The Greenest Event of Them All, Part 10: Challenges and Opportunities

An Eco Village?

This is the final week of the Green Event blog, and I wanted to bring a few issues home. Of all the issues that have been covered, one idea encompasses all of them, and more – event certification. In the marketplace today, we have been flooded with tips (and now twits) on green practices. Still, however, we must carefully differentiate the useful and relevant advice from the mere wives’ tales.

A green standard or certification offers all of this, and takes much of the guesswork out of ‘greening’. Of course, it must be credible, useful and based on sound data, as I discussed under standards and reporting. There is a long way to go in this world, however, and below I will highlight a few resources and discus what the future may hold.

The Potential Market is Large:

All events, no matter how different, share attributes in common. They require temporary resources, involve significant numbers of attendees, and can involve lots of public communication. Thus, the market for a green label, the market I have been implicitly addressing in the past blogs, stretches well beyond an athletic event. They include:

•Junior League Sports

•College Sports Championships

•Professional Sport Championships (PGA, NFL, NHL, FIFA)



•Art Exhibits

•Cultural Events

•Symphonies/Orchestral Performances

•Celebrations (National Day, Religious Holiday, New Year)



Advice Doesn’t Cut It:

Green advice is a dime a dozen. Sure, it may seem easy to have google do the legwork for you, but your gradma’s gardening blog might not offer the most comprehensive thinking on reducing energy for Wrigley Field. Thanks to the internet, there have been hundreds of books published that purport environmental advice. E-books and blogs have changed the landscape in past years, and with negligible or zero online publishing costs, everyone can consider themselves an “informational” source. Thus, it’s a tricky job to publish a definitive guide to “green events”. Some interesting resources that have made it through the online clutter, however, are The Lazy Environmentalist by Josh Dorfman (who includes recent topics such as a Sustainable Music Festival in New Orleans – and The Green Bride Guide by Kate Harrison (

You’ll Pay For Personal Service:

A few companies have used the complicated and cluttered world of green advice to their advantage, and offer personal, best-practice guidance tailored to your event. A consulting service can be the way to go for those events who have money (very few) and a large public audience, where the event’s reputation is at stake if the attendees catch a whiff of greenwash. The rest of us, however, might not find the exorbitant costs palatable. In my work, although I can’t personally attest to the quality of their practices, I have come across two notable event consultancies.

Helios Partners is a sports marketing company that has transitioned into green event management consulting. In July, they announced a sustainable sport partnership service, including “green-in-kind” value sponsorships, carbon management, green venue development, and college and university guidance.

The Green Event Company ( is a consultancy providing green management based in Boulder, Colorado. A unique feature is that The Green Event Co is a registered B-Corporation, itself attesting to the social practices and principles under the B-Corporation brand.

Certifications Are Coming:

The GRI, ISO and GHG-protocol are, of course, incredibly broad and don’t specifically pertain to events themselves. Hitting closer to the spot, the Eco-Logo event certification CCD-095 is the Canadian company’s vision of an international event-specific standard, updated recently in 2009. The British have decided to move in the same direction, and the 2012 Olympics will be working off of BS8901, a new system of sustainable management guidelines that is heavily supported by online training, case studies, and webinars. However trite it may seem though, it’s unlikely that other international events, or those based in the United States, will publicly acknowledge that they have adhered to a British-based standard.

One idea that might bridge the remaining gap is to take a lesson from the Wedding Planning industry, which certifies professionals themselves. A Certified Wedding Planner (designated as such by the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners – AACWP – or institution in another country) can simplify the job. Event organizers hiring a sustainable concert/athletic/festival/younameit event planner can rest assured they are conforming to accepted standards while saving on the costs associated with bringing on an entire consulting team. I believe such a certification, if not already in development, is on the near horizon – and will be an opportunity I’ll be looking at in the future. After all, the AACWP is already working on a certified green wedding planner.

That concludes the Green Event blog, though stay tuned from time to time as updates may appear on the topic. It’s been a great time working at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and I, for one, will be watching to see how this world-wide event will turn out in February!


