“We see this Olympics as an opportunity to drive behavior change,” Symonds said. “It’s an opportunity and responsibility that we have to use the power and scale of our brand to get people to do things differently.” She participated in the discussion from her London office, while co-presenter Fiona Pelham, managing director of Sustainable Events Limited, led the session before the audience of nearly 200 event planners, suppliers, and venue representatives.
Symonds shared examples such as the Coca-Cola Olympic torch relay bus that is traveling around England as the company’s first public demonstration of its sustainability efforts. “Something like 140,000 plastic bottles got recycled to create the different elements of that activation,” she said. The company is placing more than 250 recycling bins around London that will remain when the games are over, and umbrellas and chairs being used by Coca-Cola will be donated to local charities.
“Everything we are trying to do for the games is built around having a positive impact for Great Britain. Personally, I want my legacy to be some pretty clear processes so when we touch an event, this is how it is going to be done,” Symonds said.
The international standard for sustainable events—ISO 20121—is expected to be finalized in 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics. As brands and events look to implement those standards, Pelham said, they need to address all three areas of sustainability equally: economic, environmental, and social. Economic refers to staying within budgets and making a profit; environmental relates to energy usage and waste management; and social looks at how companies work with internal and external audiences.
A sustainability effort should begin with identifying risks, followed by determining what to measure and establishing baselines. The next step is to communicate with stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and community members.
“Make it really clear that when you think sustainability, there is often money to be saved on the bottom line and there is certainly money to be made indirectly through building the reputation of your organization,” Symonds said.