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Giles Stanford | 12 steps to make sports events more sustainable

Giles Stanford, director, global events, for CSM Live, outlines 12 ways sports right-holders can procure, design and produce more events that take less of a toll on the environment

The event industry is unique in that it is both a very collaborative but equally competitive sector, packed full of innovative, imaginative and practical people. We all want to do the right thing: be sustainable, be regenerative and reduce our consumption. So, can we all work together to achieve this common ambition?

From the Olympic Games, right the way down to festivals, weddings and community get-togethers, events are complicated, dynamic things. It goes without saying: “the bigger the event, the bigger the impact”, but the actions taken by the big players filters across the whole industry. Wherever you are in this chain, you can make an impact. We can all procure, design and produce our events with a focus on the three crucial applications: reduction, circularity and innovation.

“Doing the right thing usually emboldens people to do more of the right thing”

Sustainability is no longer a tick-box exercise for events and event organisers. Instead, it is now a critical part of what the entire industry does – core to all the operational functions. At CSM Live, for instance, we provide, amongst other things, look, wayfinding and signage solutions. Historically, this has all been particularly wasteful, with too much one-time usage of materials. But for several years now, we have been committed to making significant improvements in our actions and capability.

Many large events are a travelling circus: globe trotting workforces, frequent flights, huge amounts of air freight and many containers on the high seas. Humanity loves to celebrate and compete, and we are never going to shut that instinct down, but we can do the right thing and be much better. In order to achieve this, stakeholders across the board must climb out of the silos, engage with suppliers, and collaborate with sponsors, spectators and broadcasters. We must have frank conversations about what is possible, what is essential and how we reduce the environmental impact of our events. Here are 12 ways, we can make that happen:

Leadership: The main actors in the industry are the buyers. Specify sustainable solutions and the whole industry will follow, with increased demand driving down the prices of materials and recycling. Leading investment into innovation will pay dividends

Collaboration: Get out of the silos! Everyone must engage and share to promote best practice, sometimes at the expense of commercial advantage

Design: We can solve a lot of issues very early in the planning stage if sustainability and circularity are considered in the design process: embrace “design thinking”, and understand the value of data to design new processes and actions

Reduction: Less is more. Take a pragmatic view of what we actually need to produce our events while maintaining the impact: do we really need thousands of signs?

Budget: Buy less but buy better. Allow for post-event recycling and a “second life”, and consider how to invest in carbon offset

Materials: Nearly all the recyclable materials needed already exist. There are some practical and cost challenges, but with the right attitude, these can be overcome within 2-3 years

Innovation: Focus on using innovative new (especially self-adhesive) materials  and processes, for example waterless printing, re-processing polyester, natural products and cunning post-event uses

Procurement: This is a process to get the best price and service; sustainability needs to be worth 20 per cent of the award criteria (not 5 per cent or less), so any procurement must consider the best deal for the environment

Responsibility: We must all take responsibility for our actions, understanding the consequences of our decisions. This doesn’t finish on the last day of the event – we are all accountable for the final destination of what has been ordered and produced

Social purpose: To be sustainable is to be regenerative. Our focus needs to be on the communities we work among and include training, recruitment, local investment and engagement

Circularity and re-use: The event industry is largely circular, dependent on a rental economy; this circular model must extend into all functions of an event considering what can be re-used time and time again

Education: We need to retain knowledge, share information, teach the right expectations for new sustainable benchmarks and amplify this knowledge by embracing technology and training our teams

Our event economy is driven by private and public funding, both of which need to return value to their stakeholders. It is a competitive sector that drives innovation, creativity and investment. There is a commercial advantage to be gained by being sustainable, which should be balanced by an “open-source” approach for the collective well-being: “the more you put in the more you get out”.

“If you think in terms of businesses solving the problems of people and planet, then that is potentially one of the most exciting, important and profitable activities that a company can engage in,” Colin Mayer, Oxford University’s Saïd Business School

Making the events industry more sustainable is often perceived to be difficult. Well let’s show the world that it can actually be quite simple. A determined, sustainable approach to any event will be financially viable, emotionally profitable and reputationally powerful.

As Simon Anholt says: “We must get our act together and figure out how to globalize the solutions better so that we don’t simply become a species which is the victim of the globalisation of problems”.

Let’s apply his theory to what we do.

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