Sustainability is serious but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! That’s something our partner Verve has taken to heart with their Project Eden initiative and their ongoing mission to lead the way in sustainable events, activations, campaigns, and within their own offices. We spoke to the Project Eden team to learn more about how they’ve become one of Ireland’s only agencies with the ISO 20121 sustainability certification and what they’ve learned along the way.
Please provide some background on Project Eden.
Like most passion projects, this one started as personal interest that grew legs amongst the employees of Verve. We were doing great with our event-led ISO but felt we could do more around the office. The name, tone, ethos and look & feel grew from the mantra “Keep the garden, lose the guilt.” We wanted this project to be about making positive changes and losing the biblical guilt and fear that sustainability is often characterized by. We felt that ‘ISO’ had become somewhat of an ominous word around the office which didn’t inspire new ways of thinking so we decided to encompass ISO credential-based work under the Project Eden ethos to really make our sustainable journey feel like our own. We also came together to work on some original content to get everyone excited about the project with a comedy recycling video using guys in the office. This was a great way to involve everyone from the team and set the tone for what we the project was about (watch the videos here).
Eden and our ISO have a really practical application outside of the office. At events we always ensure we are using materials that can be re-used, alongside proper waste management, for example, no single-use cutlery. We provide information on the most sustainable options to our clients in the planning stages and carry this through to the events themselves.
What gave the final push to take on the project?
We felt that the word sustainability had begun to lose all meaning and wanted to create buzz rather than buzz words so we began working on a project that inspired action. We wanted to start a culture in the office that could be used to strengthen how we run our events and how we come up with ideas.
What challenges have you faced throughout the undertaking of Project Eden?
We found it challenging to develop a tone that would be informative without being preachy. It can also be difficult to find a more minimalist approach when we work in the business of consumption, especially when clients want maximum impact with things like sampling. Creating a culture of teamwork is also really important, because when it comes to sustainability, it really is all in or nothing.
Has anything surprised you about the process?
We were surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was. People were all in, now we just needed all the thinking to come together in one place. These projects are also a great example of how different skill sets and ways of working can really complement each other; there’s the “ideas people” and the people who put it into action; one needs the other and both play such an important role.
What has the response been from your colleagues? From your clients?
We’ve found that everyone wants to do the right thing, so it’s just about giving them the information and tools to do just that. Our colleagues are invested and we’ve received tons of great ideas and leads for initiatives, trends and tips.
Our clients are looking to us to lead the way and propose sustainable alternatives, work the theme into their events and all areas of experiential.
Does your ISO and Project Eden initiative have an impact on the events Verve produces?
Phase One saw us focusing our efforts internally, on the things we come in contact with every day, small changes that have a big impact and an education piece that took a light-hearted approach to “doing the right thing.” Phase Two continues to build on our best practices on site, not just documentation but looking for areas of improvement: every event is an opportunity to learn and build, so that each one is more sustainable than the last.
One example of an event with a creative focus on sustainability was Coca-Cola’s Melodic Wood, which was an immersive experiential campaign designed to shine a light on one startling local insight: Ireland has the lowest forest cover of all European countries. Over 3 days of a music festival, the public co-created the experience by turning thousands of Coke cans into aluminum leaves. Each leaf represented a donation to the Native Woodland Trust. At night the ‘Melodic Wood’ came to life with a lightshow and bespoke soundscape created by electronic artists Prizm. All together the campaign resulted in 412 native species of tree being planted locally in Co. Waterford – and demonstrated Coca-Cola’s commitment to a #WorldWithoutWaste. Watch the event video here.
Is there an “end goal” with the project? How are you measuring results?
We aim to be a trusted voice in sustainable events. Sustainability will always be an ongoing journey, there is always room for improvement and the more we learn about just how big the sustainability umbrella is, the more we try to incorporate our learnings into new areas and to build and improve. The main thing is changing habits and everyone’s definition of what sustainability means, then you empower each person to make improvements in their professional and personal lives, and identify opportunities in the moment.
Verve is being looked at by other organizations as a pioneer in the sustainability game and our agency has been utilized in an advisory capacity which is really great to see. More of this in the future!
Our main measure is the ISO certification which has strict criteria we must meet in every area of our business; we recently received our re-certification which is great news, we were the first and remain one of the only agencies in Ireland to have the ISO 20121 certification.
What advice can you give to another agency wanting to do something similar?
Start small – sustainability can be an imposing mountain to climb, but the simplest changes have the biggest impact. Signage goes a long way, people want to do the right thing, they just have to be reminded. These are habits that they take on site and the habits they take home with them, and that’s where we see real impacts spreading positively beyond the office. And lastly, a funny video never goes astray!
Note: The above portion of the interview took place in early 2020, just prior to the beginning of the pandemic. The following portion is a follow up with current updates.
What does incorporating sustainability look like now in our new digital/hybrid world?
Virtual events have a far lower environmental impact than in-person events and the main reason for this is travel. Live events have attendees, exhibitors, entertainment, catering, various production teams all traveling to a single destination. This is one of the largest components of an event’s carbon footprint. If this in turn becomes a virtual event, you are eliminating a huge portion of that travel requirement. Virtual events do require energy and leave a digital footprint, but this comes nowhere close to the impact of long-distance travel.
As well as a huge reduction in travel, virtual events typically produce less waste and use less materials so there is a huge sustainability benefit in carrying out virtual events.
What are your sustainability goals for the remainder of the year?
We’re aiming to move sustainability from something you talk about at the end of a client presentation to something we can really action at the beginning of a discussion. As well as talking about ‘return on investment,’ we want to talk about ‘return on environment’ – helping clients to deliver seriously sustainable events, not just green washing. Sustainability is a constant learning curve for us – we’re serious about the continual improvement and measurement it requires. Our goal is to continue to improve our efforts, build sustainability into the creative process so that it is woven through every aspect of our events and activations and encourage our clients to put sustainability as a key metric of their event.
We hope to continue to lead the way in the area of sustainable Events and Activations and have big ambitious plans on how to do that within the coming year so watch this space!
If you’ve been with us for a while, you might remember our interview with John O’Shaughnessy, Creative Director at Verve last year, where he had this to say about trends:
“Sustainability is the biggest trend we’re seeing – events can generate a lot of waste so I think the whole industry is finally seriously starting to consider the legacy we leave behind.”
We caught up with him recently to ask if anything has changed and how sustainability fits into his day-to-day work.
Recent climate change disasters in 2021 and the Covid pandemic has really made it clear to everyone that global climate emergency is a real possibility. Clients, consumers and employees are increasingly demanding that event agencies do their part to help solve the crisis – that means real actionable changes and not just green washing. Building in sustainability into the DNA of our projects is our goal – from inspiring the core creative idea to the nitty gritty of production and the suppliers we partner with; it affects every facet of the agency business.
Thank you to the Project Eden team for taking the time to share with us! If you’d like to learn more about Verve’s commitment to sustainability, you can read their policy statement here and contact the Project Eden team to find out how you can make your next campaign or event greener with meaning.