Imagine a more virtuous event industry promoting eco-friendly events ...
From crisis comes opportunity
The suspension of events during the current pandemic may just be the spark to transform the way events are planned in the future.
No one could have imagined the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on health or the economy, but, for us at Riviera Organisation, it’s given us all an opportunity to challenge what really is a necessity and to reflect on how we can do things better. As event professionals, we can act together to make a difference and, moving forward, we have a duty do things differently.
The good news is that it’s not as daunting as we’d think. Revolutions start with a whisper, so right now, we just need to change our mindset and begin the journey. As the event industry moves into the next stage of its post Covid-19 development, now is the perfect time to make a fresh start.
There are many ways that our approach to planning events can make a real difference. By encouraging those around us to do the same, collectively we have the potential to make the world a better, safer, healthier and brighter place. It’s about time!
Reduce transport – Are all the journeys really necessary?
The single biggest carbon footprint from events comes from transport, so here is where we can all make the most important difference. Cutting out unnecessary journeys, optimising deliveries, staff car-sharing and using electric vehicles can reduce up to 80% of an event’s carbon footprint. (www.ademe.fr )
The paradox of events on the French Riviera is that, by its very nature, people travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres to be here. All the more reason to be conscious of our carbon footprint and engage with reputable airlines or register with a recognised carbon offset project. Covering our carbon footprint is a minimum requirement. At the very least we should leave the planet in the same state as when we found it.
Yet, there are still many opportunities to cut out unnecessary journeys. Using local options for entertainment, production, catering and flowers means less flights, less lorries crossing the country, less refrigerated vans. It will also mean a more local and seasonal flavour to your event.
Saving energy – a fresher option
A large part of energy consumption is, of course, linked to transport (see point 1) but there’s also the power consumed during the event itself. LED lighting has successfully challenged traditional lights for quality which means everybody wins. Lower power consumption means lower costs and less pressure on the existing electricity circuits (and so less likely the need to bring in a generator). The bulbs also last longer meaning lower maintenance costs and less waste.
Even, if a generator is needed, there’s now a new generation that can use a different type of fuel. Natural gas is so much cleaner, safer, and quieter that diesel should no longer be considered. All responsible generator suppliers will now, at the very least, offer a hybrid solution.
For a company based on the French Riviera, you would have thought that solar powered generators would be the obvious choice. It’s not perfect as there is still an environmental impact of manufacturing the panels and the batteries. Yet, it’s still much better than the diesel option and it will become more common in the future. Certainly, there is an enormous potential for reusable energy within the events industry. For example, there are already new types of loudspeakers charged entirely by free energy from the sun - not just the speakers, but also the entire sound desk. It’s something to look out for and embrace as more solutions become available.
What if we simply just use less power?
Considerable energy savings can be made by scaling down the technical riders. Of course, the band will want the biggest sound system and the best lighting, but usually there's a sensible compromise with a more practical energy budget. Let’s communicate what energy is available and analyse realistically what is needed, then we can work together with the production team to find the best possible solution.
Electric vehicles are coming of age. With increased autonomy, more powerful engines and plenty of charging stations, the perennial objections no longer apply. Research has shown that electric cars are better for the environment. They emit less greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their lifespan than a petrol or diesel car. This is even after the production of the vehicle and the generation of the electricity required to fuel them is considered. The single most positive impact anyone can make on the environment is not to have a car at all, but, if the journey has to be made, it’s so much better to use electric or hybrid vehicles. (https://www.edfenergy.com/for-home/energywise/electric-cars-and-environment)
The French Riviera has a wealth of resources for the events industry, so why not take advantage of them? Not only will it save time and money, but it’s so much eco-friendlier. The benefits of optimizing transport have already been discussed, but this can be taken to another level with remote meetings via Zoom, using local crew and support staff instead of flying people in, sourcing the audio visual equipment from nearby rather than transporting lorries across the country, and prioritising the Riviera’s finest talent rather than flying performers in.
