30 November 2022
Reusable cups, bags for life and even your recycling wheelie-bin are now a part of everyday culture.
The same can be said for the role of Sustainability Managers who, up until recently, were not commonplace in the business world – let alone the events industry.
Thankfully that’s now starting to change as sustainability rises higher and higher up the wish list of event organisers, exhibitors, visitors and venues alike.
“When I graduated university, most companies didn’t have a dedicated resource when it came to sustainability,” recalls Natalie Sykes, ExCeL London’s dedicated Sustainability Manager. “Most of these roles lay within the construction industry which is where I began my career.”
Born in Egypt and raised in the picturesque countryside of Wales, Natalie was once told by her schoolteacher that she possessed, “extremely strong opinions on environmental issues”, and it wasn’t long before she picked up her first award for sustainability aged just 13. Clearly, she was always destined for a green future and so after gaining an MSc in Environmental Management, she moved into the construction industry, working for brands such as Berkeley Homes – one of the UK’s leading sustainable homebuilders.
Now a Practitioner Member of IEMA and a qualified BREEAM Site Sustainability Manager, Natalie moved to ExCeL in early 2022 where she’s one of just a handful of UK event venues with a dedicated resource in this area.
And whilst sustainability continues to climb up the events agenda, Natalie points to the recent pandemic as a catalyst for change. “Undoubtedly, the challenges of the pandemic opened up people’s eyes to new ways of working, leading to a green recovery,” she says. “That’s what sustainability ultimately comes down to, changing perceptions and a cultural shift.”
Compared to the construction industry, the events sector has some catching up to do. “The difference is that within construction, sustainable design and environmental management play a key role within legislation and sustainability has been on the agenda for much longer. That’s not the case with events. There is, of course, a real eagerness and appetite to improve, but we’re still catching up with applying and influencing sustainability frameworks across the sector.
“If we’re to accelerate real implementation, there needs to be a collaborative approach across venues, organisers, exhibitors, suppliers and also visitors, who have a much bigger part to play than they might think. How someone travels to an event and what they eat when they get there are huge carbon footprint contributors.”
And what of the future? “The key is for the industry to change from a make, break, dispose operation and move to circularity,” continues Natalie. “What that means is keeping materials valuable and in use for longer, eliminating waste and procuring sustainably in the first instance. To get there, our industry must start thinking differently about how it operates and plan for sustainability from the outset.”
To find out more about ExCeL's sustainability plans click here