The Greenest Event of Them All Part 9: Sustainability/Environmental Reporting


London 2012 Olympic Organizing Commitee's Sustainability Process

London 2012 Olympic Organizing Commitee's Sustainability Process

l’étape de la planification

The planning phase of your event is where determining the correct criteria in Part 8 becomes essential; in accounting terms, this would be a Gap Analysis – essentially a forward-looking audit. This pre-planning will serve you well; you will know exactly which data you need to track, and the actual gathering of information will look less foreign and become routine.

You will want to track global measures that conform to accepted standards, but make sure you also monitor sustainability issues that may be critical to your local population. Perhaps air quality or aboriginal inclusion are topics that need to be addressed; if you are managing the Vancouver Lantern Festival, you might track the number of CFL lights, or non-chemical dyes used in lantern-making.

The Vancouver Olympics based its sustainability performance objectives on “bid commitments, best management practices of other Organizing Committees, and leading sustainability firms and input from sustainability experts.” These guidelines resulted in 6 broad objectives and an integrated management system that were developed 10 years before the 2010 Games, in what has to be the mother of all advance planning.  But realize that once your event is in the operational phase, changing existing environmental policies will feel like changing the engine of a jet airliner in midflight.

Also integrated into the planning phase should be your protocol; that is, a determination of who tracks each indicator and who will record the progress. A highly effective tactic – and one employed by the Olympics – is simply to make the reporting part of the job description for key employees. Another method is to build financial incentives on the group or individual level from day one. In this way, for example,  individual employees or groups might receive a bonus if they complete 100% of the reporting protocol you established.

Before and after your event all staff volunteers should be informed of their roles and how to address issues that arise. Processes should be in effect for inspections and checks of the sustainability criteria.  For example, this will ensure the waste is really being disposed of as you thought, or that recycled paper is actually being supplied.

Capturing details are absolutely critical for environmental indicators – you will find some employees become actively engaged and will formulate any number of reports; others will need more guidance. For example, you may decide to track GHG emissions embedded in paper consumption, but the person you designate must know to track numbers that can be converted into GHG emissions – such as lbs or sheets used – rather than financial sums which he or she may assume you want!


As your event planning progresses, progress should be recorded to ensure that your team is on track for delivery. The GRI actually specifies formats for the annual sustainability reports – reports that are increasingly becoming as embedded as annual 10-k financial records. An added bonus: These progress reports can be used to develop communication and marketing material to retell your accomplishments later.

Telling environmental stories are more than just “fluff”. Regular communication of sustainability achievements provides a way for the lay audience to engage and understand why you are doing certain things. Like the infamous Caltrans building designed by Morphosis in Los Angeles, which might look like the ugliest and most obscene office tower in the world, the building is actually eminently functional and practical when you understand the huge underlying environmental considerations.

Great communication mediums for your event include: event signage (banners), press releases, famous/prominent spokespersons, facts and figures in presentations, websites, videos, and active signage (signage close to relevant sustainable features such as water fixtures, elevators, light switches, printers, etc).

Measuring Success

Gathering feedback from the communication measures you undertook is an essential part of measuring success. Feedback can be informal or formal, and public or internal. For example, VANOC has engaged local Environmental NGOs (ENGOs) at an early stage to help align the goals of the Olympics with the NGOs, as well as promote greater understanding within the environmental community. Gathering feedback through this process has greatly aided VANOC’s success working towards 2010.

A formal version of feedback will be an auditing and assessment of your protocol. This will give internal confirmation of your “green event” as well as external credibility that you held yourself up to an independent body and standard. In this context, a third-party validation or audit is a process to compare your established process against a standard or protocol; third-party verification or assessment will measure your reported results, to see if they meet minimum criteria. Both auditing and assessment are essential.

So there you have it – sustainability and environmental reporting in a nutshell. Hopefully this outline will provide some guidance to clear the fog of reporting, and get you on a fasttrack to success. Stay tuned next week for the next (and last) chapter in the Green Event series. 

The Greenest Event of Them All, Part 8: External Reporting and Indicators


GHG, GRI, ISO 14000 and 26000…With all the social and environmental reporting going on these days, how can events choose an appropriate tool to track and report results? The easy answer isn’t the way out – yes, all these environmental indicators are currently optional so you don’t NEED to report any – because you are already looking to set a higher standard and hold your event accountable for achieving positive results. And importantly, successfully implementing almost all of these standards now requires independent, third party accreditation, which greatly enhances the validity of your environmental program.

