I can't quite believe its been 2 months since COP26 and a whole 5 months since my last blog. Needless to say we've been busy here at Green Sense Events!
At the end of August I was asked to take on a contract as Sustainability Coordinator for 'Glasgows' - the production team responsible for hosting the Green Zone, at COP26. Of course I jumped at the chance to be involved in such an important event, important for our industry & important for climate change. A chance to make a difference and showcase how we can run a sustainable event.
Its certainly been a journey, and it was nice to switch my brain off over Christmas, with a new year and challenges ahead I just wanted to pause and take the opportunity to share my experience and a little behind the scenes of what a sustainability coordinator actually does and what we did as a team at COP26.
As Sustainability Coordinator my initial role was to be a support to the team to work across all areas of the event and support in making the right decisions on pretty much everything; be it materials for the production, catering, waste management, staff briefings through to advising exhibitors and suppliers on what they should or could be bringing to the event.
In addition to this a large part of my role was to capture the carbon data for Green Zone, with COP26 being a carbon neutral event, it was essential to capture all carbon data across the all zones at the event, and supporting and onboarding suppliers to a new online system - Tracker Plus.
Tracker Plus was created initially for the construction industry but has been adapted to suit events. The challenge was to set all suppliers up on the system and support them through using it, to capture the embodied carbon of all materials brought to site, from exhibitors to infrastructure, add to this the energy usage at the venue, and travel data across the team, all suppliers and contractors.
In terms of the boundaries we focused on financials, i.e anything we were paying for directly, but we were keen to capture as much of the exhibitors data as possible in order to gain a true reflection of the Carbon Footprint of the event, so where possible this was added into the mix.
As Sustainability coordinator I supported the team in achieving ISO20121 which is the international standard for event management.
What did we do:
We were guided by 7 Governing Principles:
Actively Manage potential impacts on the environment and local community and identify opportunities to deliver environmental and social value
Provide an accessible and inclusive setting for all
Encourage healthy living
Ensure a safe and secure atmosphere
Encourage more sustainable behaviour
Promote the use of responsible sources and responsible use of resources throughout the supply chain
Leave a positive legacy
Firstly we encouraged the venue to switch to a green Tariff which meant they were using 100% renewable energy. We utilised the grid which meant we didn't need to bring in generators to provide our power. We used HVO biodiesel for Heating the Exhibitor marquee instead of diesel.
We encouraged all staff to travel via public transport to the event for pre-event site visits.
There was no parking at the venue other than for disabled users and school coaches. Instead public transport links were highlighted on the website, cyclists were encouraged and an electric shuttle bus was running between the city centre, and both blue and green zone during the two weeks.
We encouraged sustainable behaviour by including sustainability in the staff briefing packs and supplier guidelines.
We worked with creative Glasgow Agency 'Material' to design and create the graphics for the event. All materials were sourced using sustainable materials from local suppliers. Spaces were dressed using plants and natural materials such as the 'welcome to COP plant wall and the 'moss' map of the world.
Post event these materials were either left at the venue as a legacy piece, donated and repurposed to some fantastic projects, or recycled.
Examples of repurposing:
Fence scrim, pillar wraps and some bubbleboard went to Lancaster Council who were at COP26 and are working with the Sewing Café Lancaster which promotes wellbeing and advocates sustainability through skill-sharing with people across the community. They’re going to make products from the materials at an event for Earth Day (handbags, purses)
Wood was sent to Circular Arts Network a social enterprise in Glasgow which is a circular economy tool for the arts. Helping artists and arts organisations to reuse and recycle materials (funded by Creative Scotland and partners with SCAN (local charity)
Signs Ex - Recycled all the vinyl graphics, surplus bubble board. 5 x Rings and 6 x fin banners are being donated to schools
Accessibility and Inclusivity
To ensure the event was accessible and inclusive we installed a Meditation Room in the venue. We purchased wheelchairs from a local social enterprise 'Recycle Mobility Centre' who repurpose old wheelchairs and turn them into new ones, these were then given to the Science centre to be used post event.
We supplied reusable water bottles to all staff, and a water refill point was installed in the venue to allow people to refill their water bottles during the event.
We worked with the venues waste partner Changeworks to recycle as much as possible. Even general waste that couldn't be recycled was incinerated to produce energy.
Compostable packaging was used in the cafe and this along with the food waste was collected by Vegware and turned into compost.
We tried to reduce printing as much as possible by making the Ticketing digital and people had their phones scanned on arrival to check in. No programmes were produced or handed out, but instead one large map was produced to replace the usual map in the science centre, and the programme of events was available on the COP26 website.
Exhibitors were encouraged to reduce printing by prioritising digital and many of the exhibitors used QR codes on a poster over printing brochures.
The Venue produced a plant forward menu for the event using local suppliers and locally sourced seasonal ingredients which featured a good variety of vegetarian and vegan options.
What have I learnt?
I worked with a brilliant team who were all really motivated to do their bit and I think we've all learnt a lot from the experience.
Sustainability IS hard. its not hard to be sustainable if you are motivated as an individual or as an organisation, but behaviour change and influencing others can be hard, and sometimes you can feel like you are not big enough on your own to change people's ways.
Events we all know are busy, people are busy and when people get busy bad habits tend to creep back in or continue! So I've summarised a few top tips here:
1. Start early, and choose wisely
When working with your supply chain, provide sustainability guidelines at the beginning and ask suppliers for their sustainability policy. If you know they are already operating as sustainable ethical business they are more likely to follow your guidelines and be motivated and aligned with your objectives.
2. Don't expect people to do the right thing.
When suppliers are asked to take their rubbish away don't expect them to do it. Anticipate that they might not remove it and decide what you are going to do with anything left behind. Make it as easy as you can for suppliers and general public or attendees to manage their waste. I'd even suggest bin warriors/green champions to help people put their items in the correct bin, even when there are pictures and words above the bins, if it takes longer than a few seconds to decide where to put their item it will go in the nearest bin that they 'think' is the right one.
3. Do your best.
I personally felt we all worked really hard to make this event as socially and environmentally sustainable as possible, but there are always going to be hiccups and not everyone will be as enthusiastic as you, but if you can encourage better behaviour, if you can reduce your impact and do your best then your event is already better than most!
I have just about finished my reporting for Green Zone which will go together with the report from Identity and feed into the overall piece by Arup, so I'm looking forward to seeing the final report.
It has been a fantastic experience and one which I can certainly take forward to future events.
You can find out more about Sustainability at COP26 and achieving ISO20121 here
If you are interested in finding out more from Green Sense Events about our journey with COP26 and how you can make your next event more sustainable then please get in touch here