I learnt this week that sustainability has actually been built into the events industry for centuries….the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 was one of the most sustainable and successful mega events ever. There was no energy requirement because it was all glass so no lighting required. And it was hot so they used cracks in the floorboards to generate convection ventilation! The glass building was in fact designed around a coppice of Elm trees that has to be protected and preserved. Over 6 million people (a third of the UK population at that time) attended and the profits that they made went to fund the V&A Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
What a fantastic example of triple bottom line sustainability with positive social, economic and environmental impacts. I’m sure there were issues and challenges but the outcomes provide a valuable learning point for us now. If we consider the Olympics and the pseudo-sustainability that they propagated, then perhaps we as an industry are taking a step backwards?
Green events are on the increase and this increase in awareness of sustainability in both the industry and the general public is of course a positive development. I cannot take credit for this insight – James Kennell (University of Greenwich) was speaking at a conference this week and his presentation opened up this line of thought. He noted that this driver for sustainability is coming from customers, from attendees and particularly those under 25. But their priorities are focused on integrity and doing the right thing right. Not accreditation or certificates.
Events offer a unique opportunity to engage those audiences in making the difference – like Glastonbury’s Green Team. Sustainability offers us the opportunity to take responsibility as Krippendorf (1987) discusses. He postulates that responsibility is about being infectious, creating an experience and offering freedom and events can fulfil all of these aspects. What an opportunity!