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Event Promotion Purpose Production

Will Covid-19 force sustainability to take a back seat within marketing and live experience?

Marble LDN


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January 7, 2021 | 6 min read

As we look to 2021 as a brighter year for our sector, we’re looking at the lasting impact Covid could have within the live experience industry

Marble's Production Manager, Zoe Davies, explores the role of sustainability within marketing and live experience in the post-Covid era, and outlines three small steps you can take to make your next event more sustainable.

Pre-Covid, sustainability was a core focus for the marketing events industries, with brands making a clear effort to address the impact humans are leaving on the world. Campaigns such as Coca-Cola’s ‘Round In Circles’ and Iceland’s highly publicised Christmas TV advert (which controversially highlighted the negative impacts of palm oil) increased discussion around brand environmental responsibility.

Heightened by highly publicised topics such as Extinction Rebellion protests and the rising popularity of Greta Thunberg, sustainability and climate change was at the forefront of topical issues that brands had a responsibility to address. The rising trend of sustainability has been very apparent in my time working within events, one example being working on Marble’s Absolut Trash project – the first ever sustainable runway at London Fashion Show, and shortlisted for ‘Best Sustainable Initiative’ by the C&IT Awards 2020.

However, that was before the industry had come face to face with a pandemic, and now it seems that brands have found a new focus to steer their campaigns towards. IKEA’s ‘Conquer The Great Indoors’ and Tesco’s recent ‘No Naughty List’ Christmas adverts are examples of brands now, unsurprisingly, focusing on the pandemic rather than sustainability. Both IKEA and Tesco have focused their campaigns around sustainability in the past. That being said, there are still some brands who have continued keeping sustainability at a forefront of their brand identity. Brewdog for example, have kept sustainability as a core focus within their advertising and even declared themselves as the first carbon negative beer business; by purchasing 2,000 acres of Scottish Highland with the intent to plant 1 million trees. They’ve also committed to using wind power to plant their breweries and bars, making them a great example of a brand continuing to pursue their sustainability commitments, despite battling the effects of the pandemic.

This year the world has also seen first hand the impact our output is having on the environment, as the pandemic forced most of us to stay indoors, revealing the benefits of a ‘slowed down’ lifestyle – induced by lockdown. In India, citizens “are seeing the view of the Himalayan mountain range for the first time in their lives, due to the drop in air pollution caused by the country’s coronavirus lockdown” (The Evening Standard) and in Venice, the lack of tourism and motorised transport has resulted in the canal revealing never seen-before wildlife to the locals. These widely publicised revelations have hopefully displayed the true feasibility and the amazing benefits of more sustainable cultures. I wanted to think about whether sustainability will continue to be a core value within the live experience industry or whether it will be forced to take a backseat.

Budget cuts and frozen client spend dominated the majority of 2020, and so as we approach the New Year with rose tinted glasses, safe in the knowledge a vaccine is on the way, we’re looking to brands and agencies to keep sustainability top of the agenda. One way for agencies to become more competitive would be the obvious way – make your services more cost effective, however sustainable production can require more investment. Sustainable materials can be more expensive, local suppliers to the event location are not always the preferred nor the cheapest choice and sustainability consultancy may be seen as a non-vital service. Consequently, is sustainability no longer seen as a ‘must-have’ when it comes to working in a live experience communications agency?

Although this seems to be an obvious conclusion, I don’t necessarily believe it is correct. Despite Covid being absolutely catastrophic to the events industry, I believe some positives have come from such an unfortunate year. Less work means more time to reflect, more time to establish as an agency who you want to be, how you want to be represented and what you want to stand for. Less live work means more strategy, more business development and more reflecting on what can be improved. You could say that 2020 has forced agencies to be stripped back, with the core values being laid bare. For many and hopefully most, these core values will continue to incorporate environmental responsibility.

In addition to this, being sustainable doesn’t have to blow your budget nor a last resort consideration. Here are a few examples of how to make your event more sustainable at little cost…

Communicate with your suppliers

Express your sustainability requirements to suppliers and try to find those who share these values. Hire where possible, but if not, use materials that can be reused and recycled post-event. If using bespoke items, consider sustainable materials at the initial design stage and communicate this to your fabricator.

Make it easy for your guests

Make it easy for your guests to be more sustainable at your event. Don’t provide single use plastics – maybe provide refillable and reusable water bottles and supply ‘take-home’ polycarb glasses at the bar. To save on production costs, make these sponsorship opportunities. Make recycling bins clearly visible and accessible.

Partner with sustainable brands

If your event involves sponsors, consider brands who practice and promote sustainability. Partnering with a sustainable brand can help the event be greener as a whole by sharing commitments, values and event sustainability techniques. Companies such as Furthr allow you to fund clean energy and offset carbon emissions via a subscription service, and would make a great starting point for brands looking encourage sustainable actions from their attendees.

As there may be a slight ‘restart’ in the industry, it may be the perfect time to rebuild the industry, with sustainability at its core. As Fiona Stewart, organiser of Green Man Festival, put it “This period really makes you realise how precious the environment is and we really need to do more to protect it”. At Marble, we will continue to look at how we can make each event more sustainable, acknowledging the responsibility that we have to stick to the commitments that we made pre-pandemic. Hopefully there will be government support to encourage and enforce this, allowing sustainability to take a front seat, without it being financially damaging for the industry that is suffering the most.

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