Corona prompting a rethink in events industry?
Cancelling an event to benefit the environment is not an option for Helen Schepers, Green Events Hamburg (GEHH), and especially not for an environmental scientist who is committed to sustainability. “That is a complex topic in which both environmental protection and social aspects play a role. Events are social meeting points that shape a community. It’s like saying: 'I'll be at XY next week - see you there? That's the issue'." The involvement of residents in planning an event and making them accessible promotes social interaction and means participants are not excluded. "Ramps do not have to be set up everywhere for an event," Schepers stressed. Yet, communication and transparency are important. Indicating barrier-free entrances and toilets as well any hazardous steps lowers the risks. "Not every step is insurmountable. But knowing where they are helps!
Pilot phase extended
Green Events Hamburg is an open, participatory and future-orientated network that is dedicated to ecological, socially responsible events. Since 2019, the network has advised companies on how to achieve that goal on behalf of the Ministry for Environment, Climate, Energy and Agriculture in Hamburg. "We would like all events held in public spaces to actually benefit those areas." To this end, Green Events Hamburg has developed guidelines for holding sustainable events. "This year, a pilot phase was due to start with 23 event organizers, who tested our guide and from which we would have developed a point system for events in public spaces." But then corona hit, and the pandemic forced the cancellation of most events. Green Events Hamburg eventually extended the pilot phase until 2021.
Responding flexibly to crisis
All over Hamburg, the events sector is experiencing huge corona-induced sales losses. More than a third of event companies taking part in a quick survey by the Chamber of Commerce spoke of a total drop in sales (100 per cent) while 42.5 per cent said they had generated at most a quarter of the revenues earned in 2019. Organizers are not the only ones suffering from the blow, Schepers stressed. "Before the coronavirus pandemic, many people were unaware of how many trades actually make an event possible. They see mostly the actors on stage, but not those behind the scenes. Green Events Hamburg is trying to pave the way towards solutions. "Our joint discussions focus on how we can react and offer flexible support with our consulting services during the crisis."
The pandemic may hold an opportunity, said Schepers. "A sustainability theory says that it takes a shock for an issue to be acted upon. We have already experienced the shock and indeed many people have used it to rethink their own structures." Green Events Hamburg has rarely had to advise a company from scratch. "Many event organizers have a real need to change something and often have first ideas. So we look at what has already been achieved and then take things step by step." The focus is e.g. on waste and energy concepts to concrete measures, such as mobile dishwashing units or so-called bicycle checkrooms for events. Schepers was among those to hit on the idea which is akin to a cloakroom. GEHH also points out alternatives to all too frequent plastic give-aways at events. "How about confetti made of wildflower seeds instead? Just throw them in the air and wait a few moments to see a small carpet of flowers."
"Just get started"
Rethinking is not difficult, said Schepers. "Corona has shown us that we can actually change plenty." It has also led to a greater tolerance of errors. Small mishaps when working from home or during video conferences are not seen as dramatic. After all, almost everyone has been plunged into a new, experimental era. "The same applies to events. They do not have to be CO²-neutral right away, but slightly more sustainable...what counts is to become more resilient and flexible as we strive to achieve that goal of sustainability."
Green Events Hamburg is a project by the the non-profit by the Grünen Wirtschaftsrats e.V. association. It promotes sustainable entrepreneurship and sustainability management of events in Hamburg. The voluntary group of organisers consists of Helen Schepers, Lena Hansen, Björn Hansen and Thore Debor, and the full-time employee, Anna Kliemann. The group has links to over 100 stakeholders in the events industry and management.