Last week the British Standard (BS8901) for sustainable event management was introduced as a series of protocols designed to address the specific sustainability issues presented by the events industry.

With the objective of making event organisers aware of the environmental, social and economic issues that their events propose, the British Standard was designed to give some clear guidance into how to run events with minimal negative consequences.

The British Standard was developed by the British Standard Institute in 2007 for sustainable event management in the UK. However, soon after the launch it was noticed that the British Standard was being used internationally. It was felt that an international standard should be developed with the British Standard as its starting point.

The idea behind the International Standard (ISO20121) was born, and it was targeted to launch with the 2012 London Olympics. The idea behind it is simple: One standard for sustainable event management for all; made by the events industry, for the events industry.

This post aims to answer two questions: (1) Is there much of a change for event managers switching between the British Standard and the International Standard? And (2) Put in simple terms, how do you implement the International Standard?

International Standard: New Game Plan or Business as Usual?

The first thing we’ll say is that the British Standard and the International Standard are most certainly not the same document. However, the British Standard was the template for the International Standard, and naturally there are going to be some key similarities.

One of the benefits of the International Standard is it draws upon the expertise of event managers in countries all over the world – so if ever there was a true convergence of expertise on sustainable event management, this is the one.

Because the concepts are ultimately intrinsic to the British Standard, this is most certainly not a new game plan. Although minor changes by those following the British Standard will be required, the impact of the changes won’t be ground-breaking.

The British Standard provides us with the Plan-Do-Check-Act principle. This framework is a succinct ordering of sustainable event management: put into practice sustainability processes which involves key stakeholders, implements the processes, and then continuously audit the processes.

The International Standard is very similar, except that it draws in more involvement with key stakeholders to determine exactly what your sustainability issues are. Those who wish to follow the International Standard should broadly follow these steps:

1. IDENTIFY: Identify across your event management activities what negative environmental, social, and economic your event will have. Which ones of these do you have control over? Are there any you don’t have control over? Are there economical ways to limit the impact of both?

2. PLAN: What exactly do you need to put in place to limit the impact of negative consequences? Who exactly do you need to be involved?

3. ALLOCATE: You should allocate resources to get to grips with sustainability – this includes time and money. Educate yourself and your staff. Who needs to know about what sustainability means? What does it mean to have corporate social responsibility in events management?

4. ENGAGE: It is important to listen to the input of all your stakeholders. How has sustainable event management impacted their job? Are suppliers, top management, and the local community happy with your practices? Do they have any concerns or issues that you may have missed?

5. MONITOR: Is what you are doing effective? Have new issues arisen? Is there anything you can improve?

Anyone following the current British Standard will not have much difficulty switching over to the International Standard because ultimately the principles are very similar, if slightly tweaked.

Naturally, this is not a guide that’s going to get you certified with its light detail, but ultimately the introduction of the International Standard and the phasing out of the British Standard can only really be described as business as usual. Event managers and planners should simply consider the International Standard a new revision of the British Standard and act accordingly.

Event managers can be certified in much the same way as they can under the British Standard. This will become more important because of the world-wide scope of the International Standard as suppliers all over the world demand to work for organizations working to the same standard. With evidence already in place that some big players in the organization of the London 2012 Olympics have implemented the standard, when are you going to take the plunge?

I’d do it sooner rather than later (It’s a big document!)

Key Points to Take Away

1. The British Standard was developed by the British Standards Institute to address the environmental, social, and economic impact of events management. It established the Plan-Do-Check-Act principle which provided a framework for running sustainable events

2. The International Standard was developed in response to international use of the British Standard. It was developed though collaboration between events stakeholders in 30 countries and can really be described as a sustainable events management code for the events industry, by the events industry.

3. The International Standard requires greater stakeholder involvement. It requires you to identify your issues, plan to implement strategies to minimize them, allocate time and money in training and education, engage with all key stakeholders during the implementation, and to monitor and continuously audit your practices.

4. Ultimately, it’s not groundbreaking stuff – the principles are adapted from the British Standard and are seen broadly in the International Standard. The document is a complicated read, but anyone in the events industry looking to adopt the International Standard should treat it as a new revision of the British Standard.

5. Act sooner rather than later. Big players have already started to adopt the new standard.


Craig Ineson is a law graduate of the University of Liverpool, current student of international business law at master’s level, a passionate restaurant reviewer, and experienced content writer.

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