Interview

  • ISO 20121? SOS!



    We often see these ISO Standard certification codes, but what exactly are they and what do they mean?
    Fiona Pelham explains all.


    What is ISO 20121?
    An ISO standard is not a checklist, but it offers a way to work. ISO 20121 requires that you must first identify the issues in your company. For example, if you are a small venue in Scotland or a big trade show in London, your issues will be very different. Sustainability is not just about recycling or waste management – although in the case of a large trade show, this will certainly be something to consider – it is also about social and economic issues. So if you have a large turnover of staff, it must be identified and addressed.

    How do you sustain staff?
    This leads to the second part of the ISO standard implementation. You must identify who needs to do what and when in order to tackle this issue, and
    improve around this. At Sustainable Events Ltd we are a small company so we have set financial objectives in order to make us financially sustainable. We are now implementing ISO 20121 by creating financial reports and targets, therefore ensuring the financial sustainability of the company.

    Are there any other standards dedicated to the events industry?
    This is the first ISO standard designed specifically for the events industry. It’s actually very rare to have a standard created for one specific industry. Previous standards have been more generic for any business in any industry. All of these standards, however, are designed to introduce and implement good practice and this is what the ISO 20121 version is designed to do for events.

    How do you think event organisers and conference managers will implement the new ISO?
    It was introduced in time for the 2012 Olympics and it has already been seen in practice at the Games when utilised by Coca-Cola as part of its operations as a sponsor of the event. If an organisation as big as Coca-Cola is seen to be using it, then it can potentially be used across the industry. It’s not obligatory, although governments do recognise ISO standards, so it will be a case of waiting to see what happens next.

    Do you think this will change how events are organised in the future and, if so, how?
    I think it will increase transparency in the events industry and make sustainability accessible for organisations of all sizes. People often think that making events sustainable will be expensive or hard to do and this is not the case. The new standard is the framework to show this. I’m obviously biased, but I do think that there will be a shift and that expectations will change.

    Fiona is Managing Director of Sustainable Events Ltd, which provides support for the implementation of sustainability within the event industry, and also Managing Director of Positive Impact, a not-for-profit education on sustainability provider. She is also chair of the ISO 20121 committee.


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