A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to work at the World Economic Forum in Davos. But one of the elements that the event has been heavily criticized for in the past is how unsustainable it is. The main commitment of WEF is ‘to improve the state of the world’, and over the last couple of years it has taken steps to improve the sustainability of the event, but it’s still not perfect. The big question is, can big events such as the World Economic Forum ever be sustainable? A recent study found that the typical conference attendee produces 1.89kg of waste per day and of that 1.16kg would go directly to landfill. So a conference with 1000 attendees over 3 days would produce 5670kg of waste, the equivalent of 4 compact cars.
One of the biggest criticisms of the World Economic Forum was the amount of private jets that were used to get attendees to the event. Some sources estimate that in 2019 more than 1,000 attendees arrived in a private jet. This figure has been disputed by WEF claiming that instead of that the number was likely around 300 private jets. The reason behind the confusion is that Zurich is one of Europe's busiest private jet airports. This year the WEF has said that it is looking to reduce its carbon footprint, and doing so involves offering incentives to participants who came by train, ensuring that all the jets flying into the area use low-emission plane fuel known as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) instead of normal fuel. It is thought that using SAF fuel could lower CO2 emissions by about 18% on a 1000 mile flight. WEF also ensured that once the attendees have arrived they will be driven around in a fleet of cars, 88% of which were either electric cars or hybrids. WEF also set up a temporary train station close to the conference centre so that attendees could arrive by train. There was also free shuttle and public buses to allow attendees to get around the town.
Obviously WEF aren’t the only people facing the problem of the use of private transport to get to events. Recently Coldplay announced that they won’t be touring their new album until they can find a carbon-neutral way of doing so, and Massive Attack has pledged to only travel by train in their upcoming Europe tour. Radiohead has always been leading the way when it comes to sustainability, they send all of their kit to the location on a ship, they run their tour buses on biofuel and they encourage their fans to take public transport to gigs.
Food and Drink
Food waste can be a huge contributor to the sustainability of events. This year the WEF monitored its food waste and used locally-sourced food suppliers. They also used alternative sources of protein to reduce meat consumption. They even introduced a meat and fish-free menu for “Future Food Wednesday.” To reduce waste from drinks, WEF ensured that no drinks were served in single-use plastic containers and they installed water fountains all around the conference that were supplied with local water.
WEF has made their event more sustainable by refurbishing the main conference centre and supplying it with 100% renewable energy. Ahead of the conference opening the organizers installed solar panels at the main venue. Some rooms were even repainted using paint derived from seaweed, and end-of-life fishing nets were used for the carpet, this is in an effort to eliminate materials that cannot easily be recycled or reused.
An issue that the organisers of the World Economic Forum could struggle with is the number of different partners and suppliers that are used. This was one of the things that amazed us about working at the World Economic Forum, the scale of people needed to bring the event to life was incredible. Just for our contribution alone, there were several different companies working together to create 1 small part of the event. So this is a very hard thing for WEF to control when trying to ensure their event is sustainable.
One way to help this is by finding International Standard Operations qualified crews. ISO 20121 is a programme specifically for sustainable events. The 20121 offers guidance and best practices to help manage events and control social, economic and environmental impact. This could advise on anything from the use of tap water, instead of plastic bottles and encourage public transport.
We spoke to our Managing Director, Jonathan Brigden about sustainability in events. Before working at Studio Giggle, Jon spent part of his career as a tour manager and working on tours for bands and artists like Amadou and Mariam, Snow Patrol and Josh Groban. Here’s what he had to say about sustainability and events:
Whenever we work abroad we always fly our kit out with us too. In a lot of the countries that we work in, the availability of kit is often unpredictable, so we have to take our own. We’ve done several jobs in Kuwait and it's particularly hard to get hold of reliable kit there. We once hired 4 projectors, and they were all so old that they broke as soon as we started to use them. The alternatives were to fly out someone to repair them, fly out our own projectors, or hire kit from Dubai. Hiring kit from Dubai is incredibly expensive because they have good kit and less competition, so they can charge what they like. So it usually just works out easier to fly our own kit out, which isn’t always the most economical, but it's best for the company.
However, each year technology gets better and more compact. This means that it is much easier to fly our kit out with us. Now a computer, a Drobo and all the things that we need can fit in a small Peli case (or 2!) which means we can fly with it as hand luggage. This reduces the need for freight flights. A great example of sustainability done well is Iron Maiden. Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the band, became a commercial airline pilot, which meant whenever the band went on tour, they were able to fly themselves, all the crew and all of the kits to wherever it needed to be in one airplane.
Nowadays we are working on how our company can be more and more sustainable. All our staff are keen cyclists and cycle to work the majority of the time. We are constantly working at getting our energy down. Our entire server cabinet is now redundant. Our computer equipment is more heat efficient and pulls less energy. We have worked with OVO the last couple of years and have learnt so much about how to reduce our consumption. I, myself, have changed my supply to them and pay extra to have fully renewable energy.
Globally our governments seem to be letting us down on this major issue. It is down to us. The businesses around the world need to be better and encourage their employees to be better. One thing is for sure, even small changes can make a big difference over time. If you are having an event and have a tight budget then start off small, change 1 thing. Year on year you’ll be able to improve and become more sustainable.
If you want to find out how sustainable your event is, there are a series of online calculators that allow you to do so.