To mark Global Recycling Day 2023, Andrew Harrison takes the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and take stock of where we are with sustainability as an industry.

Global Recycling Day was created in 2018 to help recognise the importance recycling plays in preserving our precious primary resources and securing the future of our planet. As an industry that consumes natural resources while also generating waste, recycling will always be a key element in the journey towards creating a more sustainable events sector.

But true sustainability goes much further than recycling. It requires taking a sustainable approach to all aspects of the way we do business, from reducing our environmental impact to tackling modern slavery, employee welfare and diversity and inclusion, in other words prioritising our people and planet, as well as profit.

We are well beyond the stage where sustainability is optional, and any business in the events industry not taking it seriously is in danger of being left behind. Making the sustainable choice is rapidly becoming one of the main deciding factors of all decision makers, and corporate clients are demanding that their event services and suppliers adopt sustainable practices.

That’s why ESSA introduced a comprehensive sustainability module to the ESSA Accredited scheme in 2021, followed by a Sustainability Awareness training course last September, which focuses on all key knowledge areas of sustainability theory and practice for the supplier and services sector. There is a keen appetite amongst our members to embed all aspects of sustainability into the way they do business, but it can be incredibly difficult to know where to start which is where this training course comes in.

Sustainability is a complex topic, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The ESSA training is designed in a logical and succinct way to enlighten members and enable them to build their sustainability roadmap whilst dispelling the myths surrounding how complicated it needs to be.

The important thing is to break it down into digestible bite-sized chunks and to just make a start, understanding that you cannot do everything at once. That said, jumping on a single issue or topic, be that recycling, waste, transport, or something else, doesn’t solve the problem. It just allows us to ignore the broader picture and often distracts from what really needs to be worked on. There is also a growing misinformation that exists in the industry, especially regarding certain supplier products and services, which doesn’t help anyone.

Collaboration is key to addressing the myriad of challenges we face in building a more sustainable future. All parts of the industry need to be conversing now on the topic and working together, not acting in isolation, which is what we’re seeing across the sector. Too many companies act and then consult when what we really need is broader consultation and an adoption of standards.  

This is where ESSA is leading, investing and supporting. We consulted and collaborated with industry experts to create the ESSA Sustainability module, which was formed in line with ISO standards, current industry standards and the EIA Cross-associations supplier’s commitments, while the Sustainability Awareness course was created in conjunction with sustainability consultancy and ESSA member, Green Circle Solutions.

Sustainability is a marathon and not a race, and it’s vital that it’s implemented in a sustainable way, with consideration for the impact on businesses and the supply chain. It should be less about force and more about planning and collaboration. We need to set realistic and achievable goals for ourselves, and each other, and measure along the way to ensure we stay on track.

Understand that while you may have your own internal targets to meet as a business, you cannot expect or force your supplier partners to implement change overnight. Instead, think about how to influence and support them to adopt sustainable practices so that they can help you meet your targets. And economic sustainability absolutely must be part of the conversation and process. The three pillars are people, planet and profit, and running a sustainable business is about getting the right balance between all three.

Published on 17 March 2023 in Event Industry News 


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The Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) is a trade body representing the very best contractors and suppliers of goods and services to the UK’s thriving events industry.

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