Lara Owen Reporter, C&IT
“We have to make sustainability budget friendly” says global streaming service Events Manager

“We have to make sustainability budget friendly” says global streaming service Events Manager

C&IT spoke with the leading music streaming service's Sustainable Events Manager on how to create environmentally conscious events. 

1. How did you get into the sustainable events sector?

I got into events through passion mainly. I studied public policy and human development but I found I enjoyed the organisational side of it more. The first event job I went into actually was - ironically - in the oil and gas industry. These businesses were getting into COP negotiations and I began to think, I know these people are working on sustainability events but are these events even sustainable? I also just found it dreadfully ironic that 30,000 people were being flown into one location to discuss climate action. 

The thing is, every company and business has events, we’re generating so much CO2 and waste but we can’t stop holding events. That’s what got me into sustainability, being conscious of how venues are powered, what suppliers do with materials they don’t use and how it can be recycled.

A principle element event planners struggle with is travel and location, this often gives off so much CO2 but it’s difficult if the client has already chosen the location. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from covid it is that the events industry is incredibly adaptable - and climate change is just as urgent as covid was. My rule of thumb is to reduce travel to a regional level, then have dial-ins and take into account different time zones: ‘reduction’ is key, especially when so many businesses - including Spotify - hope to meet their Net Zero goal by 2030.

2. What are the biggest tests you encounter as a sustainable events manager?

For me, the issues arise when you start building the event after the written plan. For example, every company has good intentions - they’ll say we want a full vegan menu, then in turns out the caterers have terrible vegan options and the client decides to go back on this - because they want good feedback on the event food. 

Sustainable thoughts don’t always come to fruition, we often don’t have the infrastructure to deliver these pledges. I was doing an event in Barcelona and they didn’t have enough buses for us to hire so we ended up having to hire cars as well. Another example is when you work with older venues, where they source their energy is less than ideal. 

3. What are some stand outs you’ve had when it comes to changing people's outlook on sustainability?

For every event I hold I carry out a set of sustainable questions with the venue and staff I work with. I’ll ask them what their waste management system is, how do you manage sustainability in your hotel - for example, do you have the towel policy? Often, sales managers don’t know the answers so they have to go to different departments and it will trickle down throughout every department. For me, this is a success, because I’m getting the conversation going, people are looking into their sustainability policies and having to find them out in order to get back to me. This then makes them aware of how they can improve their sustainability in certain areas.

In terms of specific events, one of my highlights was a conference I organised for Spotify. In previous years everyone would fly to one city. In this case, however, I organised it simultaneously in three different cities: London, Stockholm and New York. All were adjusted to the time zones, so all delegates could dial-in and be at the same point in the conference. Doing this reduced the amount of long haul flights and the cost of hotels for global delegates. Going forward this is something I think should be mandatory for global events in order to offset carbon emissions.

4. What do you believe to be the biggest sustainability obstacle in the events industry?

Food waste is undoubtedly the most difficult issue to manage. You never know how much people will eat, and once it’s out of the kitchen you can’t donate it. Further, composting the waste is difficult because if anything gets caught up such as napkins or plates, everything is contaminated and it can’t be used. This is tricky because you can’t just not give food to people, a lot of your event feedback is based on whether the food was good or not. This is currently the issue I’m finding most difficult to manage.

5. What is a dream event you'd love to hold, money no object?

My dream event would be some sort of celebrity-led dinner with a sustainable objective. Having celebrities known for their conversations and pledges surrounding sustainability such as Leonardo DiCaprio and having it on his private island. I’d have all zero-km-food such as fish sourced from the pond next to our table, all the chairs, tables and textiles are upcycled and everyone sails to the island on these incredible yachts - luxury from start to finish.

I know this is a dream because people have these ideas in reality, but not the budget. The most pressing obstacle we have to overcome is making sustainability budget friendly and accessible across the board in the events industry.