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Passion for the planet – we speak to a sustainability trailblazer

London’s 15Hatfields was set up as a sustainable venue in 2008, consciously avoiding single-use plastics from day one.

With sustainability built into the core of its being, the venue needed a general manager who could embody its environmentally-minded ethos. Luckily, it found one in the form of Warren Campbell, who has been helping clients embrace sustainability in Central London ever since. 15Hatfields is working with the Meetings Industry Association to champion best practice with its #20PercentLess campaign and Campbell will appear at the mia’s Future Fit conference on 11 March at America Square, London. But before that, we caught up with Campbell to find out where his passion for the environment comes from.

M&IT: Where does your passion for sustainability come from?
Campbell: “I have always been interested in the natural world ever since I was a small child. I think spending every school summer holiday in Jamaica really added to my passion for the planet as going back year after year from the early 70s really opened my eyes as to how the island was transforming and becoming more developed. I wanted to do something that could have a positive effect on the planet and was a vegetarian from the age of 15. I suppose my passion for influencing and creating change evolved from those early decisions and experiences.”

What do clients make of the sustainability policies in place at 15Hatfields?
“The majority of 15Hatfields’ clients react really positively to our polices and operating standards. Typically, the reason they select our venue is because they are aligned to our ethos and want to show they are using their purchasing power to choose a sustainable venue verses a venue which is not on the sustainable journey. We are so much more than just a venue. We share our knowledge with event organisers, which often inspires their delegates and adds to the story. Also being owned and operated by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health helps us to deliver on our Royal Charter.”

The last 12 months has seen a war on plastic in the industry. Where would you like to see it go next? How should the industry best capitalise on the enthusiasm for sustainability we are currently seeing?
“I am absolutely delighted to see the industry really stepping up to be measured and counted. The future is about capturing the momentum and really uniting the industry with some clear and concise objectives. It is about collaboration, inspiration and some pretty pioneering ways of thinking.
Organisations like the Meetings Industry Association, who have been working on the #20PercentLess campaign, are really gathering important frontline data about the sector’s appetite for change. They are then using this insight to develop tools and share best practice.

“There are some pretty big changes on the way, and I would like to see the #20PercentLess initiative adopted industry-wide. The project will also deliver jargon-free solutions and pathways that can be relayed into any of the industry’s varied operating businesses. The plastic war is only the tip of the iceberg, the whole thought process to consumption needs to be addressed and it really boils down to thinking before using.”

Is there anything you think event agencies and planners should be doing in terms of sustainability? How can they be most effective?
“The event agencies and planners need to put pressure on the venues and suppliers to think outside of the box and to offer more sustainable choices to fit their needs. It is, as we know, about supply and demand – if the clients want it and are offered a choice between a sustainable product, service or location, then they are more than likely going to take that option. But they need to know in the first place that it is available to them.

“If event agencies put pressure on venues to clearly state their environmental credentials in a digital format, it speeds up the selection process and allows clients to access the latest information. These should be attached to all RFOs. There’s also several quick and easy to use surveys, which venues and suppliers can use to grade the sustainability of an organisation or service provider.

“I think it is also everyone’s responsibility to adopt a like-minded way of thinking based on a product or service lifecycle. From being made, used and disposed of, the current waste hierarchy is a great tool to make you think about this. REFUSE, REDUCED, REUSE, RECYCLE, RECOVERY. LANDFILL (being the least favoured option).”

For many clients, sustainability is a nice to have, but is one of the first things to be jettisoned when budgets get tight. How do you turn it into a need to have for event planners?
“Sustainability nowadays should not be about being more expensive or seen as something as a ‘nice to have’. It is a necessity and the responsibility is on all of us to make the right choices and ensure we are taking the correct steps to become more sustainable in our operating practices. Even the smallest steps add up when the majority opt in.

“It is again very simple, supply and demand. If event planners ask to see an establishment’s environmental policy, credentials, waste documentation etc, this will become the norm. All common practices and standards have to start somewhere, and the baseline requires an establishment to at least recycle and not use single-use plastic water bottles, cutlery, straws, stirrers and cups.

“The work we are doing with the Meeting Industry Association over the next few years will transform the sector’s current way of thinking and will offer useful solutions and best practice case studies to ingrain sustainability across the business meetings and events industry.”