Going green

Mark Laidlaw, director of operations at the SEC, on the increasing focus on sustainable operations in venues.

Audiences are increasingly becoming more and more aware of the damage that humanity is doing to the planet. As documentaries fill living rooms with harrowing images of oceans filled with plastic and ice caps melting, organisations are increasingly putting sustainability at the top of their agenda.

Is it time for the events industry to rise to the challenge of becoming more environmentally friendly?

At the Scottish Event Campus we’re striving to attain zero waste to landfill by 2020. We are well on our way, with a number of initiatives to help the venue and clients work in a more sustainable way together.

Having just retained a Gold Award in line with the Green Tourism Business Scheme, our operations teams are continually finding ways in which to reduce, reuse and recycle, ultimately taking client costs down, along with waste.

“Our operations teams are continually finding ways in which to reduce, reuse and recycle, ultimately taking client costs down, along with waste”

Changes in sustainable practices can be as big or as small as is practical and feasible for the venue, but a little can go a long way. In February, one of our highest profile initiatives was the removal of plastic straws from the entire campus. This was spurred on by the arrival of native Scottish band, Mogwai, whose support of the Marine Conservation Society lead us to source compostable straws and put on an entirely waste-free evening.

At the other end of the campus, we’ve welcomed over 180,000 honeybees to three hives that sit on our former helipad site. They are quite at home here, with our gardener providing them with bee and butterfly-friendly plants and flowers to feed on. Their honey is often used in SEC Food’s dishes across the campus – very low food mileage, indeed!

When an event is on site, we’ll provide manned recycling stations so that all exhibition waste is being sorted correctly into categories. Providing these extra staff really encourages visitors and exhibitors alike to think a little more about what they are putting into which bin. It sounds simple, but this is one initiative which has helped bring down our client landfill costs by as much as 70 per cent in some cases.

Even cleaning comes into play when trying to make your venue more sustainable. We’re using more environmentally friendly products, ensuring that as few chemicals go back into the water system as possible. We’ve replaced our toilet air fresheners with oxygen powered ones, rather than the previous CO2 powered ones – again, even the little things make a difference.

Our maintenance programme is focussed on sustainability, with lights being replaced with LED over time, and our heating systems are being replaced with more efficient models. We have streamlined our waste management process, and we have reduced the emptying of our various waste receptacles. Investment in an electric buggy to move waste around site means that even before the waste is removed, it’s efficient.

Our most recent collaboration sees us working with the wider city of Glasgow in an initiative called Circular Glasgow. Circular Glasgow promotes the idea of working in a more sustainable, circular economy by helping organisations connect with one another, via an online platform, so they can share ideas. With proven success in The Netherlands, we’re excited to be partnering with Circular Glasgow to help mirror the scheme in Scotland.

When it comes to exhibitions, the initiative means that we work with clients and their exhibitors to reuse key items from the event, which may otherwise go to landfill. 

We’re already doing some things in line with this scheme – when we replaced the carpet in our Loch Suite, we donated a significant portion of the old carpet to a local charity who used it to build a soundproof music studio for a youth club. More of the old product went to another charity who used it to floor a new shop.

Initiatives like Circular Glasgow can help sustainability become an every-day part of an organisation’s thinking, particularly in the events industry. As an industry, it’s more important than ever that we work together to improve our position and reduce harm to the environment and create positive legacies within communities.

It’s been a really rewarding journey so far and we have enjoyed thinking outside the box, but there is so much more to explore in the world of sustainable venues. We can’t wait to see how our teams continue to push boundaries to achieve our goals.

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