There’s an ironic story doing the rounds on social media. It has many iterations and you probably know one of them. A young cashier points out to an older customer that the plastic bags they are using are bad for the environment. This customer responds that they didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in their day - but then proceeds to describe the exact opposite: an era of reusable glass milk bottles delivered by electric milk floats; babies’ nappies that were washed rather than disposed of; drinking from a fountain rather than a throwaway plastic bottle; fragile items wrapped in newspaper rather than bubble wrap, etc. The story appeals to people of a certain age, who read it with a wry, recycled smile. (We’ve been here before!)
But we also know that consumers will willingly change their behaviour and adapt to new circumstances and different ways of doing things. Consider the results, when the single use plastic bag had a small price tag attached to it – the usage dropped 85% when introduced in England in 2015.
Helping to influence behaviour is of course a common theme at a live event. There is a recent report from the events industry in which 66% of event producers and planners said that time and budget are barriers to them implementing sustainability, but an 81% majority said that sustainability is not a barrier to creativity. And I’m sure this last fact is correct – the events industry is renowned for its creativity and delivering this against a backdrop of sustainability is very achievable. But let’s face it, live events still generate a huge amount of waste - whether this is paper, graphics, food or plastic - and it is beholden upon us, as live event producers, to do everything we can to minimise waste.
So the question is, how do we all embrace ‘green’ behaviour? This is an important consideration when almost every organisation ‘owns’ a policy focused on sustainability and the reduction of its carbon footprint. We at Firehouse have our own policy that underpins which suppliers we work with and how we plan our events, but this has to align with client sustainability targets and sometimes we have to collaborate with clients, helping them to achieve their goals. Our clients’ briefs most often don’t ask what the carbon cost of an intended event is likely to be - or whether materials we use are sustainable - or if food will be sourced from local suppliers. Of course, we all want to minimise the negative impact we make from an environmental perspective, but few associate extra cost with the minimising of the carbon footprint. But, the reality is that things are going to cost more, before they cost less. We all need to invest in taking responsibility – and the more we do – of course, the cheaper it will become. To get to this place, I suspect we need to provide client organisations with a sustainability narrative they can believe in and commit to.
For instance, Firehouse was uncomfortable with the way graphic installations were produced and then disposed of and, following some investigation, we began investing in products produced by Dufaylite who have developed innovative paper honeycomb and board, with extremely high sustainability credentials. This material can replace Foamex and even MDF. It’s lightweight and it’s made from 100% recycled core with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
Now we can assure our clients that their graphic panels and installations came from fully sustainable sources that can be 100% recycled. That helps our clients to feel good and it means they have a very positive story they can communicate internally. And we feel good about that. We’re in the business of creating platforms that engage and motivate organisations.
Another client for whom we do regular leadership events was persuaded to invest in reusable water bottles for the team – banning any plastics from future events and ensuring the team return with their bottle and refill them as and when required from water dispensers. So, we sourced some cool re-usable bottles and helped to change some entrenched behaviours – creating another great story that celebrated the organisation’s capacity to ‘own’ and contribute to a better future. Doubtless, this simple but influential decision has inspired many to think twice before using a throw-away plastic bottle or non-re-cyclable cup, outside of work.
We all know that live events can be inundated with materials and assets – brochures, workbooks, presentation printouts etc. We know because we clean up after the event is over and the audience has gone home! Increasingly, we are engaged in helping organisations to maximise the potential of paperless technologies – employing devices like smart phones and tablets – and tools such as apps and dedicated media platforms – eradicating the reason to use paper that leads to copious amounts of unwanted material being left behind under chairs or in the loos (I kid you not).
Our clients often have a very clear internal policy regarding clarity of messaging and efficiencies that relate best practice when organising any engagement programme. Almost everyone recognises the importance of sufficient lead time and thorough briefing. The next challenge is to ensure that policy, efficiencies and time allocation extends to the development and employment of sustainable best practice – the upholding of which, becomes an integral part of the agency role.
Oh. Probably not a good idea to print this!