As we all power into the twenty first century, we’re having a light bulb moment. Shining a light on the last hundred years or so, of committing the proverbial Hari-Kari on our planet by polluting it, draining it of it’s resources and turning up the thermostat. The result, apart from the rising sea levels and tornados in Preston, is the realisation that it is our fault and perhaps we ought to stop or find another planet to wreck.

Another by-product of all this dirty protesting is the over-use of the word “Sustainability”. A word that’s being used as the life raft we all cling to as this big round ship we live on starts to sink. If you connect “Sustainability” with the word “Policy”, then we feel so much better with ourselves and can announce to the world that we’re not guilty anymore. In much the same way a child with chocolate around his mouth insists that he didn’t eat the cake!

Now I love a dolphin as much as the next man, but I do work in the event industry and this is the root of my conundrum. I desperately want to embrace the effort to be sustainable but the industry I work in and love is about as green as a whaling ship.

If we really want to make a change, then as a profession, we have to look inwards and be realistic about how we go about producing our events. You can’t simply publish a policy stating that you’re going to employ a student to turn the lights off more and then justify throwing 5000 square meters of exhibition carpet into a skip after a one day show.

We are an inherently wasteful lot. Our very existence is based on building stuff that we use once and then throw away. New clients don’t want your old clients sets and until generators run on water, we are always going to be repeat offenders.

I don’t have a solution! I don’t think anyone does, but perhaps we should start thinking about one! Change needs to be driven by individuals, championed by corporations and supported by invention to have any impact on the future of sustainability in events.

I’ve been inspired recently by Pavegen Systems ( who demonstrated a new technology that converts energy from footsteps into electricity, via their new and innovative floor tile. The technology converts the kinetic energy we produce when walking to electricity and stores it in batteries for later use.

The thinking is simple, if we can embrace this kind of innovation and marry it to our everyday event practices then we are making progress. It’s going to rely on one or two pioneers dragging this unproven technology kicking and screaming to a viable event solution and proving the technology so that others will follow.  

The Pavegen Systems is progress in the right direction, but still no replacement for the trusty generator banging away back stage, more often than not kept company by a back up unit, equally belching out in total synchronisation.

 Recycling is possibly one of the most effective ways we can curb our horrible habit, but that will rely on not just event companies investing the time and effort, but our clients accepting all the limitations that re-purposing brings. That just isn’t going to happen, it’s a nice thought but what client is going to risk giving the edge to a competitive brand to say they got most of their exhibition stand from the charity shop!

What we can change, however, is how we and our offices work. This undoubtedly will make a difference. We can reduce our travel and try to use local suppliers to reduce our transport footprint and the LED revolution has massively reduced the amount of power we chew up on the average gig. Ironically we still use the same size generators. All too often, all the good done at one end of the office seems to be undone by the other end and the dent we make is so insignificant that the incentive and impetus to carry on soon fades.

Enough of the doom and gloom, in my opinion we can make a difference but not by wearing a tree hugging t-shirt or using eco friendly sporks. If we really want to effect change and produce more sustainable events, we need to spend time and money making a difference in the way we work and operate as an industry not as individuals.

The industry needs a 360 solution that involves everyone from venue to lampy. Everyone needs to think about their business and how they can operate more efficiently, reducing transport, power consumption, the forests of material we use to create one off sets or exhibition stands. 

We should encourage our clients to be the pioneers and put down the marker that says “we are a brave brand who is changing the way we work – we are truly sustainable in our thinking and more importantly our practical implementation

Stick that on a hemp t-shirt and suggest it to one of your clients – if you’re brave enough!

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