The Sustainability of the Cop15 Copenhagen Meeting

Events have long been targeted by environmentalists as wasteful, due to the relatively large amount of waste generated, energy consumed during the event and most significantly the carbon emitted by participants and visitors in getting to and from the venue. Large global conferences, particularly those with environmental themes, have recently been eyed by NGOs as being environmentally hypocritical.

In general, the hospitality sector (hotels, tourism, restaurants, events) is susceptible to environmental pressure. Conversely, it is also in a position to take advantage of any emerging green consumer trends. While eco-tourism has carved out a small niche for conservation-minded tourists, the wider industry has begun to adopt environmental issues, led by the hotels sector, which in the 1990s began to create and adopt environmental standards. Currently a hot topic within the sector is the idea of a “carbon neutral” experience for the customer. Event organizers and venue owners are increasingly under pressure to offer carbon neutral services, primarily to business customers who are under pressure to demonstrate their low carbon emission practices.

In 2009, British Standards Institute launched the world’s first standard specifically related to sustainability in the events sector, BS 8901. Many BS standards have formed the basis for international (mainly ISO) standards and this may be likely if the update in the UK and elsewhere warrants it. Published in September 2009, BS 8901:2009 “Specification for a sustainability management system for events” now replaces an older standard BS 8901:2001. The new version of the standard is designed to be easier to implement and provides a simpler root to the certification.

The standard provides a detailed guidance for planning and implementation of events, as well as a framework for post-event activities. For the event organizers, it offers a set of best practices for planning and conducting events. “Requirements for a sustainability management system for events” is the main part of the standard. It gives recommendations of how to improve performance with limited resources, stay environmental-friendly, produce less waste, involve a broader range of society, and generate long-term economic impact. It describes the requirements to venues and provides “Principles to be applied to supply chain management” for the suppliers operating in the event industry.

The COP15 Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen has become the highest profile environmental meeting to gain certification to BS 8901. In the words of BSI Director Mike Lowe: “It’s fantastic to see BS 8901 being implemented across high-profile events such as COP15. A large part of the standard is about addressing the environmental impact of an event so in this respect, it is highly appropriate that a conference on climate change is compliant. BSI continues to develop a wide programme of standards-based solutions, assisting organizations of all size and type to implement the strategy and processes necessary to help address climate change.”

The UN organizers of COP15 realized the huge scale of the conference would come under question, particularly the estimated 30,000 attendees and their back up from more than one hundred countries around the world. While the organizers understandably prioritized security of the top-level delegates, and logistics, environmentally friendly organization to the highest degree possible under the given conditions”, was stated as the fourth highest priority.

The key issue of how to offset the carbon emissions arising from the travel of the thousands of delegates (an estimated 40,500 tones of CO2 equivalent) was resolved via a project in Bangladesh. This had some resonance with the conference theme of climate change – Bangladesh is one of the nations with the most to lose from the effects of global warming. The project involved replacing brick kilns with energy efficient ones. Project organizers claim it will save 100,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per year. The project is an agreement between the Danish Government, the World Bank and the Government of Bangladesh. The organizers also claim it will result in a noticeable reduction in air pollution in the Dhaka area. A budget of 0.7 million Euro was allocated to the carbon offset associated with the COP15 conference. The Danish government also has a portfolio of around 60 other climate reduction projects around the world.

A much larger and complex event which is aiming for BS 8901 certification is the London Olympic Games in 2012. Preceding Games have all claimed to be “green Olympics”. The 2012 is the first to take advantage of a formalized certification to a standard backing up this claim. In February 2009, the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) published its sustainability guidelines for all opening and closing ceremonies and the games themselves. The guidelines are intended for the internal organizing groups and contractors responsible for delivering the London Olympics in 2012. The guidelines cover waste management, resource and energy use. They do not specifically mandate for the games to be carbon neutral, however.