The Events Industry Goes Green: Sustainability Trends in the UK

The events industry is a major economic force in the UK, generating over £42 billion annually. However, hosting large events inevitably leaves a substantial carbon footprint. From transportation to waste to energy use, events have major environmental impacts.

In recent years, sustainability has become a top priority across the UK events sector. Both corporations and event planning agencies alike are taking steps to reduce the ecological impact of conferences, festivals, and more.

    Venues Lead the Charge on Sustainability

    Major venues across the UK are leading sustainability efforts. For example, The NEC Birmingham created an ISO 20121-certified Event Sustainability Management System. They focus on waste diversion, energy conservation, responsible sourcing, and sustainable procurement among other initiatives.

    The O2 Arena in London has comprehensive sustainability commitments including food waste reduction targets, eliminating single-use plastics, and offsetting carbon emissions from venue energy use. Sustainable venue design is also an emerging trend, with new event spaces integrating renewable energy sources like solar panels and energy-efficient technologies like LED lighting.

    Eco-Friendly Venue Certifications

    To display sustainability credentials, more and more UK venues are obtaining environmental certifications like ISO 20121, BREEAM, and the APEX/ASTM Standards.

    ISO 20121 is one of the most widely adopted standards and provides guidelines for sustainable event management systems. BREEAM certification involves independent audits of elements like energy, water, waste, and more for buildings and infrastructure.

    The APEX/ASTM Venue Standard is newer and takes a comprehensive look at the environmental and social impacts of venue design and operations. Having these recognised certifications signals to planners and attendees a venue’s commitment to sustainability.

    Venue Features That Promote Sustainability

    In addition to certifications, venues promote sustainability through specific design features and operations:

    • Renewable energy sources like wind turbines or solar panels reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Venues like the SEC Glasgow integrated solar panels to generate clean energy.
    • Water efficiency features like low-flow plumbing fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, and greywater usage for landscaping conserve water. Manchester Central Convention Complex uses greywater in toilets and irrigation.
    • Waste management infrastructure like ample recycling bins with clear signage and food waste digesters divert waste from landfills. The ExCeL London conference centre recycles or composts over 50% of event waste.
    • Sustainable food programs with partnerships with local suppliers, plant-based menu options, and food waste reduction initiatives make catering greener.
    • Green transportation promotions encourage attendees to walk, cycle, or take transit to events whenever possible.

    Planners Prioritize Sustainability

    Corporate event planners and agencies are also driving the focus on sustainability. Over 75% of event professionals surveyed by Eventbrite UK said environmental considerations influence their planning and communication strategies.

    Many planners are setting baseline sustainability requirements for venues, accommodations, and vendors. They are seeking out services with green certifications, low-emission transportation options, and farm-to-table catering.

    Companies like Eventsforce even offer carbon calculators to help planners measure and offset event emissions. Planners use sustainability manuals and checklists to keep events on track environmentally.

    Sustainable Event Case Studies

    There are great examples of sustainable events across different sectors:

    • The 2021 UK COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow set robust sustainability goals including 80% waste diversion, prioritizing local food and drink, offsetting all emissions, and attaining ISO 20121 certification.
    • At the 2022 Brighton Pride Festival, organisers focused on reducing single-use plastic waste and food waste, as well as increasing recycling rates. Attendees were encouraged to take public transit with discounted travel passes.
    • The 2022 Make More Happen Sustainability Conference held by property firm Savills obtained Eco-Label certification and chose venues with strong environmental commitments. Caterers used seasonal, locally sourced menus and eliminated plastic bottles.

    Engaging Attendees in Sustainability

    Involving attendees is key for sustainable events. Interactive waste sorting stations, digital signage with green tips, and sustainable giveaway swag build awareness.

    Events like Sustainable Brands London make sustainability a central theme through panels on circular economy innovations and eco-friendly exhibits.

    Gamification through event apps encourages green choices. For example, the app for 2021’s COP26 Climate Summit lets attendees earn points for taking public transport or low-emission rides to the event.

    Promoting Sustainability Impacts

    Communicating sustainability efforts made by organisers through signage, websites, and apps is equally important. Post-event sustainability reports quantify progress made on waste diversion, emissions, water use, and other impacts.

    This transparency shows attendees the positive environmental and social change enabled by sustainable events.

    Engaging Suppliers and Sponsors

    Getting buy-in from the whole event supply chain is crucial as well. Planners can give preference to suppliers with sustainability certifications and policies. Sponsorship packages can be designed to promote green brands committed to reducing their environmental footprints.

    When attendees, planners, venues, sponsors, and suppliers unite around sustainability, real progress can be made.

    The Road Ahead

    While progress has been made, there’s more work to be done to develop fully sustainable events. The UK events industry is moving in the right direction in terms of strategy, technology and stakeholder education.

    Challenges remain around consistency, measurement standards, and costs. However, with continuing innovation, legislation, and consumer demand, the UK will lead in green events. Venues, planners, and suppliers must continue collaborating to reduce environmental footprints.

    Sustainability will increasingly give organisations a competitive edge. By investing in green initiatives, the UK events industry can build resilience and thrive economically while upholding ecological values.

    The events industry has a key role to play in building a sustainable future. With the UK’s influence, events globally can become catalysts for positive environmental and social change.