Let’s start with the basics. First you’ll remember the 9000-series quality management (six sigma) standards from the ISO (International Standard Organization) in the 1980s. More recently, the ISO extended its standards to include ENVIRONMENTAL management standards, the ISO 14000-series. Now, coming into effect in 2010, the ISO’s 26000 standards will provide SOCIAL (CSR) reporting standards.

The 14000 series of standards do not dictate what exact environmental indicators you must report but rather states processes you must have in place. For example, ISO 14001 and 14004 ask if there are adequate environmental management systems in place, 14015 governs environmental assessment(s) of the site area, 14040 covers Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs), and 14062, 14063 cover your environmental communication processes. Any one of these can be accredited by a third party.

The future 26000 guidelines will be similar to the 14000 series in that they will not dictate specific measurements or indicators, but rather ensure a system is in place to measure Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, the 26000-series scope is much broader, since it covers not just environmental but equality and economic management, and they WILL NOT be accredited. That is, a company can use 26000 guidelines, but can never say they are “ISO 26000 certified” as they can for other ISO standards. Likely because of the extremely broad scope of the 26000, the ISO decided not to limit their applicability by any means, leaving the implementation entirely voluntary.

The ISO guidelines are inherently compatible with GRI and GHG protocol standards. As mentioned before, ISO provides assurance that the correct SYSTEMS are in place; GRI and GHG specify what exactly should be tracked and monitored.

The GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), developed in the 1990s, provides indicators for “sustainability” reporting, and covers environmental and social guidelines within an “ecological footprint”. The GRI indicators thus have a scope similar to the ISO 26000 guidelines, although the GRI focuses more in specific indicators rather than the reporting and management processes.

Lastly, the GHG Protocol is also compatible with ISO guidelines. Like the GRI, the GHG Protocol provides specific indicators for reporting, although unlike the GRI, the scope is limited to environmental greenhouse gas (GHG) indicators.

Since both GRI and GHG have specific indicators for environmental performance, and some companies use both, here the complication arises. The difficulty is aligning GHG definitions with their GRI equivalents, especially on carbon emissions. This is frustrating since tracking and reporting carbon (here I consider all carbon or carbon equivalents as CO2) has become the “big kahuna” indicator to report in recent years.

While this discussion can proceed much longer, I provided a brief chart (below) to compare the GHG and GRI indicators for carbon and energy emissions. Next week, we’ll cover in more detail how to align these reporting processes internally in your organization.

The Greenest Event of Them All Part 7: Getting There

Fuel Cell Bus

Fuel Cell Bus

Let’s face it, there is no easy road to follow when talking about transportation. Event organizers face a trifecta of transportation constraints: permanent infrastructure, semi-permanent infrastructure, and temporary transit solutions – with only the latter in the full control of the event organizer.

One reason to select a LEED certified venue or neighborhood (yes, they have those too), which I spoke briefly to in Part 4, is LEED developers often gain points toward certification by ensuring access to and support for public transit. This means LEED buildings are often located near infrastructure such as rapid transit hubs or bus stations, have pedestrian-accessible sidewalks, and include showers for employees commuting by bike (or a crowded subway). A sporting event with many visitors, like a large office, requires a lot of logistical thinking around transportation. Choosing a venue located near rapid transit, and where visitors can walk and/or bike is the first option for those looking to green transportation.

Not all organizers have the power to choose their venue, however, and if you’re hosting anything other than the Olympics you likely won’t be funding the construction of a new subway line anytime soon. However, if the event is recurring – say, a yearly or seasonal competition at a downtown convention center or university campus – you may be able to work out semi-permanent infrastructure solutions. Universities do this all the time, of course. Colleges across the country have influenced city governments to move bus-stops to roads near football fields and performance centers, increasing mobility of visitors and athletes. They have also partnered more recently with companies such as Zip Car, to provide vehicle time-sharing options to commuters.

