How do sustainable events cut through the noise?

Ahead of the world leaders gathering in Glasgow this week to try and agree next steps to curb climate change and bend the carbon emissions curve – what does this mean for the future of the event industry on our shores, as we all try to play our part in hitting net-zero by 2050?

Recently in the south, Insulate Britain have been doing their bit to raise awareness by blocking the M25 and ring roads into London and they have no doubt achieved the exposure they set out to land.

Whilst the Prime Minister has been playing down expectations on any meaningful results and conclusions being produced from Glasgow this week – agencies, brands, governing bodies and event organisers have all been moving in the direction to achieve the golden goal of holding temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

With mass participation events sold out all summer and spectator events such as test matches and Premier League fixtures filling stadia, our thirst for sport is as high as ever.

Participation event organisers are all too keen to highlight their sustainability and environmentally friendliness to encourage sign-ups, so how can those who are genuinely sustainable, cut through the noise and get the exposure they deserve?

Online communities such as Count Us In, who are aiming to building the world’s largest community of people and organizations taking practical action on climate change, are hand-holding companies to make their first steps towards net-zero. Brands such as IKEA, Extreme E & Tottenham Hotspur are on their books, but are these brands managing to cut through the noise?

In September, Sky and Tottenham Hotspur partnered for the world’s first major net zero carbon football game against Chelsea FC. The match was supported by COP26 and the Premier League with fans, players and staff encouraged to take sustainable actions on the match day.

The pre-match press release talked a good talk, but did the match achieve net zero?

There were no results published and nor a summary of what the Club achieved, but ahead of the match the game created the noise it needed and landed the coverage.

Extreme E’s race series, backed by Jenson Button, highlights three key pillars that they are addressing and raising awareness for: electrification, environment and equality, but we haven’t yet heard how their 2021 series reduced carbon emissions.

Use of offsets is an easy way for events to “do their bit” – Coldplay recently announced that they will plant a tree for every ticket sold on their 2022 tour and the coverage duly landed.

So, the big names such as Sky, Spurs, Extreme E and Chris Martin can get cut-through but what about the smaller events that are being put on in 2023? The marathons, triathlons and cycling races which are far more sustainable than a Premier League fixture or a Grand Prix.

Peter Wright race director of The Croyde Ocean Triathlon & The Exmoor Open Water Swim believes it’s a norm for event organisers to aim towards net zero and sustainability:

“We strive to be environmentally friendly and are plastic free at all of our events. When we first partnered with The Pickwell Foundation and Plastic Free North Devon in 2019, we talked about the partnership and proudly, and even developed a ‘Plastic Free Toolkit’ for other event organisers to follow. Whilst I think now it should be the norm for events to be ‘environmentally friendly’, the reality is that suppliers have a big part to play in matching up with organiser and participant expectations.

Our events in 2020 were two of the few mass participation ones to take place in the UK. They were run as safe and socially distanced events and the restrictions of the pandemic forced our hand in some areas and naturally made us more environmentally friendly. With no medal ceremonies, all prizes and medals being usable, water stations discouraged and refillable bottles only where permitted, and spectators not permitted we were able to cut back on many elements including the event village, fewer cars driving to the event, postage and packaging, and fewer toilets – it all helped us be more environmentally friendly and we took this into our events this year.

We are now in our eighth year; our reputation has grown with our events, and we are lucky we do not need to shout about our methods – both our events sold out this year and the athletes know we are doing our best to be as sustainable as possible.”

So as event planners we need to continue to highlight the good work we are doing and how we are reducing our carbon footprint and publish our results and successes, but without a big organisation or ambassador behind us it will be hard to cut through the sustainable noise.

For COP26 to be credible the UK and all countries need to show real plans and real results, and that goes for us in the sport and event industry too. Over to you Boris.