‘It’s about creating a legacy’: Futurebuild on sustainability

Martin Hurn, MD of Futurebuild Events

As part of EN’s July cover feature on sustainability we spoke to Martin Hurn (pictured right), MD of Futurebuild Events, about his efforts to embed sustainability into ecobuild 2018 [rebranding as Futurebuild for 2019]. This is a extended version of that conversation. 

Can you describe a few ways in which you tried to make ecobuild and will continue to make Futurebuild a sustainable event?

For ecobuild 2018, the first edition of the event under our independent ownership, we set a clear vision to deliver a zero waste to landfill event. We also wanted to ensure that we were the industry’s most considerate event.

To achieve this, we set defined sustainability values and ensured that we ‘walked the talk’. We also worked with partners that shared the same values and we were always collaborative in our approach.

For example, we worked closely with the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) when developing ecobuild 2018 and used its ‘Code of Considerate Practice’ to ensure we achieved the highest standards in key areas, such as minimising the environmental impact of the event.

The CCS helped us set and achieve targets around show waste, diversity of speakers and onsite health and safety. It also supported our exhibitors in maximising their sustainability and inclusivity credentials at the event, guiding them on how to build their stand, maintain the wellbeing of their teams and interact with visitors.

In collaboration with our long-standing logistics partner, GES, we also produced zero waste seminar theatres, utilising its show-ready system and avoiding the use of any PVC banners or vinyl. In addition, our Waste Zone was created out of hemp create blocks which all have gone back to the manufacturers stock.

The results speak for themselves – we achieved our goal of making ecobuild 2018 a zero waste to landfill event, the first time this has happened since ecobuild launched 14 years ago.

For Futurebuild 2019, we’re calling on professionals from across the built environment to help us prioritise and shape our sustainability goals for next year’s event.

We are committed to listening to and acting on what our community wants to see from us and will do our best to meet the ambitious sustainability standards we are held against. We recognise that we can’t achieve everything we’d like to straight away, but want to be honest and transparent about the steps we are taking and are committed to working with our partners to strive for better results together.

How easy is it to find suppliers who can support your sustainability goals?

Suppliers in the events industry are increasingly taking genuine steps to embed sustainability into their working practices – although, like most industries, there is further to go.

For example, you do sometimes need to challenge suppliers to deliver better results, as there can be a reliance on unsustainable materials, such as PVC and vinyl. However, the sector is continuing to embrace innovative materials – re-board is coming down in print cost, for example, and provides a good alternative for signage options.

We also made it clear to all contractors at the start of the tendering process for ecobuild 2018 that we wanted to achieve a zero waste to landfill event. This was one of the major elements which contractors needed to address when presenting proposals for the feature builds and installations at the event.

Sometimes you need to challenge suppliers to deliver better results

At Futurebuild Events, we are in a unique position in the events sector working as we do with organisations across the built environment – an industry in which sustainable building techniques and materials has become commonplace and, indeed, expected. So we can tap into that knowledge and expertise to bring the best practice from construction into the events industry.

For example, as part of our partnership with the Canary Wharf Group, we were able to call on its in-house construction team to design, build and deliver the main arena structure. The team ensured that the entire Conference arena was fully responsibly sourced, FSC certified and generated zero waste, with 100 per cent of the materials, scaffolding and signage taken back to site for re-use.

We also haven’t been afraid to look outside traditional options and contractors when it comes to selecting suppliers we can work with to deliver on our sustainability commitments.

As we develop Futurebuild 2019, we’re aiming to work with like-minded partners that can help us take the next step forward in delivering the most sustainable, inclusive event possible.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in terms of making the event sustainable?

Like so many things, cost can be a big hurdle. The cheaper options are always sadly the least sustainable. Using PVC or vinyl wraps is a lot cheaper than using re-board or starched fabric options for example. However, as mentioned, this is beginning to change and sustainable options are becoming more viable form a financial point of view.

Looking even further forward, I think digital signage should be the way forward but again the cost of this is a lot higher than traditional options. That’s particularly true when you factor in the venue’s electricity and, if needed, LAN connection costs.

When you have a large-scale show, these costs add up and end up being up to ten times more expensive than simple printed signs.

What’s your impression of the exhibition industry as a whole? Are we succeeding in putting on sustainable events or is there still a long way to go?

I think the industry has taken massive steps forward recently, but at the same time there is only so much impact that event organisers themselves can have.

The actual elements of a large-scale event that an organiser has direct control over can be less than 20 per cent of the total. Exhibitors are responsible for the bulk of the footprint, so if we want to have truly more sustainable events, it’s crucial to educate exhibitors and present more sustainable options to them.

The new system stands are a massive improvement and we are already seeing the uptake of these increase across our space-only exhibitors. It also helps to work with partners that can also support exhibitors employ more sustainable practices at events. Our relationship with CCS was invaluable for the expertise, guidance and advise they shared with our exhibitors at ecobuild 2018.

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