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.