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).
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.