ISO 20121: The How and Why of Certification - Il blog di Smart Eventi
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ISO 20121: The How and Why of Certification

Written by Lucia Conti

The events industry is booming. From music festivals to conferences to weddings, people love to gather and celebrate. However, large events can produce copious waste, consume substantial energy, and burden local communities. Event professionals are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility to manage events sustainably. But how can organizations effectively embed sustainability into their event management practices? This is where the international standard ISO 20121 comes in.

At its core, ISO 20121 outlines a management systems approach to embedding sustainability throughout the entire event project lifecycle. This lifecycle spans from the initial strategy and planning stages, right through to post-event activities like waste management. The standard adopts the commonly used Plan-Do-Check-Act model for continuous improvement. Organizations must plan sustainability initiatives, implement them, monitor progress, and take corrective actions to drive ongoing enhancement.


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The standard requires adoption of policies that align with sustainable development and implementation of best practices like responsible sourcing, waste minimization, water/energy conservation. ISO 20121 also advises using local suppliers and choosing vendors based on their environmental and social responsibility. Importantly, this standard adopts a systematic approach, urging event planners to weave sustainability into every facet of event management. This not only enhances brand reputation and appeals to an environmentally conscious audience, but also provides a competitive advantage, reduces costs, and positively impacts the community

Companies like Cisco Systems, EDF Energy, and the London 2012 Olympic Games have already obtained certification, demonstrating leadership in the events industry.

The Process of Obtaining ISO 20121 Certification

The first step is conducting a sustainability review or gap analysis of current event management practices. This helps identify areas that already align with ISO 20121 and areas that require enhancement to meet requirements. Using the findings, organizations can develop a customized ESMS with sustainability policies, plans, responsibilities, and procedures tailored to their events. Extensive documentation is key, outlining exactly how the organization will fulfill ISO 20121 criteria.

With the ESMS established, organizations must train staff on implementing the system and meeting requirements. Staff play a critical role in executing sustainability initiatives and collecting data on relevant performance metrics. From waste diversion rates to water usage, organizations need to monitor key metrics throughout the event lifecycle.

Next comes the independent, third-party audit by an accredited ISO certification body. Auditors verify that the documented ESMS aligns with ISO 20121 criteria and that the organization adheres to its own procedures. Any non-conformities are identified and must be addressed before certification is granted. This ensures ongoing compliance rather than just a one-off sustainability effort.

When the auditor confirms adherence to the standard, the long-awaited ISO 20121 certificate is issued! Certification is valid for three years, after which organizations must undergo re-certification audits to maintain certified status.

ISO 20121 is indeed defining a new era of responsible event management, and with the increasing pressure for events to reduce their environmental and social footprint, ISO 20121 certification will soon become an industry standard rather than just an option. The best way forward, therefore, is to embrace this change and choose to be a part of it.

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Informazioni sull'autore

Lucia Conti

Co-publisher at "Il Mitte".
Co-founder at "Fiore & Conti" communication agency.
Freelance journalist and events moderator.
She lives in Berlin but travels all over the world.

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