SUSTAINABILITY | 05.04.2020
José Magro, AENOR Sustainability Director “Society demands companies with values”
What is a sustainable event?
It is a relatively new concept in Spain, but is gradually gaining importance. Companies that decide to sustainably organize an event demonstrate a firm commitment to several aspects, from equality of opportunities, to inclusion and protecting the environment. They also strengthen transparency and consider relevant stakeholders. It is a task that takes months of work, requires great planning and coordination to be able to meet the demanding objectives and actions in all phases, and that is evaluated and audited before, during and after the event is held. The reference for this certification is the ISO 20121 standard.
What type of activities does this type of event involve?
The companies that organize these events are able to minimize most of the environmental impact arising from an event like this, such as the generation of waste, high consumption of resources (water and electricity) and atmospheric, noise and light pollution. It also promotes the use of public transportation and biking, as a means to get to the venue where it is held, facilitate access to people with reduced mobility and opt to use fair trade products and others close to the location of the event, which without a doubt, helps to reduce the impact on transportation.
What is the importance of communication in these types of events?
It is a key requirement from the outset, given that it involves talking with the interested parties proactively to find out what they expect from the event, what impact it might have and what opportunities might arise. This is essential for highlighting certain activities and even new business models. In this sense, obtaining feedback is essential for planning sensibly and not leaving anyone behind. Communication lasts all the way until the end. A sustainable event involves effort and commitment that should be communicated to society. We think that it is very important that the companies that organize this type of event and meetings convey these values to the people who attend them and participate in them, in order to take advantage of all of the environmental, social and economic best practices that have been implemented and for them to be aware of the benefit that it implies for the planet overall. A sustainable event should become an example to follow for many others.
What benefits does this type of event provide?
We are talking about an event in which sustainability forms part of its entire cycle, and where all of the processes, from planning to holding the event itself and them dismounting everything afterward, are carried out with the objective of maximizing the contribution to the local economy and improving the environment and commitment to society. These events also represent a commitment to people, specifically to equality, given that through organizing the event, men and women are hired without discrimination, and it includes people from groups at risk of social exclusion and disabled people.
“Sustainability is a set of values that a company has or should have, and that society expects.”
How have companies’ commitments to sustainability evolved?
I think up to 2004 or 2005, nobody was talking about climate change and energy, nor did large corporations’ strategies focus on those aspects. After a while, between 2015 and 2016, another trend emerged throughout Europe, which is the circular economy, and companies reworked their business strategies and great commitments were made that had to be grounded, such as in the area of waste and prevention. Now, the action references are the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs. These are “boxes” that the big questions on sustainability are grouped into, such as a company’s CSR governance, which organizations must analyze to determine which ones they identify with and can do something about. The latter of these is very important. In our jargon, it is what we refer to as materiality analysis. This is nothing more than proactively reflecting, both internally and externally, with all interested parties, in order to identify which of these SDGs are relevant and a priority for everyone, and from there designing a clear path ahead and establishing a coherent strategy.
Where we are headed with all of this?
The trends shaping Europe as benchmark territory in terms of sustainability are rapidly spreading to other countries, and we see how countries like Chile and Peru, for example, have taken charge and are moving very quickly in their commitments to the environment. Europe sets the pace and spreads it to other countries, which take up the baton, and that is extremely important.
Do you think companies are just jumping on the bandwagon of the trend of sustainability or they are doing so out of conviction?
As with many things, I think it’s a little bit of both, and that is mainly due to the fact that there are some very strong levers driving why companies are working on sustainability. One of the reasons is investors, who put great stock in reputational risk—that negative perception that society has about a company and that translates into the direct or indirect loss of the company’s value. The large companies listed on the Ibex are certain of it, and transfer it into their value chain, which means that sustainability reaches many others. There are also the manufacturers. Every day, they are more aware of the importance of producing with responsible materials and they take responsibility for the waste they generate. Does this make it become a trend? It’s possible, because in the end, everything makes a difference, but I think this is not a fleeting trend. I think it will live on in the strategies and will infiltrate all sectors, from the food sector to the construction sector.
How would you define sustainability?
Sustainability is a set of values that a company has or should have and that society expects. The consumer knows what’s good and what’s bad. They know what their hearts do and don’t connect with. In turn, this makes them choose one given product or service. If we use the SDGs as a reference, we see that there are 17 “boxes” linked to topics like health, poverty, education, equality, peace, decent work etc. that companies are committed to through specific actions. I would highlight an essential factor in all of this, which are alliances, because sustainability is not possible alone. In order for it to work well, it must be done as a team. Sustainability is the commitment of many people.
“The large companies listed on the Ibex are certain of it, and transfer it into their value chain, which means that sustainability reaches many others.”
What companies are doing it well?
I really like the case of Iberdrola, because for them, sustainability is a pillar. That means that they have integrated it into their entire strategy, in their way of working. In the banking sector, I would highlight their commitment to socially responsible investment, which is also a lever for others to be able to act, and have economic resources that have that variable of sustainability. In the food sector, for example, I would also say that it has had to undertake actions very quickly in aspects of the circular economy, responsible origin of their raw materials and transparency of the product labels. All sectors have the ability to act, and that is being demonstrated.
Is Spain on a good path of sustainability?
In terms of the environment, it is progressing, because there are increasingly more regulations. Socially, you could say we are a step behind. I think that in Spain, we are fortunate in that we belong to a framework—the European framework—which is a leader and assumes particular commitments, which put an ambitious agenda on the table, such as the Green Pact, which Europe has voluntarily accepted, and that will establish important (legal) challenges for companies regarding energy, climate change, circular economy and neutrality, among others.