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Cameron Roberts chats to Gemma Bassett, director of client services, HeadBox, about the business’s recent findings on sustainability.

Room to grow

Cameron Roberts chats to Gemma Bassett, director of client services, HeadBox, about the business’s recent findings on sustainability.

One of the roadblocks to true sustainability in events is tracking the numbers. Following up on the data is no easy task, but it’s critical to our understanding of how we can be a more sustainable industry. It can impact the pace of change, as well as what focus areas businesses within the sector look into.

I spoke to Gemma Bassett, director of client services, HeadBox, to delve deep into the company’s recent 2022 Event Trends Report, which details a state of play for sustainable events.

Lagging behind

The report itself was fairly damning in that it highlighted the hospitality and events sector as the third least sustainable, behind property and construction and public services and admin. Only 26% of respondents in the industry said their company was running sustainable events.

Approximately 44% of those aged 18-24 say the reduction of carbon emissions from travelling to an event is their top reason for preferring certain meetings and events to be held virtually – justifying a move to the digital world for eventprofs. Bassett said: “The events industry has had a slow uptake on digital transformation compared to other industries, which has had an impact on our sustainability progress. We have made great strides, especially over the past couple of years, but certainly have a long way to go.

Events generate an enormous amount of waste – therefore, proper planning is key, from seeking alternatives to single-use plastic to ordering food for the number of guests you’re expecting. “Traditionally, the industry has leant towards using bigger venue chains and missed out on amazing unique, local spaces. I think today, people want events to be a place of authentic connection, and bigger events can miss that sometimes. As well as reducing travel emissions by choosing somewhere local, our research shows that travel convenience is a top priority for attendees today, so this means more can attend in person.”

On the up and up

The report details what the industry can do to replicate the success of more sustainable industries, the top of which include: accounting, banking and finance; environment and agriculture; and creative arts and design.

Its top line states that looking at the supply chain used to put on an event is critical to the end-product’s green chops. Looking at sustainable venues and catering were top of the list, with nearly 20% of Millennials and 37% of Gen Z keen to see locally sourced food at events.

Bassett added: “We have seen a rise in venues thinking about local and seasonal products first. If you have the space, then venues such as the Birch Hotel in Hampshire are leading the way with their onsite farm and vegetable garden (they also upcycle their furniture and left lots of the original house as it was to preserve some of the historical aspects, as well as be more sustainable, in their renovations).

“Even venues in London with limited space are using what they can to drive sustainable catering, such as the rooftop vegetable garden at the InterContinental O2. We are seeing other companies, such as OLIO, tackling the waste issue of the events industry.”

Banning single-use plastics, plus incentives to deposit and return empty containers, were other practical solutions that the report recommends for organisers.

To sum up: the events industry has some catching up to do to minimise its waste and impact on the planet, and the side-effect of working with more sustainable supply chains is uplifting smaller companies and broadening the success of the industry as a whole.