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Cleaning up conferences

From the cover: Martin Fullard uncovers the uncomfortable truth about indoor air pollution at events

We are all aware of the dangers of outdoor air pollution, but have you ever considered the air that you breathe indoors? It’s a sad fact that we now spend over 90% of our time indoors, so the quality of air that we breathe inside is far more important than what is outside. Add to this the fact that indoor air is up to five times more polluted than outdoor air and we have a serious issue on our hands. Indoor air pollution is a combination of factors: sulphur dioxide from open fires, toxins from carpets, upholstery and paint, germs, bacteria and fragrances from other people and the residual chemicals from cleaning products.

Julia Charles Event Management is the first agency to look at the impact it has in the events sector. “Tackling indoor air pollution is a key part of the Clean Air Strategy that was published in 2019 by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)”, says MD Julia Charles-Wiginton. “Indoor air contains up to 900 potentially dangerous chemicals and particles and, as homes and buildings are becoming more air tight, there is a greater chance that pollutants will accumulate, creating a higher health risk.”

“Think how indoor air pollution is intensified at a conference; the hundreds or thousands of delegates flying in from all over the globe, being stuck in one room all day together and breathing each other’s germs,” continues Charles-Wiginton. “It’s a shuddering thought.” 

We’ve all seen the industry shift towards a focus on wellbeing, for agency and corporate staff as well as for delegates, but Charles-Wiginton says few have considered the air that we all breathe while we are at events. She adds: “I’m sure that we have all experienced feeling ill after being on a flight, and an event is a very similar, closed environment. Anecdotally I hear about lots of people getting ill after attending their company conference, so tackling indoor air pollution at events would really help reduce this.

“I’d like to see more awareness of indoor air pollution at events, and I call on venues and agencies to do something practical about it. Working in events, we are in a very enviable position of interaction and connecting with many different industries, so we can be the pioneers to help educate and spread the word to so many others.”  

World first

In August, an engineering firm called Rotable Repairs became the first company in the world to tackle indoor air pollution at an event. They employed Julia Charles Event Management to create an event to celebrate and launch their new offices, workshop and warehouse, and Charles-Wiginton thought that this was a perfect opportunity to launch Better Air for the first time at an event. Based in Southend-on-Sea, the company invited guests from all over the world for an afternoon and evening of food and entertainment. Rotable Repairs is in the aviation industry and so they were very much aware of the impact of indoor pollution.

A temporary structure was erected next to the building to accommodate the event. The team at Julia Charles Event Management researched and installed the Better Air system – a machine that works silently to spray an ultra-fine mist of probiotics into the indoor environment – purifying the air, surfaces and objects all around it. The system was installed in the early morning, so the air could be treated and ready for when guests arrived

“We felt that our event was the perfect launch platform, having clean air at our event was really important to us mainly due to the nature of our business,” explains Richard Lane, group marketing manager at Rotable Repairs. “We operate a functional workshop, where we deal with chemicals and we are also in the aviation industry, so we know the impact of air pollution. Our event was held on an industrial estate and near a very busy main road, and we were bringing our clients and key contacts here from all over the globe, so we wanted to make sure that they were breathing the cleanest air possible. 

“We could really feel the difference the system made, the environment felt fresh and not at all stuffy or polluted. 

“As a business, our teams are consistently going out to different events, we’re often in exhibition halls all day long, and then come home with ‘exhibition flu’. 

Our teams travel the world and we’re sat on planes constantly travelling to and from events. We know full well the impact of air pollution and so it was amazing for us to combat it at our event.”

Champions of Sustainable Events

Taking inspiration from this event, Julia Charles Event Management is launching an initiative to help fellow event organisers to create more sustainable events. They are gathering together a group of people to champion products and services that will help event professionals to create greener and healthier events.

“We are forming the Champions of Sustainable Events; a group of experts and organisers who will research and review a new product or service each month and tell the industry how they can incorporate it within their events,” says Charles-Wiginton. 

“I know full well how busy this industry is. We hardly have time to think, let alone research new products, so we will be doing the hard work for you. We will be giving the low down on each product, and creating a marketing plan that organisers can use to market each service or product to their clients. We will also be working with manufacturers and suppliers to obtain discounts for our fellow event profs to help them to keep within their budgets. The Better Air system that we used is now available to all event organisers, and by using a unique code (‘BetterEventAir’), which we have secured specifically for the events industry, you will obtain a discount.”

If you would like to join the Champions of Sustainable Events or you have a product or service that you would like the Champions to review, please contact CN and we will put you in touch with Charles-Wiginton and her team. 

Facts

 We spend 90% of our time indoors*

• Indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air*

• Indoor air contains up to 900 potentially dangerous chemicals and particles**

• As homes and buildings are becoming more air tight, there is a greater chance that pollutants will accumulate, creating a higher health risk**

*Source: Environmental Protection
Agency (USA)

**Source: European Commission Scientific Committee