The sponsorship industry is increasingly recognising the importance of sustainability and the UK Sponsorship Awards is waiving its fee for entry in this category. Event organiser, Hollis, looks at how sponsors and agencies can manage programmes in the most sustainable manner.
Businesses constantly battle with the perception that they are polluters. Whether we’re talking about the use of scarce resources, the control of carbon emissions or waste management, a key part of being a successful 21st century brand is proving that sustainability is more than just an empty promise buried near the back of the company’s annual review.
Proving you take sustainability seriously requires an absolute commitment to the cause that runs from the boardroom to the basement of the business. But one area that can demonstrate an intention to do the right thing is event sponsorship.
While brands typically see event sponsorship as a way to give audiences a good time, there is always a possibility that the media will prefer to portray the activity in question as example of corporate profligacy. So demonstrating how you have proactively managed any adverse impact to the environment is a way of heading off bad publicity before it becomes an issue.
At the same time, it’s a way of presenting the best possible image to stakeholders. Showing that your brand is sustainable in the context of event sponsorship suggests that it is also environmentally aware in its day-to-day operations. Indeed, if your brand is genuinely committed to the sustainability cause and has made the issue a communication priority, sponsorship becomes a platform to promote that fact to a wider audience.
The UK Sponsorship Awards is keen for sustainability to have a higher profile in the industry so this year it is allowing companies to enter the sustainability category for free. This category is open to organisations which can demonstrate sustainability within their sponsorship programmes and also sponsorship of ‘green’ projects, events and organisations, such as wildlife trusts, conservation projects, greening of urban areas, etc. Please do get in touch for further information.
In the meantime, here are a few ideas about the kind of things brands can do to make their event sponsorships sustainable.
Top down commitment
The best way to ensure a sustainable sponsorship is to: a) write a detailed mission statement and b) give someone overall responsibility and resources for managing the process. If you don’t designate responsibility clearly, or if you expect someone to tag sustainability on to their existing brief, then you’ll probably find it quickly gets sidelined. Give the sustainability leader a team and make sure all departments in your business realise this is a serious top down commitment.
Legacy & measurement
From the outset, think about what you would like to leave behind at the end of the sponsorship – because that will give you a goal to aim at. Set targets that are achievable but stretching. This could be linked to carbon emissions, waste management or recycling commitments.
Get partners on board
Good intentions regarding sustainability will quickly fall apart if you don’t work with like-minded partners. Make sure you have assessed their track record in this area before signing any agreement. A lot of rights holders have detailed rules of engagement on sustainability, so check to see if this is true of your prospective partner.
This is one of the biggest issues when looking at event sponsorship. Most reputable event organisers (including sports federations) will have already explored this issue in minute detail. But the kind of things you need to think about before putting your brand’s reputation on the line are: venue energy efficiency, construction material sustainability (eg recycled or reclaimed wood), water capture capabilities, links to public transport, impact on flora and fauna, waste. Clearly, the checklist will vary by event (F1 is not football is not equestrianism), but any scenario presents opportunities to show a commitment to sustainability – or to get it wrong.
Try to source anything related to the event locally and ethically (and ensure partners do the same). This will minimise the amount of travel contributing to the event. Keep in mind that a good event organiser or rights holder will probably be asking you the same sustainability questions. Keep control over areas like paper usage. Think about small things, such as getting people to use mugs not disposable cups. Make sure any drivers are briefed on sustainable transport tips.
Think about how you will disperse items after the event. Any usable items (such as sports equipment) could be donated to schools or community associations. Renting as opposed to buying equipment is good for sustainability.
Be very clear about how waste will be removed in an ethical and efficient way. Make it happen quickly but don’t rely on landfill – recycling is much better. Try to turn the recycling process into a story that can be presented to the media.
Try to send out a positive sustainability message in communications by minimising the amount of paper used on mail outs, flyers etc. Use your sponsorship ambassadors to try and pass on sustainability messages. Make sure this is authentic by talking it through in detail and checking it doesn’t jar with their lifestyle (i.e. football stars who drive big gas guzzling cars will not be right for some messages).
Try to avoid hospitality events that send out negative messages regarding sustainability. Events that involve long flights, heavy car usage, high energy usage and food waste are a potential risk. Clearly, your guests need to have a good time but not at the expense of your brand. Think about the where and how of food and drink sourcing.
Employee/grass roots engagement
Consider ways to incentivise sustainable behaviour among employees and the local community. Reward employees who have a measurable impact on the company’s environmental credentials, for example. And create pro-sustainability events that the community can get involved with, using the sponsorship platform to drive involvement. This could create positive PR.
Our partner Corporate Citizenship has just released its Sustainability Strategy Simplified paper. For more information, please click here.
Corporate Social Responsibility & Sports Sponsorship