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The road ahead to becoming net zero

Industry collaboration is the key to meeting the challenge.

The year 2050 seems a long way into the future, and yet it has been insistently popping up in our social media feeds, news alerts, debates and boardrooms: 2050 is set to be a net zero milestone by when the UK is determined to have completely reset into a more sustainable way of living and operating.

The country’s ambition is to “lead the world in ending our contribution to climate change, while turning this mission into the greatest opportunity for jobs and prosperity for our country since the industrial revolution”, as stated by the PM in the Government’s 2021 Net Zero Strategy.

Due to its scale, the events industry can make an impact on achieving the UK goal and key players in the market are already taking action. In the midst of the media noise and debates during COP26 last year, event industry businesses signed the Net Zero Carbon Pledge: an international initiative led by industry associations and businesses, and supported by the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

Olympia London was one of the first venues in the UK to commit to the pledge with the common goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 at the latest.

Olympia London fed into the creation of the events sustainability international standard, ISO 20121, and was the first venue to achieve certification. It has sent zero waste to landfill for over a decade, recycling over 98% of all waste; and provides clients with a post-event sustainability report, in addition to partnering on initiatives with organisers and the community.


The journey to net zero
The net zero commitment is just the first step. It marks a new era, a bigger ambition and therefore a new mindset for each company that signs up. It’s about a change of focus from independent sustainability initiatives and achievements, to evaluating a company’s total environmental impact, and then making change across its operations to meet the 2030 and 2050 deadlines.

Olympia London has commissioned JRP Solutions, an independent sustainability specialist, to evaluate its current status and also guide the venue as it sets its roadmap to achieve net zero. External expertise provides a range of benefits including impartiality, identifying who’s responsible for which emissions, learnings from other industries, and guidance on change strategies.

The events industry’s supply chain is complex. So even if one company could become net zero on its own, it would struggle to dent the wider environmental impact of the industry as a whole.

According to Commercial Director Anna Golden, “partnerships have been essential to achieve and maintain zero-to-landfill and high recycling rates for over a decade and will also be crucial to achieve net zero. As an industry, nurturing strong collaborations with organisers and partners is absolutely necessary to bring the industry together to achieve this goal.” 
 

Partnering with value-aligned suppliers
The strong interconnected nature of the events industry is one of the reasons for ensuring that companies in the supply chain share common values and goals. As governments and individual businesses aim at the net zero target, working with partners with common goals will heavily influence a company’s future investment and revenue opportunities, and therefore its success.

Both businesses and consumers increasingly assess sustainability credentials in their decision-making processes. Working together is the key to the future viability and growth of our industry because our business operations are often so interlinked and businesses are increasingly assessed on the basis of whom we work with.

To achieve its zero-to-landfill status for example, Olympia London partnered with Powerday, the UK’s market-leading waste management and recycling services; as well as Simply Cups for specialist hot beverage cups recycling. Food waste has been carefully managed with partnerships to distribute surplus, segregate for anaerobic digestion and other initiatives which have reduced food waste by 9%. Now, the venue has invested in an in-house waste station, capable of reducing the volume of waste by 80% by grinding it into fine particles and then significantly reducing its water content before it is transported for anaerobic digestion. This reduces the number of road journeys to the anaerobic digestion plant, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will create an estimated 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per year (the equivalent of almost 10 tonnes) from transport alone, adding significantly to the emissions already saved in diverting food waste from landfill. 

But how to reduce the production of food waste in the first place? To ensure a sustainable and delicious catering offer, Olympia London partners with Gather & Gather, a catering leader in sustainability that sources local produce, uses only sustainable packaging, and is awarded for animal welfare. Working together, plate waste has also been reduced with greater consideration of portion sizes. Rob Fredrickson Managing Director, Gather & Gather: “We were keen to work with Olympia London as their catering partner, as both our organisations have a strong focus on sustainability. It has enabled us to introduce initiatives that provide our clients with sustainable catering options”. 


Making each event more sustainable
An event organiser’s roadmap to net zero will be different to a venue’s or any other supplier’s. It’s a big challenge to consider the environmental impact of all the elements that go into delivering each event, as well as the day-to-day running of a business.

Olympia London helps by working with each event organiser to enhance the sustainability of each event. This includes tailoring bespoke sustainable show floor solutions, be it in catering, waste management and even educating the public with signage and sustainability information on show-floor stands.

After each event, the venue compiles data from across a number of measurable factors, and produces a free user-friendly event sustainability report. This enables organisers to review how sustainable an event was and set goals for the future.

Marie Middleton from AGAPÉ, working in CSR and carbon assessment on behalf of a high-profile client of Olympia London, said: “I must say that it's great and rare that a venue has created a comprehensive event sustainability report and is prepared to work on improving their data provision further to help us become more sustainable. It’s important that we work together through all of this.”


Learning together with an open dialogue 
Contributing to an open dialogue in the industry, Olympia London partnered with the Exhibition News during COP26 to discuss the real place sustainability occupies in business strategy. Roundtable delegates recognised that businesses across our industry see sustainability differently and have different challenges. For some, what may be seen as a cost, might be seen as investment for future success by others. The discussion made it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to becoming truly sustainable, but sharing learnings was key.

Anna Golden says: “There must be dialogue between diverse areas within the industry and outwardly with other industries to find areas of intersection and solutions. Our goal is to keep the dialogue open and collaborate as much as possible to find creative ways to make sustainability the norm at each event.” 

This is not the first time the venue has promoted sustainability in the industry. In addition to sponsoring working groups and cross-industry initiatives, Olympia London took other venues to visit its waste management plant to share its learnings. Siân Richards, Head of Sustainability at Olympia London explains: “We’re all learning together and the sharing of ideas is the only way to achieve the common goal of a sustainable future for our industry”. 

Commenting on the venue’s wider industry leading role, Maya Mhatre, Co-Founder, Head of Marketing & Sustainability at Reset Connect said: "Olympia London has proven to be a great net-zero ally. They share our passion for sustainability and are forthcoming about helping the wider industry transform. Whether that's presenting on sustainability in events webinars, taking part in group sustainability workshops or giving feedback and support to other industry professionals, they're always on hand to share their experience and ideas. And that's what it's all about, collaborating so we can transform our businesses and the industry together.”