Engaging a trusted local event partner, like Riviera Organisation, is one of the easiest steps you can take to ensure that your event will make sense.
Doing so will guarantee synergies amongst all partners involved and save you time and money throughout the entire planning process.
Sustainable decoration – avoid single use
Events, by their very nature, are unique and ephemeral, but this doesn’t mean they have to be irresponsible. Single-use structures and one-off design accessories need to be completely rethought. « Upcycling » is becoming increasingly popular adding new value to objects that would have otherwise been thrown away.
It makes sense for all furniture, bars, staging and design elements to be rented or re-used. The final personal touches can be added intelligently, then a fresh coat of paint can give a new lease of life.
Some reusable materials like natural wood finishes are becoming more fashionable. Reusable or biodegradable fabrics can be used to create a natural yet elegant style. It’s all about the imagination of the event designer.
Carpets are perhaps the biggest culprit of all! Do we really need to use as much?
In 2019, over 6 million square metres of carpet was used at trade fairs in France – only 8% was recycled! The Cannes Film Festival is now leading the way following an outcry over the amount of red carpet wasted for its famous steps. Now, all carpet used during the festival is recycled or re-used. This proves it is possible, even if recyclable carpet is still under-utilised at events in France.
Even so, there are alternative options, like renting better quality reusable carpet tiles or durable mats … or offering heel protectors to all ladies rather than carpeting entire pathways of gravel. Let’s challenge those creative event designers to be even more creative!
Minimise waste – less is more
The standard of catering is a sign of prestige and affluence in France, but the amount of food that is left over at the end of an event is disturbing. Health regulations prevent it being redistributed, yet what is thrown away would feed a family for weeks. More is not necessarily better. Could having nothing left at the end of an event become more socially respectable than throwing good food away?
Sure – most of the food is bio-degradable so this is not the biggest concern. Many local caterers have put into place RSE standards and should be commended for having taken great steps towards eco-friendly events. Others are just at the beginning of their journey.
What about sourcing locally produced products or ecologically certified produce rather than food flown in from far afield. The French Riviera offers a variety of local delicacies, and as an added bonus, seasonal products abound with flavours. Many caterers now also offer delicious vegetarian and vegan options fit for even the most refined of pallets.
Water should be a minimum requirement for all staff working at events, especially in the heat of the Riviera summer, but providing unlimited plastic bottles is clearly not in line with today’s way of thinking. A mobile water fountain makes much more sense, with reusable gourds or bio-degradable cups. Tap water with a mobile filtering system would be even better.
Worse still are the lavishly packaged staff trays! Yes, they look good and taste good, but so much is thrown away. That’s not just the printed packaging but the metal utensils and real glasses – all put into giant bin bags with no chance of recycling. Multiply this by every staff member at every event they cater for and the result is astonishing. The clients or event organisers should not accept this. A self-service buffet with reusable plates, glasses and utensils is such an obvious alternative.
Waste management should be on every event planner’s checklist and not just left to chance. In most parts of the world, including Paris, there are certified companies who specialise in coming in after events and treating waste. Yes, it’s an additional cost to the client but it’s also their responsibility, and there are so many areas where managing waste can even save money.
Fireworks aren’t the only wow factor
As the colours and shapes explode in the sky like a work of art, it’s easy to appreciate the impact fireworks have to bring a spectacular celebration to a climax. Though spare a thought for the many chemicals and small minerals released into the air. What about the leftover particles that fall to the ground that pollute the forests and the sea posing a risk to both wildlife and humans? The loud sounds can also cause fear, stress and anxiety in animals.
These days, most reputable fireworks companies are taking steps to cover their own carbon footprint, but aren’t fireworks a little last century? After the initial squeals of delight, hasn’t it all been seen before?
There are so many other ways to bring an event to a climax. Laser shows, light shows, and aerial drone shows may consume electricity and they are admittedly a temporary source of light pollution, but they are by far an eco-friendlier choice than traditional fireworks. Creative music or artistic performances can generate joy and excitement, that will be remembered years after the fireworks are forgotten. There’s something about the human connection and real emotions that can’t be built in a factory!
