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Sustainable event agency Legacy: ‘We don’t want to be niche’

When Abena Poku-Awuah started Legacy in November 2016, she was the only industry player to put sustainability at the forefront of her company.

Four years on and with a global focus on sustainability, largely thanks to a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Legacy remains the only event agency to be built around creating sustainable events, but founder Poku-Awuah and her small but mighty team are desperate for competitors.

“We don’t want to be niche. We want it to be industry standard. We want every event planner to think about sustainability at the very beginning of the event concept, not as an add-on,” says Legacy operations director Carole Quinn.

“Sadly we can’t run every event in the world so we would be more than happy to welcome some sustainable event planners. We want some competition,” adds Legacy founder, Poku-Awuah.

The event agency was started by Poku-Awuah out of the frustration she was witnessing as corporates disassociated events and sustainability. “I had worked in sustainability for 15 years so I used to help all kinds of clients with their sustainability strategies,” Poku-Awuah explains.

Legacy

Live entertainment for a Legacy-organised Crypto event.

“I found that I’d spend a long time helping these clients with sustainability and then they’d throw multiple events a year and it would all go out of the window. I was really confused about that because I knew they knew about sustainability, but there just seemed to be a detachment between the events that they ran and what was happening at the operational corporate level. So it would just drive me a bit potty. But I thought ‘I can help here’ and I think the events sector needs to be given some practical tips on how to be more sustainable, so that was the start of Legacy events.”

Legacy is comprised of four business strands. “The easiest to understand is that we’re sustainable event organisers, we act as an agency so we organise events on behalf of clients, the full suite of event services, everything you can imagine,” Poku-Awuah says.

“What we do differently is we try to make the event as sustainable as possible from an environmental point of view and also a social point of view.”

While it will come as no shock to anyone that non-plastic events are still toping the sustainable event trends, Poku-Awuah points out that event professionals are becoming more concerned about the differences between biodegradable versus compostable versus bio-based products. “There seems to be a lot of confusion around that and what to do with those materials,” she explains.

“A classic example would be a venue converting all their cups, forks, plates to vegware for a compostable system, but they won’t actually have anywhere to put that vegware so it gets recycled and then it’s doing more damage because they’re contaminating the recycling waste stream.”

Poku-Awuah and Quinn are both keen to point out that a common misunderstanding of creating sustainable events is that it’s tricky to do, which they deny, saying that a lot of it just takes applying a bit of common sense.

“Two common misconceptions of sustainable events are they can be ‘lentil’ as we’d say, but they really can be glamorous,” Quinn explains. “The second is that to be more sustainable is expensive, which often is not that case.”

Legacy also acts as a consultancy as Poku-Awuah recognised early on that those involved in the events sector don’t always know where to start with sustainability. Therefore Legacy provides advice, training and audits to show clients how they can make their events more sustainable.

The agency also runs a series of workshops around marketing, how clients can understand their attendee experience and how they can scope the subjects that are relevant to them.

“Sustainability is such a wide area and most clients go in gung-ho trying to tackle everything, but that’s not really possible, so we try to help clients narrow down what they can tackle then and there,” says Poku-Awuah.

Carole Quinn.

“We go in and set a baseline for them so we can rate an event on how it’s performing on sustainability and then that gives event teams a good starting point on where to improve on,” adds Quinn.

But Legacy don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all mantra when it comes to sustainable practices and works with their clients on 9 themes of sustainability, including energy and carbon, materials and waste, water usage, and food and drinks to select the areas that apply to the client’s needs.

“The issues a client might want to focus on are really core to what that client does. If, for example, they’re a client who is focused on their carbon emissions, then reducing their energy and carbon is something they feel is core to them, whereas another client might be focussed on wellbeing.”

Wellbeing is a trend Poku-Awuah and Quinn both say they’ve seen integrate with sustainability in the last few years.

“There’s this interplay with wellness and sustainability and how that all fits in,” says Poku-Awuah.

Quinn adds that there is a real focus on conference format, with lots of breaks, “none of this bums-on-seats for four hours, for example, so there’s a real trend in getting delegates up and moving.”

The Legacy team aren’t strangers to integrating wellness practices into their working lives either, beginning with a four-day working week which has been their norm since 2016. They also encourage flexible and remote working to practice what they preach and reduce the environmental impact of commuting to a central work location.

“We’re only a small team but I don’t really have any sick days from the team and I almost have to bully my team to go on holiday,” says Poku-Awuah.

In April, Legacy is aiming to launch the third strand of the business which is a supplier marketplace. “People keep coming to us looking for sustainable event suppliers. So, we’re creating an online platform where people will be able to book suppliers and know that they are sustainable. Carole likes to call it the ‘Amazon of events for sustainability’” says Poku-Awuah.

Shelby.

In 2021 Legacy is looking to launch the fourth strand of the agency which aims to benchmark and accredit truly sustainable events.

“At the moment anyone can say they’re running a sustainable event, there’s no benchmark, no rating system, there are no objective numbers so we want to try to change that and make it clear that if an event is sustainable, it can be ranked, rated and compared.”

If being full-service event planners wasn’t already a huge task for a team of four (five if you include Shelby the office pup) Poku-Awuah has developed an online forum as a central place that industry professionals can go to get advice, tips and learn about sustainable events.

“We’re trying to start conversations here and have this be a central part of developing sustainable events and it’s free to use,” Poku-Awuah explains. “It’s so important to share knowledge because at the moment, there are lots of people probably doing great things but that knowledge isn’t being shared anywhere and captured.”

Case study:

Event: Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Sustainable Event Workshop

Client: C40 Cities

Year: 2019

The city of Tel Aviv is the second-largest city in Israel and a major centre for culture and entertainment. From 12 – 18 May 2019, Tel Aviv will host the biggest music competition in the world, the Eurovision Song Contest.

Tel Aviv wishes to host the most sustainable and climate-friendly Eurovision event to date, by using the event as a platform and example for future large scale events held in the city. This vision is being supported by the national government of Israel and the organisation behind the event, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Legacy facilitated a workshop with the city in January 2019, to identify sustainable solutions for the event. We also assisted the city in sourcing suppliers that can assist with the sustainable food and zero waste vision for the Eurovision Song Contest and for future large scale events held in the city.

The C40 City Solutions Platform workshop was held in “The Library” urban innovation space in Tel Aviv in January 2019 and comprised two days of co-creation activities to develop sustainable event solutions. The workshop was preceded by a site visit to the Eurovision concert venue (The Expo), the Ganei Yehoshua Park and the Charles Clore Park.

The city is particularly interested in solutions that will enable them to host the event with a focus on zero waste and sustainable food, thereby reducing the city’s carbon footprint of large public events and mitigating the city’s overall environmental impact.