University Estates: The business case for sustainable events

Could university estates capitalise on the hosting and delivery of sustainable events?

By Colin Brown

Within the UK, the hosting of sustainable events and conferences is a growing market area that has seen a marked increase in popularity in recent years. Conference centres, hotels and public buildings (such as galleries and museums) have dominated this marketplace to date. Could university estates capitalise on the hosting and delivery of sustainable events? Not surprisingly, the business case for university estates and sustainable events is strong. Many universities already follow a sustainable approach to their estates, property and services through:

Strategy, Policy and Culture
✥ Universities will have developed Estates Building Strategies that will most likely include the engagement of the wider community; the provision of public access; the building of strategic partnerships and collaborations; and finding new ways to share space, facilities, services and expertise. In addition most universities have strong sustainability and CSR strategies that are aligned to long-term targets and KPIs. This provides the right culture, framework for, and context from which, a sustainable event business plan can be developed.

Venues, Property and Space
✥ University estates typically include a wide range of properties that vary significantly in function, space and performance. Events can follow a sustainable approach whether they are held in a modern, technologically advanced building or a building or space of historic importance.

Environmental Impact
✥ Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are used by most university estates  to measure, manage and reduce their environmental and carbon emission impact, with a specific focus on energy and water use and waste generation. Measuring and reporting on the impact of an event can therefore be easily applied, and is already regarded as best practice. 

Transport and Travel
✥ The vast majority of university buildings are well connected to a wide range of public transport links, cycle routes and secure cycle shelters. Many estates have developed and implemented a series of Green Travel Plans in support of this.

Procurement and Catering
✥ University buildings all have access to catering facilities and many institutions have in place good sustainable procurement practices that include the provision of local, seasonal and Fairtrade goods. 

Community
✥ Universities have always had a strong relationship within their immediate surroundings – the town/gown relationship. At its best a university and the surrounding community boost each other when they cooperate on a wide range of issues. The happy result is often a strong local economy.

Accountability
✥ Considering environmental and sustainability issues is an increasingly important factor in estates planning. This is supported) by the publication of UK and devolved nations government targets, as well as HEFCE’s publications relating to carbon reduction targets and strategy for higher education in England.

The case for university estates being well suited for the adoption and delivery of sustainable events maybe clear but what of the benefits? The potential benefits are:

Financial
✥ Can be achieved with minimal investment – by implanting sustainable events strategies from an early stage, value and financial gain by taking into account total production costs and quality can be achieved;

Reputation
✥ Can be achieved through the enhancement of existing green credentials and through effective evaluation – delegates and other stakeholders will have increasing confidence in your efforts; and

Community and Social
✥ Can be achieved through the provision of more local products, produce and services and the raising of awareness of sustainability related issues. The university estate is well placed to take advantage of the sustainable event market and whilst there are some good examples already within the sector, it is more than a little surprising that there are not more. 

Colin Brown is Managing Director of Sustainability Insight, who work with and advise The Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA).

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