by Fiona Pelham | August 31, 2015

For the last 10 years, Positive Impact has been working to shape and share the story of what a sustainable event industry looks like and how it can create positive change for society and the environment. One of the ways we are doing this is to raise the profile and implementation of standardized approaches to sustainability reporting of events.

We at Positive Impact know the power of good communications. Our #shareapositiveimpact Twitter campaign allows event professionals around the world to easily share good sustainability practice. We host an annual Sustainable Event Summit that brings people together to collaborate. We provide practical resources to help the event sector to operate more sustainably.

In short, we aim to be good at inspirational storytelling, but we believe a key piece is missing, particularly in the event sector: effective sustainability reporting. And we know our sector's issues with sustainability reporting are not unique.

In 2011, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) launched an event-organizer sector supplement to support the event industry in reporting on social, economic and environmental impacts. Supported by UEFA, the International Olympic Committee and with input from across the global event industry, its aim was to provide an easy and consistent way to capture and communicate the business value of sustainability in events. But it has only been used by a handful of high-profile events, including the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. If used across the industry, it would provide clear, consistent data on the value of sustainability within the event industry. But there are key things missing, and we know these things are not unique to the event sector.

So let’s look at trends on sustainability reporting within the event industry and what you can tackle to really shift things.

1. Be consistent in gathering data.
While more players in the event sector are gathering sustainability data, there still is no consistent way to do so. This is necessary to build benchmarks, boost collaboration and best practice, and enable comparison of achievement or lack of achievement in sustainability across a sector — or, better yet, to compare different sectors. Using the GRI approach is a great start.

2. Demonstrate return on investment.
Being able to show a return on investment in sustainability will continue to be essential. Providing a sustainability report based on clear, consistent data is an obvious and visible way to demonstrate the impact of financial investment.

3. Understand and be able to tell the story of what sustainability means.
Sustainability reports may be a bit dry and boring, but in many ways they are expected and, in some industries, required. I would expect the sustainability report of tomorrow to be more interactive; imagine an event that was an "interactive sustainability report."

4. Culture is key.
If events with sustainability reports aren’t actually sustainable events, if top management or clients are not clear on the meaning of sustainability, then sustainability reporting is just lip service. And risks are high in a more transparent world, where inconsistency can be "outed" with a Tweet.

Whether you are in a position to revamp your approach to your sustainability reporting or must put your effort into quiet leadership to engage others in the journey first, we in events are exactly the people who can lead this change. Sustainability reports are just a tool, but one that we can can use better by making approaches standard, by working to ensure our organization’s cultures and practice reflect strong values, and by linking sustainability and business value.

Fiona Pelham launched not-for-profit Positive Impact in 2005 to provide inspiration and tools to make the global event industry more socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. Fiona also is managing director of Sustainable Events Ltd; voluntary chair of ISO 20121, a management system for event sustainability inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and chair-elect of Meeting Professionals International.