Copenhagen, 30 January 2014

I’ve never been asked to be a judge before and then this week it happened twice.  The first one was easy to say yes to as it is many months away and involves a free posh dinner!  The second was more immediate as in: “now”!  I was attending the European Sustainable Events Conference in Copenhagen, which incidentally I found interesting and refreshingly different in style.

On the main full day (29 January 2014) there was only one presentation and that was a brilliant and inspirational story by Oliver Maxwell, the founder and director of Bybi.  This is a social enterprise that brings honey bees to the city, trains people on the edge of the work market as beekeepers, and brings the people of Copenhagen up close to urban nature.  It was perhaps not obviously relevant to event management but one of his sites is on a convention centre roof.

Otherwise the nice thing about the day was that there was no fixed agenda.  Delegates were first given a choice of about a dozen discussion topics that would be individually hosted by an expert on separate, numbered tables.  This was called ‘world café’ (without the waiter service) and was a neat way for people to talk about a couple of themes of most interest to them – there were two rotations of half an hour each.  Of course I didn’t get a choice and I was hosting one of the tables on the theme of sustainable sports events and legacy – no surprises there.

It was great talking with people from France, Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia and Finland and to see how much they appreciated the London 2012 sustainability story and were drawing inspiration from much of what we had done, but also hearing about their projects and initiatives across festivals, conferences and trade fairs.

Next up was ‘Open Space’ with literally no agenda, just a clever facilitator in Robin Alfred of the Findhorn Consultancy.  He persuaded people to come up and announce a topic they wanted to discuss and nominate a table where they would host a meeting.  That was a neat way of building on the earlier rounds of discussions and helped to focus in on areas the delegates most wanted to talk about.

Just before lunch Robin asked people to nominate an idea they would champion in an afternoon round table and present back to the whole room at the end of the session.  Lunch was nice but then came the sting: Robin informed me that I would be one of two judges to assess the 2 minute pitches from each of the projects.

It was fun but also quite challenging.  Two minutes is little time for presenters to convey their ideas; it is equally short for judges to marshal their thoughts and find constructive comments.  The one I liked most was based on the idea of a guided ‘sustainability walk’ through a trade fair in which those exhibitors who best responded to sustainability challenges set by the organisers would be on the route map of these walks.  In this way visitors (clients) would be brought to see the most sustainable stories, thereby incentivising exhibitors to up their sustainability game.  Yes it needs a lot of refinement but it took me longer to write this paragraph than it did the presenter to pitch it.

Overall it was interesting to see the energy and enthusiasm for sustainability across so many organisations and destinations in the European event industry, and several good ideas were germinating.

I was also pleased to see that there is much transferability from the scale of mega-events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to the level of smaller, individual events – another encouraging aspect of Games legacy.