EN Editor Saul Leese talks to the team at Informa – head of sustainability, Ben Wielgus and sustainability manager, Lucille Ryan – about their 12-point plan to make the company greener.
Define what you mean by sustainability?
The essence of events and exhibitions is to provide a highly efficient way for individuals, companies and markets to meet in person, share knowledge and ideas, launch products, establish new contacts and trade.
In itself, this helps companies to do business more efficiently and in a more sustainable manner. As a major organiser of events and exhibitions, we believe we have the opportunity and the responsibility to help drive continual improvement in the sustainable delivery of such events by the industry.
Our attendees, investors and colleagues certainly agree, telling us that sustainability – both in economic and environmental terms – is something that is not a ‘nice to have’ but a necessary part of our success.
We also have the potential to go further than a responsibility to deliver our events sustainably: we can design our events, in partnership with our customers, to inspire the sustainable development of the markets we serve. Through this, we have the potential to help foster the connections needed to deliver a sustainable future across a much wider reach.
In 2019, to inspire and enable all of our events to build on the good work they are already doing and further enhance their sustainability, we launched the Informa Sustainable Events Management System (ISEMS). This was based on our experience of taking dozens of events through the ISO20121 sustainable event certification.
Through this, we outlined what we mean by a sustainable event, our key areas of focus, as well as a framework which allows each of our events to identify how they are currently performing and what they can focus on to improve.
What are the 12 Fundamentals?
We have developed four different levels through which our events can engage with sustainability. This starts at the Fundamentals, a 12-point checklist, and runs through to our events being recognised as Sustainable Leaders, which happens when we see new ground really being broken.
The Fundamentals are a 12-point checklist of the key sustainability aspects that we believe all of our events should be implementing.
They have been designed to be specific enough to give clear guidance but at the same time provide enough freedom for each event to deliver them in a way suitable for them, their markets and their local community – from a large exhibition in the USA to a small conference in Bahrain.
Each event team assesses itself against each of the 12 criteria, marking themselves as Achieved, In Progress or Not Achieved for each one. Using this and our library of resources, templates and guidance, the event team identifies their plan of what to focus on improving for the next event.
After the event, they capture their results and rescore themselves, getting ready to continue the cycle of continual improvement.
What’s the aim of the framework?
It is designed so every Informa event team can access and engage with it easily, enabling us to raise the bar of all of our events and set strong standards we can continue to ratchet up over time.
We aimed to provide every event with a clear path of what they should be looking to achieve, allowing them to track their progress, share stories of best practice and see how they compare across the company.
Our aim is for all of our events to score themselves on the Fundamentals in the next show cycle, and achieve the 12 Fundamentals within the next two event cycles.
And from there, the sky’s the limit. These are fundamentals in name and concept, and we hope they further embed sustainability into our teams’ processes and enable our events to go even further in the future.
We definitely want as many events as possible to go further than the Fundamentals as we think there are far more opportunities to engage with our customers, develop new revenue streams, save money and create engaging content from this agenda.
How is this being rolled out across Informa?
Our senior leadership teams got involved in the initial launch. They set the ball rolling by explaining and endorsing the Fundamentals and encouraging all event teams to embed them into their event processes.
To spread awareness and understanding across the company, we have had a wide array of communications including videos, webinars, guidance documents, town halls, training days, team presentations, internal news articles, and league tables of our events scores. A little bit of competition always helps!
We have developed a library of resources for teams to utilise – from guidance documents on what to consider when procuring items for the event, to templates they can use for onsite signage, to lists of examples and best practice from across the company to help spread innovation.
Each of our regions and businesses are then adapting what they do to suit their situations. Some are embedding their Fundamentals score into post-event KPI reports, while others are setting up champion networks and focus groups, incorporating them into objectives structures, or even making it part of their bonuses in some teams.
What impact could these measures have?
Right from the beginning, our event teams fed back how excited they were to have a system that was clear, simple and allowed them to take action.
Through the achievement of the Fundamentals, we believe our events will:
Increase their engagement with the markets they serve, to help provide a platform for sharing knowledge and collaboration across the industry.
Engage even better with our attendees, exhibitors and supply chains around what actions they can take to contribute to the events sustainability.
Reduce our events’ carbon impact through increased energy efficiency, reduced waste and careful procurement.
Create an even more positive impact on the local community around each event.
Find a new source of innovation and creativity as our events look at ways of delivering better events.
After only five months since launching, around 60 of our events have submitted their Fundamentals score for 2019, spreading from Vancouver, to Amsterdam, Cairo to Shanghai. We also already have over 300 of our events already working on the Fundamentals ready for their 2020 event.
Overall, across the business, delivering events more sustainably (including through the Fundamentals) has been a cost positive programme.
By creating this framework, we have allowed large scale action to be taken, which is succeeding in creating a consistent baseline of sustainability.
But the Fundamentals are not only helping accelerate Informa’s sustainability. These criteria are leading to a shift in the wider events industry, as we work with organisations such as the AEO to adapt our Fundamentals framework to be used across their organiser, contractor and venue network.
We really hope that the Fundamentals, within Informa and the wider industry, have the potential to help shift the needle in the industry’s sustainability performance.