The GSB Interview

The GSB Interview: Fiona Pelham, Managing Director, Sustainable Events, Ltd.


Fiona Pelham is Managing Director of Manchester, England-based Sustainable Events, Ltd., a leader in the planning of sustainable events, and Positive Impacta non-profit in the same arena (pun intended). GreenSportsBlog spoke with Ms. Pelham about the growing sustainable events world and how sports fits into it.


GreenSportsBlog: Thanks for joining us, Fiona. I’ve got to ask you–how did you start a sustainable events company?

Fiona Pelham: My pleasure. Actually, I’ve started two sustainable events companies and a sustainable events non-profit. The common thread with all three is that they  exist to help create a thriving sustainable events industry.

In 2004, I launched Organize This, an event management company that manages sustainable events. Then in 2005, Positive Impact was born as a non-profit that spreads the importance and value of sustainability to the event industry throughout England and beyond. Since we are a non-profit, all money spent with Positive Impact is directed towards the development of new resources and initiatives for a more sustainable event industry.

Finally, by 2010, I realized that managing sustainable events with Organize This was not the way we could make the biggest impact. Rather, through the creation of Sustainable Events, Ltd., we became consultants to large companies and institutions. By sharing our expertise on how best to “sustainable-ize events” with them, we could scale our impact much more quickly than if we were actually managing the events.

GSB: So are all three entities still in existence?

Fiona: Organize This exists but with limited activity; the lion’s share of our work is via Sustainable Events and Positive Impact.

GSB: Does sports figure prominently in the world of sustainable events?

Fiona: Very much so. About 40 percent of what Positive Impact and Sustainable Events do is sports-related. Business conferences take up 50 percent and cultural events make up the other 10 percent.

Fiona Pelham Hi-Res
Fiona Pelham, Managing Director of Manchester, England-based Sustainable Events, Ltd and non-profit Positive Impact. Both are dedicated to the creation of a thriving sustainable events industry. (Photo Credit: Fiona Pelham)


GSB: Can you give us some sports-related examples of your work?

Fiona: We’ve worked with Manchester United and their home venue, Old Trafford.

GSB: It doesn’t get much bigger than that! What did you/do you do for Man U?

Fiona: Oh, I know! We started out working with them 4-5 years ago through Positive Impact.  We started with the basics by helping ManU and Old Trafford understand their sustainability issues waste streams and then worked with them on improving their staff engagement, recycling process and diversion from landfill. Virtually everything we do for Man U and our other clients follows the ISO 20121, the international standard specifically for the event industry around sustainability.  Every action counts, from relying on tap water instead of plastic bottles to encouraging use of mass transit instead of private cars. It’s suitable for all types and sizes of organizations in the event industry.

GSB: What are some other Positive Impact/Sustainable Events sports-related clients?

Fiona: Positive Impact served as the sustainability advisor back in 2010 for the England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup (Ed. Note: ultimately awarded to Russia).

We developed a Sustainability Action Plan for their bid, which dealt with mega-issues like waste, water and lack of local engagement.  Sustainable Events has worked for the past 3 years with Goodwood, which runs a number of events, including the Festival of Speed in Chichester. And, while you may not have heard of this in the States, The Festival of Speed is a big deal in England–it combines both auto racing and horse racing events. Very high profile. They brought us in to identify their sustainability issues, including engaging their supply chain and managing their waste.

Our first step was to establish a baseline (what kind of waste, how much, recycling, etc.); then we developed an action plan that detailed procurement approaches, along with recycling and waste management strategies that divert waste from landfill and also engage attendees. Going forward, Sustainable Events will shape and implement the sustainability strategy of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games (basically an Olympics-type event, contested by the counties in the British Commonwealth of Nations) in Gold Coast, Australia. We will measure and report on a whole host of sustainability metrics and will implement ISO20121.


Festival of Speed II
Art installation at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed in Chichester, England. Sustainable Events helped the auto and horse racing event identify their sustainability issues and manage their waste. (Photo Credit: Sustainable Events, Ltd.)


GSB: Sports is indeed a huge part of your business! Do the sports entities you’ve dealt with seem genuinely interested in making their events more sustainable or, is there a bit of greenwashing going on?

Fiona:  Their interest is genuine–and we are not being naive. The sports entities we’ve dealt with are very much into sustainable events.. We find there are always champions inside sports organizations passionate about making a difference on sustainability. Now, they may not be in top management but they have the drive and vision to engage and enroll the decision makers in what has to be done.

GSB: That’s a great sign that the British sports world is starting to “get” sustainability. My impression has been that you all across the pond have been behind the US on green-sports. Is that your sense?

Fiona: I think this depends on the sport and the issue. In terms of sports leagues sharing environmental impact measurements then yes! The UK would do well to copy the approach being taken by the US sports leagues. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us but that’s why I’m glad we are in this space as I believe Premier League clubs and the rest are ready to be step up.

GSB: I’m sure that, with your help, the English sports world will catch up with the US on the sustainability scoreboard. Staying focused on sports, what are the one or two things you’d like to see Sustainable Events/Positive Impact tackle in the next 1-5 years?

Fiona:  One area of interest I have is food waste at events. Overnight the event industry could address this by communicating that a good event is one where there is NO food waste. Then governments and NGOs could work together to provide the infrastructure to donate food immediately after the event and a true Positive Impact would be the result.

GSB: Well, going forward, I hope you will keep us informed regarding the Positive Impacts you bring to the British and European sports worlds.


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