Event Horizon: Sustainability is not a fad

“A region in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer.”

Event Horizon is a column by EN’s Stuart Wood, taking a look at the events industry from a newcomer’s perspective. In this third instalment, he locks horns with Veganuary, and wonders if sustainability is getting trend-ified.


2019 has arrived, and with the advent of the new year comes the time for many of us to slow down and reassess our priorities.

It’s the time of year for resolutions, penny pinching and Dry January – I’m sure we all have friends who’ve (some more half-heartedly than others) sworn off the sauce and vowed to take up tantric yoga and powerwalking in 2019.

But there’s one new trend which I’ve not noticed before, perhaps because I only moved to the cultural melting pot of London last summer. That trend is Veganuary – the idea that you go vegan for only the first month of the new year.

Besides the fact that I hate the word (nobody says veGAN or Juhn-uary), I’m not against the concept. If people want to try living a more sustainable lifestyle for a shorter period, rather than jumping straight into a big commitment, more power to them.

But when I wander past edgy Shoreditch cafes and supermarkets, both pushing the concept of Veganuary in equal measure, I can’t help but wonder – is there a degree to which we are turning sustainability into a fad?


Plastic sucks

It’s a thought that has occurred to me before. Towards the end of last year, we received news from a number of associations, venues and suppliers, championing their sustainability initiatives.

There were some great stories – whether it was modular, sustainable festival accommodation made of carbon fibre, dedicated sustainability ambassadors, or United Nations representatives paying a trip to IBTM World to promote sustainability.

But there were also stories which I was a bit sceptical of – companies loudly proclaiming they had eradicated 1,000 plastic straws in self-congratulatory press releases, for example. You’d have to be a miserable bastard to complain about that, really, since the net change is positive. But it does sometimes feel like sustainability is being sucked up by PR.

Sustainability, of course, is not a trend, or a buzzword. It is not blue-sky thinking, corporate synergy or a disruptor space. It is critically important to the survival of the planet, and if we don’t get behind it we’re all basically screwed.

“You aren’t stuck in traffic, you are traffic”

I was reminded of just how critical these issues are last November, at ESSA’s 2018 conference in the MK Arena, Milton Keynes. Ed Gillespie, founder of specialist sustainability agency Futerra, gave a very inspiring keynote speech about how we can all take responsibility for sustainability.

One quote from that keynote that really stuck with me was this: You aren’t stuck in traffic, you are traffic. In other words, the environment is everyone’s problem, not just that of the people who collect your recycling, or ride bicycles made out of repurposed oil tankers somewhere in Copenhagen.

Something else which stuck with me was Gillespie’s reminder that being carbon neutral is not even the end goal here. What we need is to take the Earth from degenerative production through to sustainable, and then to regenerative production. When you think of it that way, the scale of the problem gets even bigger.

But rather than be afraid of its magnitude, we should be moved to action by its imminence. Gillespie mentioned a few initiatives from around the industry which are doing great things, such as Energy Revolution, a charity which turns miles travelled to events into renewable energy.

He also mentioned the emergence of ‘hybrid’ events, which merge physical and digital together to allow delegates to experience an event without racking up thousands of pollutant air miles on planes. As technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality continue to grow, it’s an exciting possibility.


“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”

I had a couple of ideas myself after leaving Gillespie’s keynote – how about event websites start setting up carpools for people in the same region? If you let people in related businesses travel together, that’s a potential three networking contacts you’ve made before you even get to the event. You might have sealed a deal before you’ve even bought your first overpriced coffee.

Or, in a similar vein, how about train carriages that save petrol by collecting groups of people all heading to the same event, a bit like the Eurostar Experience which CMW covered last year? Perhaps you could even incentivise it by offering reduced fares, and have brands sponsor the train carriage? Christ – now I’m really thinking like an eventprof.

Movements like Veganuary are great, as long as we remember their purpose, and don’t treat them as just a lifestyle choice. And what can we all do, individually? It starts with little things, like taking those extra few moments to properly sort your recycling, or separate the plastic film from the recyclable cardboard in your meal deal. That one is a particular bugbear of mine.

Truthfully we can all do better, and certainly the Mash Media office is hardly on the frontline of the eco-frontier. I’m well known for picking people’s coffee cups and water bottles out of bins and into the recycling here, which I’m sure some people are annoyed by.

But, as American journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem once said – “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

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