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Fighting on two fronts: remaining sustainable in a pandemic

David Vaughton, managing director of Make Venues chats to M&IT about why the meetings and events industry can be the solution, not the problem, to macro subjects such as climate change, even during a pandemic.

While all eyes are very much focused on the current pandemic, there have been global acknowledgements that the stringent sanctions placed on us have had an undoubted impact on the environment.

Fighting

David Vaughton, MD of Make Venues.

I read an article that used the metaphor that the same industry that had the most effect on the global spreading of Covid-19, was now the one taking on the biggest toll; global travel. It’s easy to simplify the position by just associating reduced travel and carbon outputs with images of dreamy landscapes, of clear skies and less pollution. But I think there’s a danger in simplifying it too much and pitching it as the environment versus travel or good versus bad.

Personally, and like many of my industry colleagues, I like to put a big space between our own industry and that of leisure and some business travel. I see meetings and events as the solution, not the problem, to macro subjects such as climate change. It’s because of our industry that global issues have been solved in the past by allowing the unification of people from around the world, and I’m confident this will be the case in the future.

However, the subject of sustainability goes way beyond just travel, and while we’re working hard to find ways for our business to operate in the current pandemic, we need to make sure it’s not at the expense of our sustainability credentials. This means fighting on two fronts.

Any venue operator, event planner or supplier will already be looking at social distancing, hygiene safety and the act of bringing people together, and the measures needed to do so safely and reassuringly for the delegate. Equally, these very same measures are pointing us towards solutions that could negatively affect sustainability footprints that were decreasing, suddenly increasing again.

At venues, the reliance on plastics in the form of hand sanitisers, protective screening, even PPE equipment, is a major concern for myself and my senior management team. It goes against our environmental policy, and our commitment to our clients, to use excess plastics, to increase waste or to source anything that increases our historically decreasing environmental impact.

Equally, there is no way we can open our venue without fulfilling our duty of care to our guests and visitors, and the responsible measures we are bringing in are necessarily rigorous to give reassurance to our customers. So, where can we draw the line, and how best to approach this, strategically.

I’m not sure we have the answer wrapped up, but I’m happy to provide a few thoughts that hopefully will get us moving in the right direction:

  • We need to acknowledge this is a challenge and share our concerns with our customers. This is something the industry needs to be open and honest about
  • Sourcing, as ever, is key here. There are businesses out there that are on top of this issue and it’s about engaging with them in detail.
  • As an industry, we have got good at asking the right questions – and making the right demands – of our suppliers, and these conversations have to be doubly robust

Follow the basics; reduce, reuse, recycle. Our objective is to win on both ‘fronts’. In my mind this is not a choice between sustainability or hygiene, we must be more ambitious than that and hold ourselves to a higher standard.