A turn of events 

A turn of events 

Observing World Earth Day on 22 April 2023, the African Association of Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) has shed light on the importance of sustainability measures and policies for events across the African continent.

Events have a significant economic impact on local, regional, and national economies and are crucial contributors to economic growth and job creation across the globe. The global business events industry is expected to be worth more than R617 billion by the year 2026, ranking it as one of the leading economic enablers globally.

As the number of events climbs, event organisers can – and do – play a pivotal role in reducing their carbon footprint and driving sustainability across their events.

“Although considerable efforts are already being developed by the industry, such as the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative – a global programme that guides event organisers and suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of their events – the exhibitions industry in Africa is constantly evolving and should reflect and re-evaluate the current practices and policies in place, and consider how these can be improved,” says Devi Paulsen-Abbott, chairperson of AAXO.

The adoption of sustainable measures in the events industry has several benefits. Not only do they reduce the environmental impact of events, such as reducing carbon emissions, waste, and water usage, but sustainable events can help to promote a positive image for event organisers, demonstrating responsibility and commitment to environmental and social sustainability.

Education on the importance of sustainability across the full business tourism value chain is showcased by AAXO member, RX Africa, which recently hosted the World Travel Market (WTM) Africa in Cape Town. This is an event that puts sustainable and ethical tourism at the heart of its programming and forms part of WTM Responsible Tourism.

Carol Weaving, managing director at RX Africa, says: “Small changes in policies can make big changes to the environment. WTM Responsible Tourism is the largest programme of its kind in the world uniting travel companies, organisations and individuals interested in spreading sustainable practices and ethical methods within the travel industry.”

By adopting simple measures that reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of events, organisers can increase their contribution to sustainability while ensuring economic viability. These include:

Energy saving

There are several ways that events can implement energy-saving methods in their planning such as the utilisation of LED lights, which consume less energy than traditional lighting (significantly reducing energy consumption and saving costs); and using renewable energy sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, or other renewable energy sources to power activities (reducing energy consumption and helping to reduce carbon emissions).

By encouraging attendees to carpool, utilising public transport or providing shuttles, event organisers can reduce the number of cars on the road, which helps to conserve energy and reduce air pollution.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

Event organisers can reduce waste by minimising the number of single-use items. There is an opportunity to reuse materials by incorporating items that can be used multiple times, such as reusable banners, signage, and event equipment. By providing recycling bins and properly disposing of waste, organisers can work with waste management companies to ensure that materials are properly sorted and recycled.

Events can compost organic waste, such as food scraps and compostable serving ware, instead of sending it to landfill, which can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create nutrient-rich soil.

Water usage

With one in three Africans being impacted by water scarcity, measures have been put in place to mitigate the risks associated with various water crises across the continent. Ways in which event organisers can promote water saving at events include the use of low-flow fixtures that can significantly reduce water consumption; use of recycled water for non-potable uses such as irrigation, flushing toilets, and cleaning; and encouraging responsible water usage by reminding attendees to be mindful of their water usage and providing educational materials and signage.

According to AAXO member, Sonja van Rooyen, exhibition manager at the Montgomery Group Specialised Exhibitions, stand builders should also look into providing eco-friendly options to exhibitors: “Most venues are starting to reduce energy consumption and water consumption, but we still need more accurate reporting on their waste management systems. Recycling must be promoted at events.”

Social sustainability

Another important aspect of sustainability in the events industry is social sustainability. This refers to the impact of events on local communities, including their economic and social well-being. Events can have a positive impact on local communities by generating economic opportunities and providing a platform for local vendors. Event planners should also prioritise the welfare of their employees and suppliers, ensuring fair wages and ethical working conditions.

Tying in with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the Montgomery Group Specialised Exhibitions also directly contributes to goals such as no poverty, zero hunger, good health and quality education through various social sustainability initiatives, including the donation of shoes to underprivileged children in rural areas. The shoes are made from uncontaminated PVC drip bags, oxygen masks and associated tubing destined for landfills.

“The industry should consider how events can be used to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment. By raising awareness of environmental issues, the industry can play an integral role in helping to create a more sustainable future across the sector,” says Paulsen-Abbott.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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