We’ve advanced enough in our understanding of sustainable events to have learned that this stuff can be complex. Regardless of event size or location, there exists sustainability impacts enough to create a list long enough to be daunting to the most intrepid of environmentalists, much less an event team who does not yet have a fully developed sustainable event management system.
When faced with such complexity, what are event organizers to do? How shall they proceed when resources are limited? How shall they create a meaningful effort toward better, more sustainable outcomes? A possible recommendation: Simplify.
More with less
The premise here is that it’s more effective to do a few things well than lots of things poorly. When beginning a sustainability initiative in an organization or event planning team, don’t hold perfection as the objective. It is better to focus on a few, relevant and material sustainability aspects than to try to track and measure many things. By having fewer things in focus, we’re more likely to see progress. With progress comes confidence and, with confidence, momentum. In this way, we start with few things to accomplish many things.
It’s natural to resist this idea because, well, if a little effort toward sustainable practice is good then certainly more is better! Too often, however, we bite off more than we can chew. We get excited by new ideas and an interest to make a difference, and we initiate actions without a plan to follow up over the long haul. If we don’t consider the time it takes to clarify goals, educate stakeholders and measure the effectiveness of our effort, we can have an unpleasant outcome. Instead of a business that integrates the principles of sustainable development as fundamental to success and a part of planning, we get a bunch of people all confused and fussy and ready to drop the whole thing.
It’s about improvement, not measurement
The last few years have seen industry movement toward the measurement and reporting of sustainability in events and organizations. Consultants are hired and workshops are attended. Suppliers are challenged and computations are made and, sometimes, even communicated.
“We emitted ‘X’ tonnes of Carbon Dioxide and we diverted ‘Y’ pounds from the landfill!”. That’s fantastic, now what? We too seldom use such measurements to inform improvements. The point of measuring isn’t for the measurement .. it’s to understand and improve performance. All that investment in measurement should be applied to informing goals and creating system changes that help drive improvement. Indeed, the measurements we take should help us to re- define success and inspire us to work toward better results.
Pick 3 things
Measure accurately. Improve over time.
1. Consider your organization. For what does your brand stand? How are you known to your public? Create a sustainability policy that reflects a commitment to live up to this image.
2. What are your biggest impacts? Just because you can measure the post-consumer recycled content of the office bathroom tissue doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be on the list of things to track. Consider the things that are “material” and put those on the list to measure and improve
3. Create a culture that supports improvement. Involve the team in a process to identify the material impacts and get ‘buy in’ that these things are worth measuring. Create a plan to measure these things and work to improve them over time.
Creating a sustainability initiative for your organization can be exciting and, dare we say, fun. Find the fun by reducing the fuss. Measure what matters. Do more by doing less.