ZAP Concepts technical director and Powerful Thinking chair Tim Benson says it’s time the event sustainability community stopped funding endless ‘state-of-the-industry’ reports and diverted investment toward suppliers to enable them to build sustainable solutions.

The event sector has, for some time now, known to be a proving ground for cleantech innovations, particularly in the discipline of sustainable power solutions. Portable battery energy storage systems (BESS) are a good case in point. In the UK, it took start-ups like OffGrid and Firefly to deploy and test these in the relatively benign environs of festivals some 20 years ago, before the construction industry sat up and took notice of their potential and transitioned them into their sector, with other markets soon following suit. The importance of this kind of trail blazing cannot be underestimated. In a recent report, Deloitte state that equity investment into the UK cleantech sector has risen from £569 million in 2018 to £2.74 billion in 2022, and the event sector has played some role in kick starting this.

However, innovation is no guarantee of success or longevity, especially when the VC backed giants of the plant hire world are waiting to subsume your technology. Whilst this kind of innovation, commercialisation and business sale model may be attractive to some, not all innovators are motivated by the filthy lucre, some are actually in it for more environmentally altruistic reasons and want to remain the masters of their own futures. This can be problematic though, especially when smaller companies do not have the financial resource for essential R&D, bulk purchasing of components and outsourcing of manufacturing capabilities, all essential tenets of maintaining a competitive edge when faced with competition from the major players in their respective markets.

So, what can be done to ensure that the event sector innovators of the future are not stifled or disincentivised from perusing their dreams? One thought is this – ‘start lobbying the new tranche of music business philanthropic funding organisations to reconsider their grant application criteria, ensuring they extend to commercial enterprises, rather than purely for not-for-profit organisations’. Organisations like Earth Percent claim to be focused on ‘getting resources to where they are needed most’, a statement that I would partially challenge, since the most tangible outputs that I have seen from the organisations that they support are, essentially, state of the industry reports. What is really needed is some level of financial support for the supply chain, that is those businesses that provide the tech and skilled engineers to install and monitor it. This is the sharp end of event sustainability, where targets are turned into actions and deliverables. Financial support for campaigns and driving awareness is certainly necessary, but without boots on the ground innovation and know how, it becomes rather pointless.

“If you are an industry philanthropist serious about affecting environmental change in the events sector, consider supporting the suppliers.”

I am quite certain that many of you will push back on this, arguing that grants for the commercialisations of new technologies are available through organisations like Innovate UK and I would agree whole heartedly with this. However, before you can apply for these grants, there is a whole lot of work that needs to be done. Design software licenses need to be purchased for product prototyping and visualisation, a bill of materials (BoM) created, industry certifications researched, staff trained, marketing plans created and so on. All of this preparatory work needs to be funded from somewhere just to get a project off the ground and in front of major funding organisations. Speaking as a director of three SMEs, all of which have been involved in the design and commercialisation of products or apps that have ultimately contributed to sizeable reductions in the emissions associated with temporary power provision, I can whole heartedly say that some level of moderate financial support in the early stages of a product’s development would have greatly sped up our route to market.

In conclusion, if you are an industry philanthropist serious about affecting environmental change in the events sector, consider supporting the suppliers. You can fund hundreds of reports delineating the current state of the industry, backed up with, sometimes, spurious recommendations, but if you do not have suppliers capable of delivering on these, then it is money wasted.