Answering a brief for COP26, the biggest climate event ever

Can COP26 really be a carbon-neutral conference? We speak to their print partner and isla member RHM Event Graphics helping the summit achieve their ambition.

The biggest event ever on climate change is underway in Glasgow. COP26 has not only set out to find the answers to our climate change challenges, but it has committed to being a carbon-neutral event too. Embedding sustainability at its core the aim is to leave a positive legacy for the region and UK.

An event of this magnitude and importance will not go without scrutiny so it’s down to the partners, suppliers and delivery teams behind the scenes to pull out all the stops to make that ambition a reality.

Like with any project an RFP would have its requirements – from a Carbon Management Plan to various ‘sustainability’  standards to adhere to. For those businesses that were successful, some of which are isla members,  how did they take on the challenge of responding to the brief?

We spoke to Steve Flint, Projects Lead at RHM Event Graphics, one of our print working group members, who tendered for a full plan for all signage and large and small format print across the entire event.  

The brief

When we think of the brief, we automatically default to thinking about the agency response, but that proposal is reliant on the wider supply chain. One of the biggest challenges for suppliers is how late in the planning process they get brought into conversations, particularly around sustainability. 


“The brief required specific products and media we weren’t overly familiar with, we only had a week to respond, limiting research time to secure the best prices and establish relationships with new suppliers”.


Bringing suppliers and partners into kick-off calls with project delivery teams can bring in new ideas, innovations and solutions that may not have been otherwise considered by design and production teams. 

Making the right choices 


“The nature of the project, budget, functionality and no waste onsite was key. This meant full traceability of materials and the lifespan was required – to an extent that we’ve not had to think about before.” 

When approaching Zero-waste projects the way we design out waste is critical; refusing materials we don’t need, and then rethinking or redesigning with alternative materials and products that can be recovered or reused. This often means managing materials that are unfamiliar but doesn’t necessarily compromise on the quality or finish. “We were asked to use cardboard constructions which we wouldn’t ordinarily produce, so it was a matter of going back to basics.” 


When there is a clear objective identified for a project it makes it easier to make a decision for the environment over aesthetic. “We wanted to be part of the process, it was great to understand how they will achieve the carbon-neutral status on an event that size when signage can sometimes play a big part in undoing any progress made elsewhere in the event regarding carbon emissions.” Working collaboratively with clients and delivery partners is paramount to mitigating environmental impact across an entire project, leaning into the credentials and expertise of the supply chain to ensure everyone is held accountable. 

Leaving the right legacy 

Particularly when working on events like COP where sustainability is at the core of the project, the research and time invested in sourcing new suppliers, materials and implementing new processes is all knowledge that should be documented to refer back to on future projects.


“This was the first time we required full material recycling information to be disclosed to the client. Now we feel much more confident answering these questions in future.” 


When you know more, you do more! Using these learnings will evolve your approach to the next brief or response, staying one step ahead of the client such as proposing sustainable options as standard might even help you win business. 

Looking forward

When COP26 wraps they will be sharing their Carbon Management Report about the event which will give us more of an idea if they managed to turn their intentions for a “carbon neutral conference” into action. Reporting against KPI’s post-event is critical to identifying performance improvements to shape future events and operational processes. “Thanks to isla we now have a potential waste partner that we’re planning to work with moving forward…we know that managing the end of life of these materials is something we need to take responsibility for, so we’re looking at how we can offer this as part of our services” Events with ambitious climate targets, like COP26, will no longer be an anomaly but the norm as we transition to circular events with net-zero targets. The tangible work that isla members are doing as a result of their education, access to resources and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, will become quicker and easier to answer RFP’s and deliver sustainable events.


If you would like to learn more about how you can access isla’s wealth of resources and tools to help you to bring your event’s footprint closer to zero – become a member. 

Why not become part of the solution for sustainable graphics and signage? isla runs a Print Working Group (members only). If you’re an isla member email

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