21 August 2014

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Event Issue - Going Green


With such a myriad of ‘green’ packages and promises on the market, going eco-friendly can be a confusing and costly process. But small changes can reduce your environmental impact without draining your budget, says Louise Troy

The battle against climate change is full of contradictions. These days, it seems the moment most celebrities step off their private jets, they can’t resist giving the rest of us a lecture on how we’re destroying the planet by over-filling the kettle or using too much toilet paper.

One thing that’s certain is that there is a problem: global temperatures have risen by 0.7ºC since 1900 and experts predict they could rise by another 5.8ºC this century, melting the polar ice caps and whipping up more extreme weather around the world. One of the main contributors to global warming is the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which is why governments are urging us all to reduce our carbon emissions.

It’s a message that’s particularly important for the hospitality industry, which spews out an estimated 12.5m tonnes of CO2 a year.  And although well over two-thirds of conference organisers say they consider green issues to be ‘very important’ or ‘important’, only 10 per cent are currently offsetting their carbon emissions, according to a recent survey by The Conference People.

'I think that awareness has grown,’ says John Barrett, a researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute at York. ‘But for many it’s still an afterthought. It should be the initial question: how can we organise ourselves better to reduce the impact we have on the environment?’

Barrett points out that there are many organisations that will offset a business’s carbon emissions (for a substantial fee) by planting CO2-absorbing forests and investing in renewable energy projects. But he says: ‘You can’t simply offset carbon emissions and think the problems will go away. It is far better not to pollute in the first place.’

So are businesses just throwing money at the issue rather than taking responsibility for their impact on the environment? Barrett pauses. ‘I don’t think carbon offsetting is a waste of time, but it isn’t the sole solution.’
This is partly because there is so much confusion over what different companies mean by the term, and how much good offsetting actually does. Nick Davies of The Guardian called the burgeoning industry ‘a deeply troubled adolescent – confused, unpredictable, and difficult to trust’. It’s no wonder many businesses are reluctant to get involved.

And there’s another problem: there is only so much event organisers can do when working with environmentally unfriendly venues. ‘There are endemic restrictions in the industry,’ says Robert Enefer, managing director of The Conference People. ‘You can make events as green as possible given the limits of venue and circumstance – as far as I know, there are no real “green venues” yet.’

That said, countless London venues are putting green policies in place, and party organisers are also doing their bit. Lettice, for example, will be bringing ‘A Greener Christmas’ to the Design Museum. ‘It’s not an exact science,’ admits managing director Harriet Hastings. ‘But we’re doing everything we can to minimise our carbon footprint. Food is locally sourced, we’re using recycled materials and offering rickshaws and e-invites.’

Roli Barker, an event manager for Solo Events, adds: ‘Over the last few months I have been doing a lot of venue searching and one of the main criteria has been their commitment to the environment. One organisation I work with – Green Power Conferences – operated their largest event on renewable energy.’

Apart from careful venue selection, there are a host of simple steps event organisers can take without comprising the quality of what they do or spending a fortune.In fact, reducing energy consumption can actually save you a significant amount of money. When Oxygen Events’ creative director Ed Thurstan helped set up the company’s environmentally focused offshoot, Eco Events, he managed to run all the lighting for the launch party, at Christ Church in Spitalfields, off a single 13-amp socket. ‘We used LEDs and low-voltage lighting,’ he says. ‘It meant I was able to go on stage, unplug that one socket,
and the whole place went dark!’ A similar trick was used for the PA system, which ran off just two car batteries.

Reducing the amount of printed material handed out is another important step. ‘Recycled paper is good,’ says Barrett. ‘But no paper is better.’ Enefer agrees, saying his solution to reducing waste paper is to allow organisers to put all their material on-line, so that delegates can access it through a secure website. Any vital content can then be viewed on the internet for up to 72 days after a conference, or downloaded on to the user’s own computer.

But if you ask the experts what the most important change to make is, they’re all agreed. ‘The main thing is travel,’ says Barrett. He says it’s time to kick the car habit and find venues that are easily accessible by public transport. ‘Use the Tube, rather than gas-guzzling cars – or use a bus to ferry your guests around. Trains are also three times better than cars for the environment.’

Overall, the message is clear: don’t let the apocalyptic language used about climate change put you off making even the smallest changes. ‘Of course, there’s always more that can be done,’ says Barrett. ‘But if someone did all this, it’d be a start.’

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2007.

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