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Why Event Sustainability Matters

The event industry over recent years has as made considerable effort to provide guidance and education to its members on creating events that have minimal impact on the environment.

And the need for this focus is apparent when we consider past practice by global event organisers, exhibitors, venues and attendees:

  • A report ‘The Show Must Go On’, based on 279 UK summer festivals estimated 3.17 million people attended UK music festivals every year creating 23,500 tonnes of waste.

  • In 2017, Glastonbury hosted just over 200,000 people, with many of the festival-goers leaving behind mountains of waste. The clean-up cost came to a staggering £785,000, lasting a grand total of six weeks, with more than 1,000 cleaning volunteers chipping in.

  • Looking back only 20 years, The Sustainable Exhibitions Industry Project found there was little pressure to reduce waste: only 13% of respondents had taken steps towards waste minimisation; most respondents did not believe waste to be an issue; 95% of venues were not asked by organisers about waste disposal schemes; 94% of organisers said that there was no encouragement by venues to reduce their waste and 92% said that exhibitors did not check the contractor’s waste disposal arrangements.

  • Travel to international conferences in particular carries a significant carbon footprint dependent on the location of attendees; if they travel by car or fly across countries.

We are all aware of the tremendous damage that we as a general population have inflicted on our planet. Global Earth Day is one of many initiatives that have been created to bring our attention to what we can do to support our environment.

For those of us who love both the event industry and the planet, there are many specific challenges that we come across while delivering events. Just a few examples include waste water and solid waste treatment and management, air pollution, paper and packaging waste, damage to fields and nature (e.g. from outdoor festivals), non-recyclable materials used for exhibition stands, single use marketing materials including give-aways, single use plastics, travel and transport to and from events, waste from temporary structures. The list goes on....

Encouraging moves forward have been made by the events and tourism industry to stop or at least minimise negative environmental impact including:

  • Venues like ExCeL London have made formal commitments to tackling the challenge of hosting sustainable events.

  • Significant attempts are being made to foster behaviour change amongst attendees (e.g The Transtheoretical Model used to explore if an event could potentially promote pro-environmental behaviour)

  • To address waste in the exhibitions industry, UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry has created a dedicated “Sustainable Development Working Group

  • The Association of Event Organisers has developed sustainability goals include a comprehensive plan to be carbon neutral by 2030 with a commitment to: 1) Water reduction, 2) Energy reduction, 3) The use of more sustainable raw materials, 4) Reduce & Reuse.

Creating events that are sustainable is not only an ethical consideration, it's a commercial necessity. Sustainability grows increasingly carries significant weight as an evaluation criterion for event producers, and venues and organisers are frequently asked about their green practices as part of a bid. Venues and organisers are realising that initiating sustainable initiatives is as good for the bottom line as it is for the planet.

So a continued focus on event sustainability matters because:

  • it improves brand image and can offer a competitive advantage

  • it can reduce costs (e.g. energy, water and supplies)

  • it increases an organisation's ability to comply with environmentally related regulations

  • it aids in attracting environmentally minded employees and investors

  • it can provide social benefits include better employee well-being

  • it can improve relationships with local communities and authorities

  • reducing waste and other eco-friendly initiatives impact on the survival of our planet


Maria O'Dea is a senior education leader who specialises in industry focused training & development.

Senior roles across both public and private training organisations and with service oriented businesses have provided her with a breadth of knowledge, expertise and experience in adult education and professional development.

As Founder and Director of The Event School London, Maria's main focus is the creation of event industry-led professional development programmes, industry partnerships, company marketing and the student experience.

Maria is also Director of the London International Education Group.


Updated 29 July 2021

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