Introducing ISO 20121, the standard for sustainable event management

By Alex Beck | Jan 26, 2021 8:47:53 AM

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Introducing ISO 20121, the standard for sustainable event management

By Alex Beck | Jan 26, 2021 8:47:53 AM

In this piece we introduce ISO 20121, the international standard for sustainable event management. You can make your event more sustainable, no matter its type or size, with ISO 20121. Here we look at why it exists, why it is so important and how it works.

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What is its purpose?

Events are a huge burden on society and environment and so need to be planned and delivered in a responsible way that benefits the world. ISO 20121 promotes responsible consumption, local infrastructure development, environmentally friendly transportation and construction, and a sensitive treatment of existing local spaces and culture. It provides guidance and best practices to manage your event while controlling its social, economic and environmental impact.

How did it come about?

ISO 20121 was based on an earlier British standard, BS 8901, concerning sustainability management systems for events. That standard intended to raise awareness and understanding of the impact of events, while encouraging organisers and suppliers alike to take measures to minimise the negative impact of event delivery. The new international version of the standard was then created to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics.

Why is it important?

The events industry is one that typically comes under great scrutiny for its sustainability - most especially the social impact and legacy of an Olympic host city. With the public spotlight, events have responsibility both in their own right and as a role model to the world. The nature of huge numbers of people gathering can put a strain on local resources, generate significant waste, and therefore leave social problems for tomorrow. Every action counts, from banning single-use plastics to encouraging the use of public transport. Events must practise sustainable development.

ISO 20121 contributes to 11 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which serve as "the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all", addressing the global challenges we face, which include "poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice".

How does it work?

ISO 20121 follows a model of Plan, Do, Check, Act:

  • Plan involves identifying stakeholders and affected parties, setting out principles, policies, roles and responsibilities for sustainable work, and identifying potential issues;
  • Do involves providing procedures, resources and communications to support that sustainable activity, establishing processes that work;
  • Check involves monitoring and auditing performance in sustainability;
  • Act involves identifying any residual issues or non-conformities and taking corrective actions to reverse them.

What further steps are being taken to support sustainability?

A further international standard is being developed, ISO 22379, for Security and resilience - Guidelines for hosting and organising large citywide events. This will provide guidelines and expertise on how to manage risks, public safety and service continuity during a wide-scale event. Cities should share knowledge and learning should be brought together and transferred from event to event; this enables cities to host events in a way that contributes to many of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

If you are responsible for sustainability in sport, read this case study of World Sailing's exceptional work in that area.

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It is clear that operators of events of all sizes have an ever-growing responsibility to follow sustainable practices in planning and delivering your events. Take the time to explore ISO 20121, and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that your event is doing all it can to leave a better world in its wake.

Learn more about WeTrack's new sustainability module, which is in the early stages of development.



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