Don’t bow your head in dismay if the above options are unavailable to you. Hosting a one-time event on a sub-Olympian budget? Temporary infrastructure is perhaps the most important solution. Work with your city/municipal government, and they can guide you in locating bicycle racks, providing increased security measures (for bicyclists and pedestrians), and drawing visitor maps outlining directions by foot or bicycle. If you are impacting a significant portion of the local municipality, you may be able to reroute a city bus to provide a temporary transit solution. Lastly, many event organizers capitalize on motorcoaches (which can save 64% of fuel compared to driving the same distance), old school busses, or encourage athletes to carpool the day of the event. (The downside to motorcoaches is their singular departure and arrival schedules, when visitors may want to arrive and depart at various times throughout the event).

Prices for providing public transportation do not have to be outrageous. However, there will be a cost, and more non-drivers means less revenue from the parking lots. One option would be to include the cost of bus or transit in the ticket price. While raising the cost of admission, this has the positive effect of not making the consumer feel extorted by making an additional payment for transit or parking. Another option is to charge for personal parking based on number of occupants in the vehicle. Besides encouraging friendly socializing and tailgating, if fewer parking spaces are needed overall, there might be more room left for selling those pre-game hot dogs.

The Greenest Event of Them All, Part 6: Paper Use

Paper Mill, Powell River, British Columbia

Paper Mill, Powell River, British Columbia

Last week I waxed about waste management systems, this week I will focus in on how to manage and source paper.

Event organizers will recognize two distinct uses of paper. Internal paper is paper which is intended to be used in-office, from daily memos, white papers and meeting information to event-time score sheets, news briefs and other postings (for example, those tacked on corkboards or handed to announcers).

External paper is intended for printing tickets, spectator information, maps, annual reports and other public company filings leading up to the Event. External printing normally requires special paper, sizing and/or finishing and may either be purchased through local or national print shops.

Although you will likely have the most control over internal print jobs, realize you can select which external print shops you use as well. Harvested trees are sent to a few, very large mills North America, located mostly on the East Coast. Print shops throughout the country then purchase paper from these mills for commercial jobs. Events like the Vancouver Olympics face one of two options to external paper purchasing: a) have the finished printed materials shipped from an East-Coast print shop, or b) purchase from a local Vancouver print shop which has sourced paper from the East Coast. From a socially-minded (and – perhaps – environmentally friendly) viewpoint, the Vancouver Olympics has chosen to support local jobs by sending external paper requests through Vancouver-based print shops. Some shops, in addition to providing jobs, also guarantee FSC certified processes and other environmental benefits such as carbon emission offsets.

Internal paper stock is critical for your organization to manage effectively. Using recycled paper is one of the surest ways to communicate and cultivate an environmental ethos in the workplace or at your event. According to, a simple tool developed by the Environmental Defense Fund, 1 ton of paper (about 100 reams at 20lbs per ream) containing 30% recycled content will save 3 tons of wood biomass, 0.4 tons of carbon, and over 3,000 gallons of water compared to 1 ton of virgin paper stock.

However, many unsubstantiated myths continue to lambast recycled paper for commercial purposes. Simply put, complaints of paper jams, attraction to dust, and shoddy texture are symptoms from the past; with 20+ years of recycling technology improvements, even 100% recycled paper can be used successfully in any office setting. Some of these views were expanded in the Conservatree Paper Listening Study from 2003 – 2009, found here:

Use simple tools like these to convey the environmental benefits to your procurement division when sourcing paper for your event. Recycled content may or may not cost more depending on your location, but hopefully the benefit of sending a strong environmental message will make the selection a no-brainer.

The Greenest Event of Them All: Part 5, What goes in must go out…

Barge and waste

The recycle bin often stands as the unsung hero of an event. While the main focus of the audience might not be on waste – and indeed, it should not be – handling of the waste is one of the most visible signs of addressing sustainability.

The first critical step of waste management is to know what your waste footprint will look like. Are you expecting to serve food that provides organic material for composting? If so, you can break out the compost bins. Are there large amounts of cardboard packaging from shipping/receiving that can be reused? As organizer of the event, you will likely be asked to choose between bidding contractors, each of whom will provide different services and quote various prices. You might have a preference for a certain landfill – say, methane-to-energy – or prefer a company that plans to recycle 85% of the waste.

