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Identifying the issues

Martin Fullard talks to Identity's Michael Gietzen, the agency tasked with delivering COP26.

An event of COP26's nature is so vast, the very idea of planning is eclipsed by the bewilderment of where to start. The central venue for the summit is Glasgow's Scottish Event Campus (SEC). This offers vast exhibition and meeting spaces, as well as a 14,300-capacity events arena. In broad terms, Identity will be responsible for transforming an area the size of 12 football pitches into a suitable location to host the largest gathering of heads of state ever to take place in the UK. Identity will conceive, design, and build the entire production infrastructure required.

"As with all the other globally significant events delivered by Identity, such as the NATO Leaders Meeting and the G7 Summit, COP26 will be multi-faceted, and requires meticulous planning from a huge number of stakeholders," says Michael Gietzen, Identity's MD. "Over the course of the 12 days of COP26, the SEC and event perimeter will be under the scrutiny of the worldwide media as well as being subject to a security ring of absolute steel. The venue and Identity must showcase the world-class talents of the UK events industry."

Central to every planning aspect of delivering COP26, widely regarded as the vital global platform to tackle the climate emergency, is sustainability. "Identity demonstrated at G7 that global events can be delivered to very high standards while simultaneously achieving ambitious sustainability objectives. These learnings from G7 have helped inform and confirm all the sustainable measures in place for COP26 - with its dedicated climate change agenda, the stakes on delivering sustainability couldn't be higher. "Everything that Identity produces, procures or purchases for COP26 is recycled, recyclable and/or reusable. Every minuscule element of the entire event is sustainably assessed and audited," adds Gietzen. Alongside all this, there are numerous contingency plans in place for countless variables - not least the ability to pivot to hybrid or virtual delivery in the event of Covid-19 complications.

Self assessment

Has dealing with an event of this nature made Identity reassess its own practices as an agency, which will help Identity run more sustainable events for other clients, I ask Gietzen. "Identity has long championed a 'green agenda' and we took our first steps towards changing practices within the business in 2017," he says. "Since then, our ambition (in all areas) has grown, and we have a fully formulated plan to be an entirely carbon-neutral business by 2050. "Our commitment to leading the way in producing exemplary, world-class, sustainable events trickles down through every department of the business. Delivering COP26 hasn't made us reassess our practices but has instead made us ever more determined to double down on these pledges and be a trailblazer for change throughout our industry." 

Talk can often be cheap, and 'green washing' is being called out more often these days. Gietzen says he fully understands the need to practise what they preach. "Our environmental committee carries out regular internal audits and is continually introducing new, improved business practices," he says. "These include singing up to the Science Based Targets initiative, decommission of the diesel fleet and investment in electric vehicles as well as the development of Tracker + throughout our supply chain."

On the need to demonstrate green efficiency while running COP26, Gietzen says: "The non-negotiable net zero nature of COP26 has certainly assisted us with streaming our practises and confirming our belief that delivery of fully certified sustainable events will soon become an expected norm for UK events.

"We already encourage clients to go further than this and embed sustainable practices within their events. This can range from using local suppliers and contractors to reducing distance travelled to site, to applying the 'measurements and monitoring' element of ISO 20121, to accurately gauge emissions and impact on the environment of an event."

When we talk sustainability, clients often think only of the environment, however sustainability of an event is far more involved than that. Gietzen says he believes that 'do no harm' is no longer enough. "Identity seeks 'to do good'," he says. "Creating and leaving a positive legacy is the goal - and this is where Identity's clients are the key winners. 

"The way Identity creates and delivers events, based on a solid foundation of social value, enhancing the wider impacts on society, to include the environment, and holding ourselves to account for these, is transformative.

"We have devised and continue to refine our 'Event Sustainability Checklist' and communicate the importance and added value, both economic and environmental, of this to our clients."

Everyone must buy in

Identity has run some of the most important events the UK has seen in recent years, so what does this say about the team, I ask Gietzen. 

"Having started in 2001 with fewer than 20 employees, Identity now compromises of a permanent team of more than 150 as well as an extensive freelance network," he says. "Our internationally acclaimed and forward-thinking leadership team of 20+ boasts in excess of 350 years' experience within the events industry."

But it isn't just experience that gives Identity its edge. It considers itself disruptors within the sector, hungry to drive change and fully able to compete for the biggest contracts against some of the longest-established names in the industry.

"We are constantly asking 'how can we improve the scope, reach and engagement of our client's events?," he says. "We aren't afraid to suggest improvements to a brief or offer constructive criticism. As well as our sustainability pledges, our social values manifesto is pioneered by our team, proudly communicating our commitment to embedding social value into every event. We deliver the same energy and passion to all events entrusted to us - regardless of size."

Gietzen adds that despite the agency's rapid growth over the past three years, they remain a tight knit team with an enviable company culture that underpins the work.

"Our 'one team' mindset is centred around 'remarkable things happen when we work together'," he says. "We know that to deliver exceptional events we need to work with exceptional people. A career with Identity means surrounding yourself with truly exceptional industry leaders that will learn as much from you as you will from them."

The proof, then, will be in the COP26 pudding.

To read the feature in the magazine, click here.