Defining sustainable events

What is sustainability?

“Sustainability is the goal of sustainable development. Sustainability suggests an equilibrium or condition of stability in which consumption and renewal of resources are in balance that maintains conditions for human survival that can continue for ever.” (Carlsen et al., 2015).

The essence of the term sustainable is “That which can be maintained over time.” (Heinberg and Lerch, 2010). This suggests that unsustainable societies, organisations or events cannot be maintained for long before ceasing to function at some point. Academia’s believe the term first received wide spread recognition after the 1987 Brundtland report where the term sustainable development was defined as, “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Bruntdland, 1987). Even though many people over the past decade have been discussing ways to change human lives and behaviour to reduce their environmental impact, the idea had been ignored by modern industrial societies (Hansmann, Mieg and Frischknecht, 2012).

Kuhlman and Farrington (2010) highlighted the two main concerns of sustainability, development and the environment. They suggested that the terms can be interpreted as needs versus resources or as the short versus the long term. “The ‘green’ economies and lifestyles of the twenty-first century may be conceptualised by environmental thinkers, However, they can only be actualised by industrial corporations.” (Desimone and Popoff, 2000). Most corporations are trying to be more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, those that are not trying to are not expected to survive long-term.

Sustainable Events

Events are categorised by their size, scope and scale. Additionally, events can also be categorised according to their sector such as, exhibitions, art and entertainment, sports events and charitable events (Getz, 2005). Organising and managing an event consists of many factors and can affect various stakeholders. The decisions to organise and host an event is frequently dependant on the economic and social benefits it can bring a destination. Although festivals and special events are considered catalysts to boost destination tourism, there are several negative outcomes linked. For example, due to the large number of people an event can attract to a limited geographical space, the congestion can lead to the possibility of environmental degradation of a host community (Kim and Kim, 2018).

Natural capital should not be diminished by human activity (Folmer and Tietenberg, 2005).

The long-term survival and success of events not only depends on maximising economic benefits, but also on protecting the natural environment (Johnson et al., 1994). There are many cases that can highlight the difference between sustainable and unsustainable events that can aid in giving a better understanding of what the term ‘sustainable events’ really means, an example of an unsustainable event, is the Diwali festival in India. During the festival, people burn crackers, sparkles and light fireworks to express joy. However, Kulshrestha et al. (2004) investigated the emissions accumulated from the metals in the atmosphere. The researchers found that this activity resulted in metal pollution of the air and that the metal concentrations were high. They also found that the concentration of metal pollutants increased by 18 times compared to any other regular day and that the Diwali festival was contributing significantly to high amounts of metals in the air (Kulshrestha et al., 2004). The South African FIFA World Cup in 2010, is an example of a host nation managing strong sustainable practice. South Africa used a carbon offsetting system which used sewage gas to generate electricity for the implementation of solar arrays and for upgrading its transport network with Gautrain rail to diminish the traffic congestion and carbon dioxide emission (Egan, 2014; Bason, Cook and Anagnostopoulos, 2015; Molloy and Chetty, 2015).

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR is a method of engagement with social and environmental issues (Henderson, 2008). Organisations have a large influence on the economy and life in general (Schaltegger et al., 2012). Sustainable development is not possible without the sustainable development of corporations, meaning that, corporate management is an important factor and influencer for shaping future developments and trends within the events industry. Tai and Chuang (2014) believe that organisations should not solely be profitable tools and that corporate practices must have a world structure that exceeds imposed standards. Kearny (2009) examined sustainability focused organisations across several industries including the events and tourism industry, the findings show that all the examined organisations implementing sustainable practices that were directed towards protecting an preserving the environment, survived the economic downturn, outperformed their industry peers financially and did not incur high expenditure costs due to the use of alternative sustainable resources (Kearney, 2009).

The Triple Bottom Line

Profit: Is the impact business practices have on the economic system (Elkington, 2002). The economic line relates to the capabilities of an economies subsystem of sustainability to enable its survival and evolution long-term while supporting future generations (Spangenberg, 2005).

People: Refers to the conducting of fair business practices to the labour, human capital and the community (Elkington, 1997). Practices should provide value to the society, disregarding social responsibilities can affect a businesses performance and sustainability (Alhadidi, 2015).

Planet: Relates to the efficient use of energy resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimalizing the ecological footprint (Fauzi et al., 2010). Engaging in practices that do not negatively affect environmental resources are important because events by their nature create waste (Dickson and Arcodia, 2010). Raj and Musgrave (2014) listed some of the negative environmental impacts of events such as, location damage, waste and pollution, noise pollution, traffic disruption, congestion and increase in energy demands and other natural resources.


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Bason, T., Cook, D. and Anagnostopoulod, C. (2015) ‘Legacy in Major Sport Events: Empirical Insights from the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa’. CHOREGIA: Sports management International Journal, 11(1), 44-61.

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Kulshrestha, U., Nageswara Rao, T., Azhaguvel, S. and Kulshrestha, M. (2004) “Emissions And Accumulation Of Metals In The Atmosphere Due To Crackers And Sparkles During Diwali Festival In India”. Atmospheric Environment 38 (27), 4421-4425

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Raj, R. and Musgrave, J. (2014) Event Management And Sustainability. Wallingford: CABI

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2 thoughts on “Defining sustainable events

  1. Based on the information given it is clear that events no matter the type should adopt sustainable practices. However, budgeting is always a major issue and operating an event using un-sustainable methods is more cost effective (especially of it is a one-time event). In what way could costumers be convinced to adopt these new practices as most people would rather profit without environmental regard?

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read the article Rand, there are many ways to profit from an event and remain environmentally friendly, one example is, the use of sustainable materials and products, some of these are actually cheaper. It is true that many events are a one time ‘thing’, however, there are several events that take place everyday in many regions of the world. If everyone does not regard the environment then this will lead to many negative impacts on our lives and for future generations to follow. It is important to profit from your event and deliver a positive experience to your attendees, however, controls need to be in place to prevent your attendees from getting ahead of themselves and treating their surroundings how they see fit. Many environmental issues arise from things like, discarding waste on the ground instead of allocated rubbish bins, urinating in random places instead of using toilet facilities. Although, attendees can be the cause of these impacts, event organisers are also accountable, by not placing control systems, attendees won’t be discouraged from behaving in such ways. However, this is not the main concern, these issues have many solutions, not all event planners care though, due to their profit driven mind sets. The main issues are pollution and permenant damage to the environment where if we continue to mistreat our planet and emit pollutants from events, then eventually we won’t have the capability to run any more. It is important to think of the outcomes of certain actions. for example, the Diwali festival in India, during the festival people lighted fireworks and crackers to express joy, a researcher found that the metals emitted polluted the air, the same air they breath. Is it safe to inhale metals? What will happen to the air quality if this continues to be a normal thing? This is just one example of many I can share with you. The larger the scale of an event, the larger the impacts it has. People are the issue, and we have the freedom to choose whether we want to care for our planet or not. If we choose to change the way we approach this matter then maybe we will have the capability to run more events in the future but if not, then this can spoil everything for future generations to follow. Everyone wants to have an enjoyable experience in the end, at who’s expense though should it be?

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