After developing a comprehensive sustainability roadmap and undergoing months of third-party assessment, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) has been certified compliant to ISO 20121, the International Standards Organization (ISO)'s industry standard for sustainable event management.
It makes GCAS the first organization to receive ISO 20121 certification at the highest level possible —a third-party accredited audit. As the highest sustainability standard to which events can aspire, ISO 20121 is an international model that sets forth a management system approach that any event-related organization can use to reduce its environmental footprint and become more socially responsible.
“GCAS decided early on to pursue the highest level of certification in compliance with ISO 20121 because we see the summit as the perfect opportunity to showcase the best practices in implementing event sustainability measures," said Jaime Nack, director of sustainability for the summit. “We want this to become a case study for others who are planning large events to follow so that they, too, can incorporate an environmental and social lens over their event planning activities."
GCAS engaged PECB, a global auditing certification body, to conduct the audit for compliance to the ISO 20121 standard. The North American branch of PECB, headquartered in Montreal, took the lead on the process. They hired global accreditation body IAS to conduct the audit to process PECB for accreditation to the ISO 20121 standard—thereby making PECB the first body to be accredited to this ISO standard and GCAS the first organization to receive ISO 20121 certification by the highest level: a third-party accredited audit.
In August, GCAS successfully completed stage one of the audit, which focused on documentation review and analysis of the summit's environmental management system. Stage two of the audit was concluded last week, when three auditors (one from the U.K., one from India and one from California) completed additional analysis of the environmental management system, as well as leadership commitment, interviews with internal and external stakeholders, on-site interviews and walk-throughs of the systems at all official GCAS venues, review of communications strategy to educate staff, delegates, vendors and suppliers about the sustainability plan.
The rigorous assessment included interviews conducted with:
During the process, auditors attended the press conference with San Francisco Mayor London Breed on the roof of Moscone Center showcasing the host city's commitment to taking its environmental commitments to the next level and being a partner in the sustainability plan implemented for GCAS. Auditors were able to see back-of-house systems at the venues, including the recycling sorting station on the docks at Moscone Center (powered by union labor).
From the Olympics to the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos, ISO 20121 has been adopted by large-scale events as a way to demonstrate leadership and engage attendees (even for events without any programmatic tie to climate action—such as the Olympics). This demonstrates that events can serve as a medium for impact—both in making sure the spend on all items from lanyards to catering is under the guidance of social and environmental impact and in educating all stakeholders in the process, from the venue staff to the attendees to the volunteers.
At GCAS, educational messaging has been incorporated in all emails and mobile app notices for staff, volunteers, delegates, speakers and media. Printed signs were kept to a minimum, and anything that had to be printed was done by a local, union and green-certified printer using the best eco paper or cardboard stock.
“This was a long process that was truly a team effort," said Nick Nuttall, director of communications for the Summit. “The auditors were impressed by the commitment and level of effort across all of the venues, producers, vendors, suppliers and staff and were also impressed by the way this effort was communicated—an important part of achieving this first ever certification– and we are very grateful to everyone who contributed to this important achievement."
“PECB has been impressed with the level of conformity observed by GCAS and the commitment of all team members of the organizing committee" said Mr. Faton Aliu, President and COO of PECB Group Inc. “Gaining accreditation status on ISO 20121 is a key milestone for PECB as we consider that the growing concerns of consumers and stakeholders worldwide about sustainability has now reached the critical point of being considered a differentiating factor in the products and services buying process". “Being in capacity to offer full certification under accreditation aligns with our global strategy in striving to become the global reference in the sustainability-oriented standards certification market. It is a complete fit to our values of being a sustainability conscious corporate citizen and participate actively in the building of a better world."