What about a video mapping performance? It’s so much more original and personal. It can have a much more powerful impact without having to move guests to the best viewpoint. It can be used to tell your own story with a kaleidoscope of colour and an array of personalised graphics and special effects, including an intensive digital fireworks display? The financial cost is not necessarily more than a traditional fireworks display, but the environmental cost is incomparable.
Reduce printing – let’s embrace the new technology
Do we really need all those printed signs, especially when video screens or mounted iPads are a perfectly viable alternative option? What about invitations, ticketing or information? How much of this can be done digitally? There will be a new trend moving forward of hybrid events or “phygital” events. This is the creative merging of physical meetings with digital experiences, where “on-site” meets “on-line”. Printed signage will soon seem so last decade!
Even if the printing is essential, shouldn’t we be prioritising recyclable materials and vegetal inks? Perhaps with just minor tweaks the printed material can be used again at several events!
What about those printed T-shirts, jackets and staff badges? These should no longer be discarded as a consumable object, when they can be collected after an event and re-used. Making staff clothing from ecologically certified cotton should now be the norm. Regular freelance staff should have their own supply of company-branded attire that they bring with them to each event. It’s common sense, but it still needs managing sensibly to avoid unnecessary waste and costs.
It’s customary to give away souvenirs or goodie bags at the end of an event, yet many of them are pointless publicity items that get stored away or, at worse, thrown away without being used at all. The obvious solution here is to make gifts relevant and useful, and, wherever possible, to make them eco-friendly.
Why not think beyond disposable objects? Local produce like honey, olive oil or other regional delicacies in a glass jar are unlikely to be wasted, while you’re also supporting the local community and offering something with a relevance to the region.
Otherwise, what about non-physical gifts like online vouchers, tickets to a local experience or digital photos and videos from the event?
Oh, and beware the trend for cotton gift bags. You may think that they are eco-friendlier than their plastic counterparts, but research has shown that they need to be used several thousand times before having a lower environmental footprint!
Good housekeeping - Treat the planet as your home
So much progress can be made just using common sense as you would at home.
You would think it would be a case of good housekeeping. If, as a guest, you use someone else’s facilities, you would be sure to make sure they were in the same state as when you found them - that’s common courtesy. As event professionals, we have to do inventories at the beginning of each event, and it’s our responsibility to return the site as we found it - that’s common sense, otherwise we bring it on ourselves to organise appropriate cleaning, repairs and waste collection. Why don’t we take on the same responsibility to the wider environment?
At home, you would turn electrical items off when they are not being used so sure the same rules should apply in events, especially lighting of whole zones outside once guests have moved inside!
It’s common practise for households to sort through their rubbish and dispose of everything in separate bins to maximise the potential of reuse and recycling. Not having enough time is not an excuse for not doing the same at our events.
If only everyone applied the same principles to their behaviour at events as they would in their daily life, then already so much progress would be made!
Eco-Synergy - prioritise likeminded partners and venues
Of course, it’s so much easier if everyone is on the same wavelength with the same principles and goals. This is why, at Riviera Organisation, we’re building up a community of conscientious event planners who share our values and we prioritise event partners who are genuinely committed to making a difference. This adds value way beyond each and every event. The reputation of the whole region and industry benefits from more responsible planning. Collectively everyone wins and slowly the world becomes a better place.
The airlines do it, the major shops do it, so why shouldn’t we? We’re in touch with many privileged people with the means to make a real difference. We have the potential to encourage them to channel support easily and constructively to eco-friendly and social projects. By giving clients the option to round up budgets to the next €100, €500 or €1000 means offsetting their ecological footprint and contributing to a charity foundation planting trees around the world and supporting under-privileged communities.
Reputable charities like www.goodplanet.org are making it easy for us all to get involved in worthwhile projects that are making a difference. It adds purpose and value to our events and our industry knowing that our work is making the world a better place. For example, at Riviera Organisation, we have planted a tree for every client we’ve had in our 30-year history. That’s now over 5000 trees - a mini forest generating a breath of fresh air every single day.
