By Nick Marks, Found of Ecobooth
Nearly two years ago I was asked to create a ‘sustainable event’ by one of the world’s largest banks in the form of a trade show booth and the truth is I didn’t know where to begin. Little did I know at the time, but this question would take me on an 18-month journey, culminating in me realising the only way for me to genuinely provide any client with a sustainable event was to rip up the rule book and start all over again.
Events by their very nature are temporary and this plays a large part in what makes them great. However, it also allows some of those involved in the creation and running of events to make misleading sustainability claims – safe in the knowledge that these can be temporary too.
Let us use an example of a typical exhibition booth, although this process applies to much of event production such as staging, product launches, pop-up activations, showcases and so on.
A company makes a re-usable metal frame for the booth and claims it is a sustainable product because it’s made from materials that can be recycled at end of life; can be taken down, re-packed and re-used at multiple events. All True.
However, the company producing the metal frame sell it to another company who then decide to transport it around the world from event to event creating significant damage to the environment in the form of C02 emissions – not sustainable. In addition, there is the problem that the metal framework only accounts for the frame or body of the booth. The skin or fascia of the booth, which accounts for most of what we see, is largely constructed using large format graphics, fabrics, signage and plastics such as foamex, acrylic, vinyl and PVC – 95% of which cannot be recycled – also not sustainable. True, some of this can be re-used a couple of times but ultimately client branding and messaging changes and things become worn and, more alarmingly, as one leading UK booth supplier told me “it’s cheaper to re-print all that rather than ship it back carefully and store so that’s what we do”. And don’t forget the flooring; Events need large floorspace and over 90% of exhibition carpet is still incinerated allowing event agencies, suppliers and venues to claim “zero waste to landfill”, which, to clarify is a dated strategy that is not recycling and not sustainable (I’ll write more about this next time). Finally, we have the labour: outside of the US where they do insist you use part local labour at least, event labour is driven by the bottom line and so we ship, fly or drive the cheapest possible labour to the event, again at the expense of heavy C02 emissions and poor sustainable credentials. Some of the worst examples of this over the past 15 years have been Indian and Bangladeshi labour to Dubai and Eastern European labour to the UK.
There is more but I think I make my point.
You begin to see the problem. The above example shows how a potentially sustainable product is quickly made completely unsustainable by the design and management processes that have become the norm within the event industry. And that is the issue; even the greatest sustainable products will come apart at the hands of the events industry until it tackles the deep-rooted problems within it’s wider process.
So how can we do things better?
At Ecobooth we have developed the Circular Event Framework alongside leading environmental consultancies Eco Act and Carbon Clear. The framework has been developed following independent auditing to establish solutions to the wider problems, not just the material problems. Ecobooth are testing the framework on projects for clients during the remainder of 2018 and will then look to make this a public resource in 2019. The framework is a direct response to unacceptable levels of waste and wider sustainability issues within the events industry and will focus on improving five key problem areas.
- Achieving zero waste
- Achieving zero emissions
- The use of sustainable materials
- The use of renewable energy
- The use of the local economy
By meeting the goals set for each of the five identified areas, those involved in the creating and running events can offer genuine measurable sustainable credentials to their clients – a service that 60% of the worlds leading companies are ready and waiting to embrace.
Eighteen months after my journey began and one month after we launched Ecobooth I believe that whole-scale change is needed across the events industry if it is to become the sustainable force that it should be. That said, I also believe that many of the required changes are easily achievable for companies and people who genuinely place a sustainable future at the core of their business offering and, ultimately care about the future of and see the power of live events.
The good news for those companies ready to embrace change today is that Ecobooth is genuine; it’s sustainable, it’s committed, and it’s a world first. We are ready and waiting to create extraordinary, sustainable events for our clients.
Nick Marks is the founder of Ecobooth – the sustainable events company working with companies to eliminate waste from their live events activities.
With over a decade working in the events industry and having founded the successful London design agency, RADAR, Nick conducted independent research – including the environmental auditing of RADAR – and found alarming levels of waste across the UK events industry.
In response to this Nick spent 18 months working with leading environmental consultancies Eco Act and global management consultants PA to developed and launch Ecobooth.
Ecobooth brings a fresh, new approach to how companies can approach their live event activities shaped around the principles of the circular economy.
Through the repurposing and redesign of waste plastic and the use of other sustainable material alongside a genuine, accredited, environmental operational blue print, Ecobooth produce sustainable event campaigns in the form of exhibition booths, conference sets, pop-up’s and further live event activations that can be measured and certified.