For our latest HeadBox Connect podcast, we did a live breakfast panel on planning sustainable events at the Zoological Society of London, ZSL.

Our Head of Marketing, Ann-Marie Rossiter was joined by three sustainability experts who spoke about how their organisations strive to be environmentally friendly and their top tips for organising green events.
Michael Barsties is the Head of the Food Waste Heroes Programme at OLIO, having been with OLIO since the beginning he created the Food Waste Programme where volunteers collect surplus food from local businesses and share it with fellow OLIOers in their local communities so no good food goes to waste.
Next up with have Lynne Waite, Head of Sustainability Policy at Smart Group. Lynne was awarded Sustainability Champion for the London 2012 Olympics as part of the London Organising Committee’s Catering, Cleaning and Waste division, thanks to her role in securing fully compostable and biodegradable catering disposables for the Games.
Finally, we were also joined by Jordanna Virdee, Event Manager and Team Green Committee Member, Barclays International Events. Jordanna began her events career at Barclays UK in 2012 and she helped create a committee called “Team Green”, whose goal is to embed a sustainable approach to the way events, roadshows and hospitality operate as a business.
Here’s the transcript from the breakfast panel event, or alternatively you can listen to the podcast recording using the link above.

Ann-Marie: What do you think are the key sustainability topics at the moment in the event’s industry or what do you think they should be?

Michael: So from my perspective I obviously have a very strong focus on food waste but it’s something that we feel customers get more and more concerned about, especially those that shop with high-end businesses or work with companies that book high-end events.
One of the big questions that everybody asks is what is happening with the surplus food? If a business orders food for 400 people attending their corporate event but in the end, only 50 turn up, what you do? So that is one thing that we get asked a lot. The other thing is about non-food waste and disposable waste from cups and plates and cutlery.
green bin on grass which is covered in plastic water bottles
Jordanna: I think one of the main things that we’re really concerned about is waste as well.  There’s so much waste across all different aspects to events and putting on a show. There’s obviously food but one thing we are really concerned with at the moment is how we build our production and sets, where it goes afterwards and how you can reuse certain materials your build may have.
Obviously, you want to make it look as sleek and professional as possible but to be able to do that you often have to start from scratch. So we have started to pinpoint where we can make small changes whether that’s changing to a straight square set instead of a rounded set (which requires edges of the set to be cut away) to reduce waste or using LED lights instead of stronger lighting.

People facing a stage with multi colour light

Ann-Marie: What are you guys and your business doing to improve?

Lynne: So for us, one of the biggest challenges for us is food waste. Small changes, little footprints really can make a massive difference to us.

We work with our suppliers on how they manage their waste and work out how we can work together. An example of this is our fruit and veg suppliers deliver their food in small plastic crates and once they’re empty they generally end up in the bin or in a landfill. So now our supplier is actually paying their driver to wait for the crates to be emptied and collected to be reused, so they are constantly being recycled. 

A purple image that says : 'one of our suppliers is now paying their driver to wait whilst the plastic crates the vegetables are delivered in are returned so they can be used again."
We’ve also been educating our chefs in the way that we manage our own food waste internally. We’ve implemented a clear gastro in an area where food waste is tipped into before it goes in the bin, so that we can then associate a cost to the waste.  We then share this during our daily staff meeting in the morning to highlight the cost of the food waste from the day before, not only to our business but to the industry and the environment.

Ann-Marie: What do you think the barriers are that stop people from being as sustainable as they could be?

Lynne: From from my company’s perspective it’s budget.
For example, clients will often want their branding on things at the event such as a single-use plastic cup. That’s great, but what if I’ve ordered 5,000 for that event and we’ve only used 1,000? I’m now sitting on stock that is waste because it can’t be used somewhere else. I would encourage my team to ask my clients to think about this and its effect before they choose to go ahead with this. 

Ann-Marie: What do you think are the biggest myths that you’ve heard when it comes to sustainability?

Michael: Who in the audience thinks that paper bags are always better than plastic ones?

That’s actually not true. Research says that you need to reuse a paper bag at least 10 times before the impact on the environment is less harmful than a single-use plastic bag. 

A purple image with a quote over the top that says: research says that you need to reuse a paper bag at least 10 times before the impact on the environment is less harmful than a single use plastic.
Lynne: Many people incorrectly believe that sustainability is expensive. In the last seven months, we’ve made positive, sustainable changes to our business and we’ve actually shown an uplift in our bottom line.
Jordanna:  A myth is that doing small things still count, four or five years ago maybe that was the case but we need to step it up a notch now and think bigger. We’ve left it too long to think that having glass water bottles and going paperless is the right way to be sustainable, but it’s not enough anymore. 

Ann-Marie: Each of you has talked about how technology has helped your sustainability goals, but when it comes to food waste what do you think is the most powerful thing about your app for businesses, Michael?

Michael: I know that as event planners, you are super busy when running events so you don’t want to have to deal with yet another thing.
I think the real beauty of OLIO is that the service we are offering to businesses is a face to face interaction with the staff who handle the food at the event, who then just need to give it to a person at OLIO. I think that is a real advantage because, in a world where there are so many apps, technology and forms it can be overwhelming to know what to do with food waste. So for businesses, we’ve combined technology with a face to face interaction which is really valued. 

One of the things that I hear again and again is accountability and taking ownership. It’s this little act of giving away spare food that we can all do together that will have a huge impact on the environment and OLIO makes this a lot easier to do. 
Want to find out more? Find HeadBox Connect on iTunes and Spotify to listen to this episode in full and explore the other episodes in the series.

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