So, why aren’t we already doing it?
Without wanting to discredit the many companies who take eco-friendly events and sustainability seriously, it’s fair to say that the industry has built up a reputation for having an irresponsible attitude to the environment. It’s almost as if we have allowed ourselves to be exempt from common sense. In our quest to show ourselves as bigger, better, richer, and more successful, fortunes are spent on food, constructions and items that just get thrown away.
Somewhere along the way, the event industry has lost touch with real values. This imposed break resulting from COVID-19, although tragic in many ways, is a golden opportunity. It’s a chance for all event professionals to reflect on our errors of judgement in the past, to change our mindset, and to eliminate our unsustainable ways of going about business as usual in a fragile world.
Yet, we are still faced with the same resistance and excuses. Surely, in this day and age, these can no longer be acceptable:
Budget – the client won’t want to pay for more expensive eco-friendly options
Of course, there is a cost to some of these measures, although most of these can be offset by savings made elsewhere. There are significant gains to be made from reducing unnecessary transport, sourcing local partners, renting or reusing furniture, carpets and design elements, reducing superfluous foods or flowers that end up going to waste, or replacing physical signs with digital screens. It’s more about managing than increasing costs and, as event professionals, we can help with that.
In any case, our view is that if something needs to be done, it should be done professionally, legally and responsibly. Cutting corners means taking risks, exploiting others to our advantage or making someone else pay.
Why should the less privileged and the planet pay for our irresponsible management? The true cost should be factored into all budgets right from the outset.
Time – it’s too time consuming to research or implement alternative methods
Sometimes planning events may seem like a black hole eating up whatever time is available and more, but this is not an excuse. Planning eco-friendly and socially responsible events using a trusted local events company will be time efficient. You should be able to reduce your own on-site visits and production meetings, especially if you prioritise remote meetings and video conference calls.
Tapping into a fully functional local network will save endless planning time with tried-and-tested logistics already in place, using a team who already know the venue and all its challenges and how best to integrate with the wider event team.
Health & Safety - using eco-friendly materials is a fire hazard
Security is paramount at every event, but there’s no reason why this should be any more complicated with an eco-friendly approach. Thankfully, the industry is developed enough to have a full range of certified eco-friendly materials. Like everything else, it’s about careful planning, checking all materials in advance and making sure that everything is done responsibly.
Quality – local services aren’t as good as the one’s I can fly in
We all prefer using the services that we know and trust, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are better. The main reason for not using local suppliers is a lack of detailed knowledge and confidence in exactly what you will be getting. This is where your local event partner steps in, and they will be able to reassure you on the quality and other advantages of using local services.
Of course, in some cases, you may not find exactly what you were expecting in this region, and there may be “better” alternatives elsewhere. However, if the client chooses to host their event on the French Riviera, doesn’t it make sense to have a local flavour running through the entire experience?
Ignorance - I didn’t know there was an alternative
Perhaps the biggest oversight is not communicating the importance of sustainable events and explaining clearly what each and every one of us can do to make a difference. I’m convinced that every client and every guest would make more of an effort if they could just understand what they could do, and why it’s so important.
The world needs events, they’ve been with us since the beginning of time. We need the event industry more than ever to connect and to rebuild the world as a community post COVID-19. More importantly, the world needs the events industry to think and act sensibly.
Think less (less transport, less waste, less energy), think remote, think local, think responsible, and most importantly, think beyond the event itself.
Today, on World Environment Day, we are calling on our event partners to imagine a more virtuous events industry, and to join us in our quest to make the French Riviera a region that cares on every level. We’re also reaching out to a new generation of event professionals who share our vision of values. Together, we can make a difference.
Eco-friendly and socially responsible events are not an option or an after-thought, they are a way of thinking throughout the entire planning process.
Covering our footprints is a minimum requirement not a goal. How we can use our events to create value to benefit the wider community and the environment is something collectively we can all be proud of!