to make sure everyone knows what to expect.
As a venue or event organiser, the suppliers you use to support events can have a serious impact on the overall sustainability of your operations. And while it's currently not a requirement for businesses to report on Scope 3 emissions, any company that's serious about meeting its ESG goals and driving towards more sustainable operations should be factoring in their supply chain.
It can be daunting to set out on the journey of pivoting your supply chain towards sustainability, but it's an important move to stay ahead in the industry. There's plenty of guidance out there to help you on the journey: check out some of the resources and articles we’ve compiled below for more guidance on making the green grade.
Hire Space Resources
Sustainable Procurement Policy Template
Blogs and articles on sustainability in the events industry
Setting and Measuring Targets
Science Based Targets initiative
Proseed - resources for the events industry by isla
Event Industry Council sustainability resources
Sustainable Event Buyers Guide
Eventbrite's Sustainable Supplier Directory
Global Green Events Sustainable Supplier List
Green Event Book Sustainable Event Supplier Database
Sustainable Events Alliance Supplier Directory
Measuring your impact
Reset Connect workshops for event industry professionals