isla Member Update: what did we learn?

The Member Update included an exciting content programme on key event sustainability issues, fronted by isla members.

isla’s first in-person Member Update of 2023 at The Meetings Show provided a wealth of insight into the challenges and opportunities presented by travelling along a shared sustainability journey, drawing on perspectives from a number of event stakeholders.

Below we look at some of the key takeaways that could continue to shape the sustainability landscape in 2023 and beyond.

1. Engage your suppliers as early as possible

Across the board, there was a consensus that engaging suppliers as early as possible was key for sustainability success when it came to both event planning and delivery. A message echoed by Scott Holman, Commercial Director of interactive technology supplier and isla member Immersive AV, who noted that many clients approach them with a budget for an event and ask them to deliver against this instead of drawing on supplier expertise one step ahead of this process.

He also argued that suppliers have a wealth of creative material solutions that they are ready and willing to share with those they work with.

Tom Sabin, Managing Director of specialist set building services company and isla member Diagon Ltd revealed that suppliers are often at the forefront of sustainable innovation. As an example, Diagon is already leading the way in this area with the creation of a solar-panel fitted workshop that is set to deliver 20-25% of its power needs over the next 12 months. 

2. Go beyond the obvious 

Speakers at the Member Update also agreed that there is no room for complacency when it comes to making sustainable choices for events, and it is important to question every decision made.

As an example, Bonnie May, CEO of catering and event logistics specialist network and isla member Global Infusion Group, revealed that while the current skew towards plant-based catering was important in terms of reducing event carbon footprints, some fruit and vegetables have a higher environmental impact than others. That’s why they have a ‘dirty 15’ list including items such as avocados and kiwis, whose taste appeal has to be balanced out against their imprint on the planet.

3. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to say ‘yes’ to sustainability

Organisers of high-profile events will often be approached by suppliers keen to showcase their products at no cost to them. However, said suppliers may not always align with your overall sustainability strategy. This proved to be the case for the inaugural 3-day thought-leadership event Anthropy held at the Eden Project in Cornwall in November 2022.

Marina Lunn, Senior Project Manager at global experiential marketing agency and isla member TRO revealed they said ‘no’ to a sponsor who offered to provide the wine needed for the event from Spain as they were committed to sourcing as much food and drink from the South West of England as possible.

4. No sustainability journey can be undertaken alone

The Member Update ended with a session examining best practices in supply chain models and how these can be created. Conversations around the room were lively, with many having plenty to say on this topic. Here’s just a snapshot of some of the comments and suggestions made that leave plenty of food for thought/may spark some inspiration in relation to how to engage and work with suppliers.

  • Supply chains: a need for clear contractual requirements in order to meet sustainability goals
  • Supply chains: a dialogue should be opened up with suppliers outside of projects so that shared challenges and solutions can be captured
  • Supply chains: more education and understanding are needed for how to navigate the client-supplier relationship
  • Supply chains: a pre-project planning process (see point 1) needs to be defined in order to make the most of the aforementioned relationship
  • Supply chains: data-gathering processes on event carbon emissions need to be shared, to ensure that progress for one equals progress for all
  • Supply chains: suppliers can support clients by redefining quality standards for materials
  • Supply chains: think collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. Two companies present at the roundtable revealed that they share transport for their projects, while isla members MacroArt revealed they offered to take graphics off for recycling from an event that they weren’t directly involved in

5. Venues can be your biggest ally

“Venues can really help you get to where you need to be”, revealed TRO’s Marina Lunn. The Eden Project, as an example, already has robust sustainability parameters in place including being a plastic-free site.

James Rees, Executive Director Conferences and Events, ExCeL and President of JMIC, also revealed the sustainability steps the iconic international exhibition and convention centre have been taking since 2008, which include introducing an on-site wormery (they are more than 300,000 worms in total!) to break down food waste and convert it into compost. ExCel London also has a planned expansion earmarked for 2024 that will increase the venue footprint by 25% and will have solar panels covering the whole roof.

And while there can sometimes appear to be a wide gulf between venues and the suppliers and agencies they work with, the reality is they often face many of the same challenges.

“This weaving of our sustainability journey has been a rollercoaster,” revealed James.

Read more: Highlights from our Sustainable Print Open Day with MacroArt

We have many more member events and roundtables to come and if you are interested in becoming an isla member, reach out to us at

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