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Together for sustainable events

Göteborgsvarvet, Way out West, FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun and the Eurovision Song Contest; these are just some of the events that have chosen sustainability certification in accordance with ISO 20121.
“We support our customers in developing their organisations with a focus on sustainability. We see their organisation in context and provide the necessary tools to manage these issues in a systematic manner. The work we carry out together with our customers causes ripples,” says Sophia Engström, environmental management systems lead auditor at RISE.

Although environmental sustainability activities have long been a given in many companies and organisations, many event organisers are now working with them in a more concrete manner.

Sustainability in focus in all areas

The ISO 20121:2012 standard was developed internationally during planning for the 2012 London Olympics. Its purpose was to create a management system to ensure that events place an emphasis on sustainability in all areas, including financing, environment and social responsibility.

“We are able to support and assist organisations and event arrangers in managing and controlling risks and opportunities based on their specific stakeholders,” says Sophie Engström.

RISE has a wealth of experience in management system certification in all types of organisations and businesses and is the certification body with most Swedish accreditations. On its completion in conjunction with the London Olympic Games, RISE was one of the first bodies to begin working with the new ISO 20121:2012 standard. As early as 2013, RISE collaborated with the Eurovision Song Contest and the City of Malmö to make the event sustainable. Among other things, this resulted in free public transport for all delegates, sustainability training for all 550 volunteer workers, and organic, locally produced food being offered in all festival areas.

“The wording of international standards can sometimes be somewhat hard to digest, as they are often formulated for a wide range of applications. Our job is to break down requirements into individual operational levels and to coach our customers to remain within the framework while still achieving the desired commercial benefits.”

The Göteborgsvarvet half-marathon is one of the world’s largest running events, with approximately 80,000 runners competing in one of the various races that wind through Gothenburg. Since 2016, the event has been certified according to ISO 20121.

“We were quick to emphasise our work on environmental issues and were certified by the City of Gothenburg in 2013. This work led naturally to further certification, which in this case included the social and financial aspects of sustainability,” explains Elin Jansson, project manager for sustainability at Göteborgsvarvet.

Both runners and spectators have responded positively to this work. One noticeable result is that bottled still water is not sold in conjunction with the event; instead, drinking water taps are available in the event zone. All contestants in the 21 km race are entitled to travel free of charge on local public transport from Thursday to Saturday during the event. Göteborgsvarvet also emphasises sustainable food, for example offering vegetarian and organic alternatives in the event zone, while meals for functionaries are lacto-ovo vegetarian.

A relationship that creates trust

The work of certification has also been positive for the arrangers.

“Today, it is natural for us to think sustainability prior to every decision. This is an extremely positive collaboration, both because it is structured and because the reviews help us to discover new ways of looking at things,” says Elin Jansson.

There is a detailed plan behind the certification of the event, with the collaboration covering everything from planning dialogues to gap analyses to identify potential areas of improvement. Certification is also subject to an annual follow up.

“Our ambition is to create a coaching and pedagogical relationship with our customers,” says Sophie Engström.

“I have worked on the customer side myself and visits from the auditor where not always particularly constructive or improvement-oriented. We have worked to eliminate this to a large degree and are more of a supportive innovation partner. Our customers have a great many other things to deal with every day, so we do our best to ensure that they feel that our collaboration creates value for their organisation at all levels.”

Sustainability work does not solely affect the event itself. For example, demands on suppliers are clarified and everyone involved in the event – whether they be participants, functionaries or spectators – is affected; more or less, directly or indirectly, awareness of sustainable development, and the fact that it concerns us all, will increase in society as a whole.

These are ripples in the water, both from a narrow and broader social perspective,” concludes Sophie Engström.