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. 


Sustainability in the Land Down Under: Welcome (virtually) to Canberra!

The ANU Green Office

The ANU Green Office

After 3 days of travel, including two car rides, two flights, and a three hour bus trip – I’ve made it to Canberra, Australia for a six week Sustainability Fellowship sponsored by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). At the heart of my exploration while I’m here at Australia National University (ANU) is one seriously pressing institutional sustainability issue: what is so different about us? This line of inquiry is prompted by the reality that too often in international discussions of institutional sustainability, variety in calculation methods, organizational structures, geographic or climate differences and a number of other challenges leave us wringing our hands and delaying action because we can’t seem to nail down how we might make the next sustainability driven leap on our campus. In an effort to dispel some of this inertia, while I’m here in Australia I’ll be working to highlight some of the similarities between ANU and Yale in hopes that by highlighting similarities these international comparison conversations can have some more productive ground to grow on. Although this writing will focus on similarities, to be complete I’ll also highlight issues that may make translation of solutions between settings more difficult. So read on over the next few weeks to learn more about what I find!

To set the stage, it seems only polite to introduce you to my temporary home – the City of Canberra and ANU. Canberra is located three hours south of Sydney, seven hours Northeast of Melbourne and a two hour drive from the coast. It is truly an island of a city in a vast expanse of native woodland and grassland. The area was selected as the Australian capital in 1908 and American Walter Burley Griffin was commissioned to plan the city. Comprised of many distinct neighborhoods, each with unique character and composition, Canberra has the feeling of a much smaller city. Today, the lake that bears Burley Griffin’s name is the centrepiece of an active and outdoorsy capital city which is home to 340,000 Australians.

With 32 tons of greenhouse gasses emitted annually per Australian – one of the highest per capita rates in the world – transportation is a key consideration here in Canberra. As a frequent user of the Farmington Canal Rail Trail in New Haven, I have been overjoyed to see how thickly integrated into transit bicycling is here. The city is full of bicycle trails and bicycle lanes (see a map here). It is a popular commuting choice in this city whose annual precipitation of 24.7 inches and whose average temperature ranges from 40 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (this compared to New Haven’s 52.62 inches of precipitation annually and temperatures from -2 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit) lends itself easily to a bicycling lifestyle. I’ve personally been loving the climate here which feels just like Halloween to me – cool and crisp.

As the national capital, Canberra is a cultural center too – home to the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library and Archives, and of course, ANU. Established by an act of Federal Parliament in 1946, the ANU is the preeminent research university in Australia. The campus is comprised of over 200 buildings and covers 145 hectares in downtown Canberra – a region known as Civic. The campus itself is very green with over 10,000 trees including many endangered species. The university houses seven academic colleges which serve all 14,365 students, however only a small proportion of these students actually live on campus. The student population is quite diverse, with 3,379 international students from 106 countries in attendance.

While here I’ll be working at the ANU Green Office which is the operational counterpart to Yale’s Office of Sustainability. The ANU Green office has been in place for 10 years and thus has almost twice the history of Yale’s Office of Sustainability. The office has a staff of 14 enthusiastic people who have introduced me to the campus and Canberra very graciously. The only issue I’ve taken with them is that so far – their kangaroo spotting advice has left a lot to be desired – but don’t worry, I’m not giving up!

View of Canberra from Mt. Ainslie

View of Canberra from Mt. Ainslie

Also of Note:

Days in Australia without a kangaroo sighting: 11 😦

Terrapass has helped me to offset the 19,474 miles of air travel for my adventure for the low bargain price of $53.52