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The nous behind the numbers: What ISO 20121 means for sustainable events.

Birds-eye view of hundreds of people gathering in the shape of a leaf.

You may have seen across industry press last month that, here at Agiito, we’ve adopted the ISO 20121 accreditation for sustainable meetings and events. That all sounds well and good, but in the age of greenwashing, where brands can often make outrageous, unsubstantiated claims, what does this actually mean?

What is ISO 20121?

ISO 20121 is an international standard developed to ‘relieve the strain on local infrastructure and utilities’ where events are hosted by acknowledging the heavy toll on resources, society, and the environment, that events and waste from events, can have.

Why it’s important.

It’s estimated that the typical event attendee produces up to 176.67kg of CO2e emissions per day, the equivalent of around 75 litres of gasoline consumed, and 1.89kg of waste per day, 85% of which is likely to end up in landfill. Most of the events we organise are between 50 – 400 delegates, making the total amount a staggering figure. When it comes to food, the average event wastes between 15-20% of the food it produces. It's a system that simply can’t continue the way it once operated.

What have we done?

Supply chain management

To give you some context, emissions are split into three different ‘scopes’, meaning those we directly cause such as teams travelling to work an event (scope 1), those that are indirect such as the production of energy that we use (scope 2), and those that are a consequence of our actions but not owned or controlled by us, i.e., supplier actions (scope 3).

Our event management team took a deep dive into our suppliers, those we have fantastic partnerships with to deliver memorable events, and assessed if they were doing enough to be sustainable. We’re only as strong as our weakest link, so it was important that those we work with reflect what we’re trying to do.

In this journey, we’ve found some brilliant new partners such as Sow the City, who we recently used to run a teambuilding event with a difference, where delegates worked on a community allotment in Manchester. The allotment provides local residents with free nutritious food and a green urban space.

Automatic opt-outs.

Across our event management and venue find bookings, we have automatically opted groups out of having plastic water bottles, venue notepads and plastic pens. These elements are hugely wasteful when it comes to conferences and meetings, and this simple change will make a world of difference.

As an alternative, we instruct venues to place iced water jugs and glasses on all tables and communicate with delegates to bring their own stationary.

Making sure it’s always part of the conversation.

As a professional events agency, it’s our job to ensure we are providing a consultative service for our clients when it comes to sustainability. Our teams are at the forefront of progress being made in our industry and we are working to educate our clients on the different solutions now available to improve an events environmental, economic and social sustainability. Throughout the planning stages we aim to bring the topic into conversation, reminding clients of the positive impact they can have by making certain changes.

What success have we seen?

A sustainably aligned event.

We worked with one of our clients on an event that focused heavily on protecting the environment and addressing climate change impacts throughout its content. It was therefore incredibly important that we aligned the various event touchpoints with this messaging. We implemented:

  • A fully plant-based menu during conference lunches and breaks, removing a huge amount of CO2e from the footprint that would have come from meat. A venue with numerous green initiatives such as LED, motion-sensitive lighting, donation of leftover food to local charities and a hive of 10,000 bees on the fourth-floor garden area.

  • A hybrid element to the event, removing the need for a huge number of flights and associated emissions.


Preparation is the key when it comes to successful sustainability, and alongside one of our long-standing clients, we planned for the year to come. The decision was made to purchase high-quality, reusable water bottles for all 900 staff members at the beginning of the year.

It was communicated that going forward at all events throughout the year, plastic bottles for drinks would not be provided and delegates would be required to bring their own. If it’s estimated that a delegate may go through two plastic water bottles per event day, over the annual calendar of events where we booked 938 events, with between 1-200 delegates at each, it’s likely we saved an average of 122,587 plastic water bottles from the resource-heavy recycling system through this initiative.

So, when you see ISO 20121, rest assured, it’s not just some environmental tick box exercise that allows organisations to say they used an accredited supplier. It’s the mark of an event management company like us that’s putting in the extra yards to make a real difference to your events. Let’s work together to put ISO 20121 practices into action for your next event.


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