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Event management that doesn’t cost the earth

Published 16/10/2023

Kat Christopoulos, our Head of ESG, explains how to manage an event from start to clean up without needing to damage the planet.

“Sustainability does not really pop to mind when you think about events; from corporate get togethers to gigs and festivals, there is often a lot of waste, single use plastic, energy use and transportation involved. But on a sunny day in September 2023 Cloud managed to pull off a truly sustainable day festival that ticked all the right boxes across Environment, Social and Governance (ESG).
At Cloud we want to share our experiences so that others can benefit and add their own twist, so here is how we did it.”

From very early on (a year before), as the Head of ESG, I was involved. I was asked to discuss ideas with the events organiser, Louise Barcock from Big Green Space. We went through the project from concept to order of the day right through to breaking down the event when it had finished. I tried to think about each part in terms of sustainability. We discussed the issues of single use plastic and bioplastics, we talked about aiming to bring as little on site as possible, how the stage would be powered and what activities and giveaways there would be. How would people get to the event? What food to serve. We also talked about the suppliers themselves and if they had anything about them that was particularly sustainable (or not!).

‘It was a really interesting process to go through for us. We always consider sustainability but this took it to a whole new level. We had to take a different approach to the event planning. This meant not defaulting to our usual trustworthy suppliers but exploring more local and sustainable offerings. We had to do so much research and consider what each element would bring to the event. Did we REALLY need it? Were there more sustainable alternatives? Is there a more efficient or better way to do this? How could we adapt this to make it more sustainable? What can we reuse, resource, repurpose? How do we utilise this item again in the future? How is this disposed of? What happens to it after the event? Literally every single item we used on the event went through this process. It is a long lasting legacy and now all our events will go through the same process.’
Louise Barcock, Big Green Space

What We Did
We kicked the festival off with an opener from Jeff Dewing our CEO, setting the scene and the sustainability focus. I then followed and gave a keynote as Head of ESG. It meant I could tell everyone about all the sustainable features we had incorporated into the day, so they knew what had gone into it and how they could support. It meant from the outset people were tuned into being sustainable and I received a lot of positive comments throughout the day. Many people do care about the planet and want to know how they can get involved.

Transport: A hybrid coach was organised from our office to the venue as this is where the largest proportion of our employees live. Some were staying in a nearby hotel the night before and a bus was organised to take them to the venue to reduce single taxi journeys. The carbon per passenger km was given for all transport types to the attendees so they could see the big difference between low carbon options such as a train, and high carbon such as driving solo. We also rescheduled some meetings that were booked for later in the month to hold just before this event so that people did not have to travel twice.

The Venue: a venue in keeping with low environmental impact was chosen, Home Farm Glamping in Elstree. The site is set on acres of land and has some permanent yurts, it has wooded areas and a focus on the sustainable development goals which it displays on information boards, the bathrooms have recycled toilet tissue, the benches are made from reclaimed scaffold planks, biodiversity is supported and all food waste is taken to a nearby anaerobic digester and then spread back on the land.
Props and Features: this is where Big Green Space excelled. Instead of creating two Cloudfest logos they created one and moved it to the second location later in the day. They ordered planters that came with example flowers but instead of replacing those flowers they just used the props, they recycled fresh sunflowers for the table displays from another event they held, and they provided biodegradable glitter for the evening. The stage was solar powered, soaking up the glorious sun through the day to put on a fantastic evening show.

Giveaways: these were kept to a minimum being just the Cloudfest t-shirt. Big Green Space researched the t-shirt supplier and found a UK provider of organic Fairtrade cotton t-shirts finished off in the UK and with minimal packaging. The lanyards were made from recycled plastic bottles. They were designed without dates so they can be used in the future, and the plastic wallets were kept to be reused next time. The Lanyards also had a QR code to scan to get a map of the site so individual maps were not needed. The team opted for “no-rush” shipping to ensure things were delivered as sustainably as possible.

Waste: we decided on reusable plates and cups because there was no facility for bioplastic to be taken to an industrial composter, so it was either single use plastic or reusable. The catering staff were ready to clear the containers to be taken back. The main bulk of waste on the day was food waste which was due to the hot weather. People didn’t eat as much as they normally would and the food couldn’t be kept out for long due to food safety in the heat. All food waste was separated by the catering team so that it could be taken to the anaerobic digestor. Having the team clear the items made it easy to control contamination and easy for the guests.

The only bins were big yellow bins for cans, and purple bins for anything else. The team kept a close eye on waste volumes, with only 3 small bags of general waste being generated!! Significantly lower than any usual event.
During the keynote the guests were informed of what to do with their waste and they stuck to it perfectly. This success proves a key point that if you inform people of what they have to do, and they understand why, then they are quite likely to embrace it.

Food: there were plenty of vegetarian and plant-based options so that people had a choice, we communicated the reason for this using the burger van as an example, informing that a veg burger was around 90% less greenhouse gases, water and land use than a meat burger. It was stressed this wasn’t to judge people or tell them what to do, but to inform and provide options. All the drinks were served in reusable vessels collected by the catering team, except some soft drinks and beers in cans.

People: let’s not forget why we were there, to connect with colleagues and let our hair down. Our Head of HR Sarah Lawrence, along with our engagement guru Katie Creek, did so much to bring people together and target the social aspects of ESG.
We wanted to offer our colleagues the opportunity to try something different, the activities that we selected gave both the opportunity for collaboration, introspection as well challenging their inner fears, by doing something different like glass walking, or a gong bath. Spending time with colleagues whose paths may not normally cross on a day to day basis, building connections while having a fun time was key, and our colleagues embraced the challenge fully.
Sarah Lawrence, Head of HR at Cloud

At the end of the night as the solar stage closed there were smiles around the whole event. What this showed me was that you can have fun without it costing the earth. It filled me with confidence that these features will just be a standard part of future events and that we have proven how successful it could be. It gave me hope.

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