Secondly, once you have a rough idea of the event footprint, be sure you understand exactly where the waste is going. It is easy to envision a public-relations disaster if that 85% is not being reused as you thought. For example, methane-to-energy is a term used for landfills that produce methane gas from decomposition of organic material in the fill. That methane gas is then captured by pipes in the landfill, and burned to produce energy. From a carbon point of view, this is a very efficient process, as the methane (a greenhouse gas) is burned and reused as heat. Waste-to-energy, on the other hand, denotes burning all solid waste at the disposal site…and that doesn’t look so good from a carbon standpoint. As you may have guessed, some contractors still do not distinguish between the two terms.

Thirdly, it is critical to measure the waste produced. Not all waste contractors keep track of truckloads or tons of solid waste, they simply bill for the duration of the event. If you are hosting an event of significant size, disposal companies might not even have had previous experience organizing for such a project. All of which means if you want to track and report your “waste sustainability”, you must be proactive with the measurements you need. For example, sanitary landfills must report and record the amount and nature of solid waste by the ton, and you can ask your waste management company in advance to provide you with this data. Also record the amount of waste diverted to recycling, compost, and other reuse.

Now that we’ve covered how to manage waste from the back-end, let’s turn our attention to what the guests will see. As I said before, know what your footprint will look like. If you will have food and can legally compost (see your local municipality for compost rules) then you will definitely want to provide compost bins at each waste station. Bins can be as simple as a lid-less cardboard box with a plastic bag lining the inside that can be removed when full.

Educate your staff and have clear labeling for visitors on how to use the compost and recycle bins. It is important to list what food can be included (organic waste, peels, rinds, etc.) and what may be recycled. I have seen events with up to six bins at each station; one for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, mixed paper, white paper, compost, and trash.

Sound like a lot of work? To keep your job easy at the end of the day, then, minimize the use of waste BEFORE it gets to the bin. Limit give-aways. Purchase only what is absolutely needed for the event. Try for all-electronic registration and documentation. If you have to use paper, use FSC certified, print double sided, and use the greatest recyclable content your budget will allow.

Follow these steps, and you have tackled one of the biggest components to hosting truly sustainable event.

WSES, Part 2

The WSES concluded successfully Sunday evening with the presentation of our Outcomes Report and the formal announcement that Tübingen University in Germany will host the 2010 summit.  The preceding days were packed with discussions and experience exchange.

I was looking forward to the second theme, University Sustainability, and speaker Leith Sharp did not disappoint.  Leith, who directed Harvard’s Green Campus Initiative from 2000 until 2008, described her experience designing and implementing Harvard’s sustainability plan.  I found it really interesting to see how a similar school organized its early steps toward sustainability.  Although some of the challenges that Harvard faced were different from those I have seen at Yale—and very different that other delegates may face at their schools—most delegates found Leith’s message about the importance of finding people in the university who can be agents of change to be a theme that resonated.

I found discussions on this day to be highly revealing of the differences the delegates face as students and the various obstacles to facilitating institutional change.  On one hand, the discussion times were a great chance to learn about other students’ experiences.  I heard about campuses that have banned bottled water and schools with programs simultaneously to attract indigenous students and impart indigenous knowledge to “mainstream” students (there were also disheartening stories about schools that are still struggling to get recycled paper or to get students to use trash cans, let alone to recycle).  On the other hand, the discussions made me realize that our diversity of situations might make university cooperation as difficult as international political cooperation!  I was one of the few delegates from a private university, and my experiences differed markedly from many of the other delegates’.  Other students described their public state and provincial universities as often lacking in resources or motivation.  The prospects for universities to cooperate look dim when schools worldwide seem most concerned with their mandate to provide education, but as always, leverage points exist.  One anecdote that disheartened me was some of the Australian delegates’ description of the way that public Australian universities are struggling to attract students.  Hopefully, this situation could provide both an opportunity for students to pressure schools to meet their demands from below and leaders like Yale (perhaps through connections like IARU) to apply pressure from above.

-Julia Meisel, 2010