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The UK events industry accounts for 35% of the UK visitor economy and is estimated to be worth £42 billion, yet it is still incredibly wasteful, with 68% of waste going directly to landfill.

Haymarket Media Group is a global media data and information company, who offer a wide range of digital print, tech and live event services. Haymarket UK had been certified to ISO 14001 (Environmental Management) and ISO 50001 (Energy Management) for a few years prior to 2019, covering most aspects of their business from a sustainability point of view.

However, their live events still had many sustainability opportunities that were not being taken into consideration by their existing certifications. So, in early 2022 they embarked on their journey to gain ISO 20121 (Sustainable Event Management) certification. 

Today, Gary Charlton and Natalie Harris from Haymarket join Mel to discuss exactly why they added ISO 20121 to their portfolio, the challenges faced with Implementing the Standard, and the benefits gained from certification.

You’ll learn

  • Who are Haymarket?
  • What is ISO 20121 Sustainable Event Management?
  • Why did Haymarket choose to Implement ISO 20121?
  • What challenges did they face?
  • What are the benefits of ISO 20121?


In this episode, we talk about:

[00:50] An Introduction to Haymarket Media Group – A global media data and information company, with offices in the UK, US, Germany, India and Asia. They produce live events (including award ceremonies, conferences and exhibitions), digital print, education data and tech services.

[02:25] Gary Charlton is the Head of Procurement for the UK –  Part of his role includes supporting the Haymarket approach towards sustainability, to ensure their products and services are as environmentally and socially sustainable as possible.

[02:45] Natalie Harris is the Procurement Executive at Haymarket – A lot of her role revolves around live events in addition to purchasing our products and services. Additionally, she advises the wider team on buying legally, sustainably and ethically. Both Natalie and Gary form a team, and were the main driving force behind the creation of their Sustainable Event Management System.

[03:40] What is ISO 20121?: ISO 20121 was launched for, and named after, the 2012 Olympics, making it the worlds first sustainable Olympics!  The Standard provides a framework for managing events sustainably, that includes having the policies, procedures, registers and records to demonstrate that the events are being run in a sustainable manner. Being certified indicates that a company is not just paying lip service to sustainability, it’s actually practicing what they preach. If you’d like to learn more about ISO 20121, go back and listen to episode 38.

[05:30] What was the main driver behind Haymarket achieving ISO 20121?: Haymarket first contacted Blackmores about assisting with ISO 20121 Implementation in 2019. At the time, they were already certified to ISO 14001 and ISO 50001, so they understood the benefits that came with ISO certifications – including the framework to start making better decisions and accurately measure what you’re doing.

Their head of facilities had started the process of evaluating other areas they could improve with ISO Standards, particularly around sustainability. Live events are a large service offering for Haymarket, which has a significant environmental footprint, so a case was put forward for the benefits if reducing that impact with the help of ISO 20121. The team running their live events were very positive about the potential benefits presented, and the go ahead was given.

[07:20] Sustainability is central to how Haymarket wants to operate – Implementing ISO 20121 would ensure that there was more standardisation across their processes. This would introduce some uniformity that could apply to all types of events, which was very important to the Live event lead – Donna Murphy.

Natalie was in the right place at the right time, already in the position of working in collaboration with Haymarket’s Live events team on sustainable procurement, ensuring that due diligence was followed with suppliers and their accreditations. So, it was a no-brainer getting her on board with the ISO 20121 project!

[09:30] How long did it take to implement ISO 20121?:  Haymarket engaged in Blackmores services in February 2022 and were accredited by July 2023. In total, it took 18 months for the planning, creation and development ahead of the assessment.

They ensured the system was refined to ensure it worked efficiently, encouraging continual improvement and a harmonious approach for the whole business.

[11:15] Above and beyond: Haymarket received a lot of praise from their Assessor – highlighting their thoroughness, including the involvement of top management and many others within the organisation in the creation of the Management System. Also for ensuring that the system would be applicable for the 4 main types of events that Haymarket runs.

[12:00] ISO 20121 requires an audit to be conducted during a live event – So Haymarket had a lot to consider when selecting the event to be audited.  

[13:30] Haymarket’s key insights on Implementing ISO 20121: #1: The Gap Analysis was an integral part of the process – by highlighting the gaps you can clearly see where improvements can be made. While they may have been a bit crestfallen and daunted by the gaps presented, they came out if knowing they already had around 27% of a Sustainable Event Management system already in place – partly due to their existing certifications. 

This soon bumped up to 59% at the half-way checkpoint! This assured them that ISO 20121 was within reach, and simply required at bit of time and effort to achieve.

#2 Having leadership involvement and backing – They were quick to involve their live event lead, Donna Murphy, in key decision making and with the roll-out of the Management System. She was instrumental in ensuring the Standard was in place and being followed.

[18:45] What were some of the gap identified and how did Haymarket bridge them?  Required documentation – Many ISO standards have required documentation. A lot of times companies do have a lot of it place, but it’s simply just not formalised. Natalie highlights that this was the case with a Risk Register. It’s not a universal company need to have, but as part of the Procurement Team it’s simply a part of who they are and what they do.

For live events, they need to do the appropriate health and safety checks, but it wasn’t formalised in any way. Thankfully their facilities and environment specialist, who assisted with the existing ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 certifications, was on hand to help with the creation of risk procedures based on procedures from the existing Management System.

With this collaborative approach, using elements from the exiting Management System, they created 31 brand new documents consisting of Procedures, Registers, Log and Records that are continuously used, monitored and updated.

This new documentation, while a lot of work to create, ultimately helps Haymarket track, measure and set parameter’s for continuous Improvement. It ensured they have a really visual system, with a clear view of what needs to be done to run sustainable events. 

[23:00] What difference has Implementing ISO 20121 made?: There was a big amount of short-time work for a long term gain. It’s not simply a stack of useless documents sitting in a corner, it’s a living, breathing system that is injected into the business.

The Management system is of benefit to everyone, including those new to Haymarket’s team as it provides a structured and standardised approach to sustainable event delivery. It’s provided knowledge and helped to develop new skills that will stick with all those that interact with the Management system, whether they stay with Haymarket or move elsewhere.

Ultimately, it’s all about ensuring they are doing the right thing for the planet. By creating more sustainable events, they are reducing their impact as a whole.

[26:00] What is the main achievement from being certified to ISO 20121?: Morale and confidence that they can say they really do practice what they preach. They could hold a mirror up and say, right, we’ve created this system and we’re confident in it – with internal audits conducted by third-parities to confirm they’re on the right track with their intended goals.

Certification is not the end goal. You have annual Surveillance Audits to check-in, so the system must be a long-term feature in your business, and it must drive continual improvement.

[27:50] What top tip would Gary and Natalie give for ISO 20121 Implementation? Gary: Make sure you’re resolute in your reasoning for Implementing the standard and the implications of doing so. Also, enlist the help of someone with Implementation experience!

Natalie: Don’t underestimate the amount of work required. Select someone in-house to manage the project and when / if you can, use external resources such as a consultant to assist. They can also provide unbias, reflective feedback to ensure you’re on the right track.

[30:10] What’s a favorite quote? “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” – Robert Swan

If you’d like to learn more about Haymarket check out their website!

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