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| 4 minutes read

Integrating Sustainability: Environmental Initiatives in Social Events

What is your favourite type of social event? 

Whether formal or informal, you have probably participated in social events that involved gathering many people for a shared purpose. These events likely included many essential services and amenities—things ‍like food, basic materials (notebooks, brochures, pens), lights, screens, refrigeration, heating, cleaning services, merchandise, and transportation ‍to make the event successful.

  • Whether social, cultural, or professional, social events are essential to human development. They often celebrate shared customs and cultures and unite people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, creating unique benefits like establishing and strengthening human bonds; promoting solidarity, empathy, and tolerance; reaffirming recognition of and love for other human beings and preserving and promoting culture and tourism, to name a few.

With all the benefits of social gathering, it is easy to overlook the costs. Even more private gatherings like birthdays, weddings, and festivals require diverse forms of consumption with potentially far-reaching impacts. When we consider even more daily gatherings like professional meetings and workshops—‍not to mention less-frequent, but more resource-intensive meetings like professional conferences, skill-training sessions, and work presentations—‍the environmental impacts quickly add up.

The impacts of social events

In recent decades, our awareness of everyday environmental impacts, and of our historical neglect of these impacts, has grown dramatically. Prioritising environmental care today goes beyond the products we purchase and consume and extends to our daily actions and behaviours, including our approach to gathering and socialising. Fifty years ago, who would have imagined that a simple music concert, with noble goals like cultural development, fun, and leisure, could be seen as a source of environmental degradation?

Numerous studies have identified negative impacts on land, water, plants, animals, and beyond generated by large social events. Impacts demonstrated by the research include:

  • Damage to local flora and fauna leading to biodiversity loss at event locations; and 
  • Contamination of soil and water due to inadequate waste management—‍plastics, paper, human waste, aluminium, and cardboard generated from events can migrate beyond the event site. 

The “Show Must Go On” report, presented by Powerful Thinking (2015), revealed striking insights based on a study of 279 summer music festivals in the United Kingdom (UK). According to the study, from the years 2010 to 2015 UK music festivals contributed:

  • 20,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents annually, in terms of on-site emissions alone;
  • 1,000,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents annually, when accounting for audience travel; and
  • 23,500 tonnes of annually total waste. 

In a similar vein, the international music group, Coldplay, recently published a sustainability report on their last tour, “Music of the Spheres.” The report highlighted some innovative ideas the group implemented to reduce environmental impacts of their shows, including on-site solar installations, kinematic dance floors, and energy-generating bicycles. The band has been, moreover, tracking their emissions since their previous tour. Accounting for emissions is a key first step when starting a journey towards event sustainability. Tracking the data allows comparison to later events and provides a better understanding of whether initiatives improve upon, maintain, or worsen existing impact levels. 

So, how can we mitigate these impacts?

Today, multiple new tools are available for analysing and evaluating options for greater sustainability in large event gatherings.

One of these tools is called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This is a scientific method that evaluates the environmental impact of a product, process, or activity throughout all stages of its life cycle, from the extraction of their raw materials to their disposal or final use in the case of products, and to their development in the case of activities. LCA makes it possible to identify options to reduce environmental impact and grow sustainability, as well as compare different alternatives to support informed environmental decision making. 

An LCA goes hand-in-hand with an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). The EPD concept is based on the ISO 14025 standard, developed by the International Organization for Standardization. An EPD is a verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information on the environmental impact of a product’s life cycle. This type of certification is performed according to a protocol, defined by program operators, called the Product Category Rule (PCR). The International EPD System, a global program for environmental declarations, ‍is, in fact, currently developing a specific PCR for events called “Events and tourism services,” which is expected to be published in August 2024. This will allow the issuance of EPDs for this service category.

Another useful tool when tackling event sustainability is the ISO 20121 standard. This international standard provides sustainability criteria for organisations that manage any type of event or activity, determining the necessary conditions for all stages of the event process: design, organisation, planning, execution, development, review, and any post-event activities. However, it is important to note that ISO 20121 certifies the management system of event-organising companies, and not the event itself; it seeks to encourage certified companies to incorporate sustainability measures into their event planning and development.

Some of the benefits of implementing ISO 20121 include:

  • Improving your carbon footprint.
  • Saving costs through reduced and greater-efficiency resource consumption (water, energy, etc.).
  • Providing greater control over suppliers and contractors.
  • Demonstrating corporate social responsibility and commitment to the environment and society. 
  • Providing a risk prevention plan for possible environmental problems.
  • Cultivating ongoing improvements within the company.

How can Intertek help you?

The technical consultants on Intertek's sustainability team are experts at working with ISO standards and their implementation, review, certification, and verification. With our extensive knowledge in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), we work closely with the products and services of globally recognised brands on their journey to a sustainable production model. 

Measuring the impacts of social events is an ever-growing trend worldwide; at Intertek, we understand the importance of social events comes with the equal importance of environmental responsibility. We can help you identify these impacts and develop a plan to reduce them.

We look forward to meeting with you to find the best sustainable event solution.


About the Author: 
Emilce Romarión Benitez
Sustainability Consultant
Intertek Assuris

Emilce Romarion Benitez, with a background in renewable natural resources engineering, specializes in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), carbon footprint assessment, and Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). She has worked across diverse industries including wineries, banking, food, cosmetics, bioplastics, and electronics. As an external reviewer for LCA and Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) projects, Emilce offers technical analysis using SimaPro software. She supports sustainability initiatives through LCA projects, EPD development, greenhouse gas inventory management, and CBAM compliance, showcasing her commitment to advancing sustainability practices.


environmental, sustainability, 2024, intertek assuris, english