Home TypeOpinions Old dog, new tricks: The Royal Horticultural Halls

Old dog, new tricks: The Royal Horticultural Halls

by Stuart Wood

Lorraine Thorne, venue sales manager at Royal Horticultural Halls, discusses the challenge of making an historic venue sustainable.


Sustainability continues to be a hot topic and rightly so whilst there is so much to be done to rectify the excessive use of goods and utilities and the huge amounts of waste in our industry. Working with an older venue can have its challenges but it doesn’t mean to say that all is lost, plenty can be done without hitting the bottom line too hard.

As a venue in it’s 115th year, how do we enforce sustainable credentials and minimise our footprint? The Royal Horticultural Society which owns The Lindley and The Lawrence Halls in Westminster has its heart very much in sustainability, with a sincere focus on it since 1998.

The Royal Horticultural Halls were built in 1904 at the request of King Edward VII who suggested that the (Royal Horticultural) Society should have a dedicated exhibition space for its shows. To this day The Halls put on horticulture shows throughout the year as well as exhibitions and events for external clients. Food items from in house shows are given away to local charities to use to feed the homeless and garden items go back to Wisley. There can be seven different events per week, creating over 200 per year! The propensity for waste is high but we keep it to a minimum and none of it goes to landfill.

Secondly, we comply to all the legal obligations under the current Environmental Protection Act and follow government guidance working with ISO 14001:2015 and BS8901:2010. We get the buy in from all stakeholders.

It starts from the very moment we meet a client. Every organiser signs a commitment to sustainability and reads our policy and mission statement. We ask that they consider everything they use and discourage excess, in particular frivolous promotional items which can be discarded if they don’t have a decent second use. When it comes to energy, clients pay for what they use and this is agreed in advance. Our production companies also advise as to how to cut down energy usage by suggesting alternatives. We have in house furniture, consisting of a selection of tables and chairs and a genie lift complete with an operator to reduce the need for hiring. Printed paper is kept to a minimum. Everything we do is stored on the cloud and site visits are accompanied with iPads to highlight the possibilities that can be created. We have no printed brochures, everything is created on a pdf and sent electronically to the client.

Suppliers must toe the line also. Last year we re-tendered all our caterers and added a wider variety. All had to demonstrate that they had sustainable credentials which they had to prove down the entire procurement chain. Our most recent re-tender went out to production companies, again they all had to verify that they have sustainable credentials with little or nothing going to landfill. One of the points made in EN editor Nicola Macdonald’s very thorough article in the July edition ‘The tip of the iceberg’ was the excessive use of banners and perhaps digital signage is a better option.

However, I don’t think that is completely necessary and would lead to events having an ‘identikit’ look which takes away the creativity and fun you can have with signage. Vinyl Impression are a zero to landfill company and recently achieved carbon neutrality. They work with clients establishing their event workload throughout the year to design the best skin systems that can be translated throughout and stored until the next time. At the end of use the frame is reused and the fabric recycled. Used plastics are also recyclable or go to make bio-fuel to create electricity for the National Grid. Even the ink used to print is ecologically friendly and the cardboard and wallpapers FSC approved or made from recycled paper.

Recently the NYX Face Awards, celebrating the top professional makeup artists, used production company Oxygen to provide the wow factor at this prestigious event which combined both an exhibition set up and an awards ceremony. Whilst event agents YES follow BS8901 and have their own additional green checklist to ensure events have a low carbon footprint, Oxygen ensured that these credentials were met and operate on an ecOevent policy guided by the Eden Project’s Waste Neutral programme.

Oxygen was tasked with creating Instagrammable walls for the attending influencers and afterwards NYX took them away for use at future events. The drapes had been custom made for the halls and will be used again. Likewise, with the exhibition pods, flowers and staging. LED lighting was used for the gobos and battery operated uplights ensured there was little strain on the venue.

Back in the office we bring our own water bottles to work, print only when necessary and lightbulbs are halogen moving into LED. Now on the list are motion sensored loos and water saving. This doesn’t have to be difficult and there are people out there who can guide both venues and agents to leading eco-friendly, sustainable events such as Eco Events who can conduct internal audits and guide businesses through to achieving the right ISOs.

We shouldn’t be putting our heads in the sand and saying it’s too expensive, if it’s done correctly, it can save money.

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