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Sustainability used to be the ‘Wild West’ of event management. The Green Events and Innovations (GEI) conference,which I co-founded in 2008 at Buckinghamshire New University attracted only a handful of event promoters and organisers. This year’s GEI conference was filled to capacity and is now supported by the International Live Music Conference (ILMC). The level of discussion and debate in the industry has also changed. The topic of Sustainable Event Management is no longer seen as something to avoid, with a knowing laugh or yawn of boredom. Event organisers want to know how to be more sustainable and they want to employ people who are trained to achieve this.
Growing interest in the area calls for more expertise, and so this year we are launching a new course, BSc Event and Festival Sustainability Management, at Bucks New University. It aims to develop a new generation of event organisers who can put on a great event which also embraces the latest sustainable practices and thinking.
One landmark in perceptions about the importance of sustainable events management was the London 2012 Olympics. With sustainability as one of its three pillars, it was pivotal in shifting the field away from a “bunch of tree-hugging festival folk” to an accepted (even smart) approach to the business of running events.
This mainstreaming of the sustainability agenda in the events industry has, and very fortunately, taken place during a period of unprecedented growth, with more events and festivals taking place annually in the UK than ever before. As the number of events has grown, so too have some of the less positive aspects, particularly relating to outdoor events. The organisers of major music events are increasingly concerned with the very visible problem of waste left in the aftermath. How do they persuade audiences not to dump tents, chairs, wellington boots, sofas, fridges and all manner of other stuff? Innovative solutions are needed.
Over the last six years there has also been significant growth in the number of new young businesses providing sustainable products and services to the events industry. They offer alternative ways of doing things, such as different travel options for event goers, travel being one of the biggest CO2 emitters for events [Julie’s Bicycle, 2009] – and clean energy sources for events. Alongside this, there’s the rise of new business models based on sustainable principles, such as collaborative consumption. In order to grow, these businesses need people who understand the world of events but who also have a clear grasp of sustainable principles and practices.
The landscape is changing very rapidly. As event organisers try out new things and learn more, the benefits of new practices are under debate. Take palm oil – introduced as a source of biofuel, but perhaps better known as a source of deforestation…
We founded GEI as a platform for sharing experiences and practices amongst event organisers. In 2010 I co-founded Green Operations Europe (GO Group) to meet growing demand across Europe. In both cases we have found that there is an almost insatiable demand for information, knowledge-sharing, and advice from people with experience.
Now the time is right to build on and formalise this knowledge through education, preparing the next generation of event organisers to deliver sustainable events. We look forward to welcoming the first cohort of students for our BSc Event and Festivals Sustainability Management at Bucks New University.
Teresa Moore is Head of Department, Music & Events Management, at Buckinghamshire New University.