While eco-tourism emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, it remains a fairly fringe industry, attracting only a few percent of the total number of tourists. The hotel industry, responding to criticism that it was not taking its environmental impacts seriously, enacted a series of voluntary industry initiatives in the 1990s. Further, standards to define “eco tourism”, and to prevent fraudulent use of the term, began to emerge. However these have proved not to be hugely effective neither in marketing nor reputation protection. NGOs such as Greenpeace have criticized many such standards/schemes as being superficial and not addressing the key environmental impacts of resorts and hotels, namely energy and water use and land conversion. In the niche of eco-tourism, standards and schemes remain important as a means of informing their customers (who are by nature environmentally aware and curious) of their credibility. Perhaps the key issue at present for the hospitality and events sector is carbon emissions and this is the focus of standardization at present.
Most hotel and eco-tourism standards are location specific. Some examples are the Certification for Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica; Scotland’s Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS), China’s Green Hotel Standard and the more international Green Globe Community Standard.
In 2009, British Standards Institute launched the world’s first standard specifically related to sustainability in the events sector, BS 8901. Many BS standards have formed the basis for international (mainly ISO) standards and this may be likely if the uptake in the UK and elsewhere warrants it.
Published in September 2009, BS 8901:2009 “Specification for a sustainability management system for events” now replaces an older standard BS 8901:2001. The new version of the standard is designed to be easier to implement and provides a simpler root to the certification. Holding sustainable events is crucial for commercial event organizers, and it is one of the key factors of being successful and profitable in the current economic reality.
BS 8901 is designed to help companies minimize risk and organize their events efficiently in the modern challenging environment. The standard provides detailed guidance for planning and implementation of events, as well as a framework for post-event activities. For the event organizers, it offers a set of best practices for planning and conducting events. “Requirements for a sustainability management system for events” is the main part of the standard. It gives recommendations of how to improve performance with limited resources, stay environmental-friendly, produce less waste, involve a broader range of society, and generate long-term economic impact. It describes the requirements for venues and provides “Principles to be applied to supply chain management” for the suppliers operating in the events industry.
The standard gets strong support from the UK government. “It’s great to see the UK events industry taking up the challenge to make its industry more sustainable. The BSI standard will help people attending events around the country do the right thing with their waste and will reward businesses for doing so,” Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said at a summit of Local Authorities and the waste industry in October 2009. The government has big plans to make the UK a zero waste nation in the next ten years or so, and those intentions involve advising companies to use new technologies, waste minimization and lowering the carbon footprint.
The standard is designed for practical implementation, and can be used for events of any type and size. Organizers of a small company seminar, big international conference, show, exhibition, competition, or festival will find this guidance applicable in their day-to-day work. London 2012 Head of Sustainability, David Stubbs outlined the importance of the standard, “Events are a key part of this – between now and 2012, we will be holding any number of events, from press conferences to cultural events and our guidelines will ensure they are arranged and run in the most sustainable way possible. We are fully committed to ensuring that our Games – and everything that happens in the run-up – reaches the highest possible standards in terms of sustainability.”
The Sustainable Events Group (SEG) implements a cost-effective program helping companies to implement the sustainable event system. “This program enables small businesses like mine to take the lead on sustainability and the tools provided by SEG are invaluable in providing a head start,” comments Adam Conn, Managing Director of the event security firm Close Circuit.