How a sustainable state of mind is giving Brisbane businesses an environmental edge
The Brisbane events and tourism industry is proving that going green isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do, too.
This July, Brisbane became the 50th city to join the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index), an initiative to measure, benchmark and improve the sustainability strategies of popular tourism and events destinations.
Event organisers around the world can use the GDS-Index to assess potential sites for sustainability and optimise the economic, social and environmental impacts of their activity.
The partnership with the GDS-Index is just the latest feather in the cap of a sustainability strategy that has twice seen Brisbane named Australia’s Most Sustainable City.
For local event planners and tourism operators that are developing, adopting and promoting sustainable practices, it’s not just about saving the planet. It’s also a great way to save money, as LOUD Events Director Marianne Edmonds has discovered.
“We’ve always aimed to minimise the carbon footprint of our events, and we’ve found there are definite advantages to that beyond ethics,” Edmonds says.
“Switching to energy-efficient LED lighting, for instance, has brought down our power costs by over 50 per cent. That has a massive impact when you’re looking at conferences that are running for four or five days, as well as your bump-in and rehearsal times. All of that adds up.”
LOUD make it their mission to minimise wastage at their events, and preference venues and suppliers with similarly sustainable policies. By doing so, Edmonds says they haven’t just reduced the amount of rubbish polluting the environment, they’ve also cut down on unnecessary expenses.
“We try very hard to steer people away from single-use plastics that aren’t biodegradable,” Edmonds says. “Having a water refill station is so much more cost-effective than having people use multiple water bottles. Over the course of a conference, that can add up to be an incredible amount of water bottles.
“We encourage conferences to have a similar theme for a two-year minimum, so that they can reuse signage, which is a big savings opportunity. Even with directional signage, we’re always conscious of reusability. We use generic signage for things like toilets and disabled access instead of branded signage, so we can roll it out over a number of events and save thousands of dollars each time.
“We also ensure our conferences are digitally connected, with live polling and live interactions through social media platforms, and all the program information available through apps, minimising any need for conference handbooks, which is another huge saving. We’re not quite completely paperless yet, but we’re getting there.”
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary general manager Robert Friedler says his company also began adopting sustainable practices for ethical reasons, but soon discovered the practical benefits.
“We’ve found, to our surprise, that there’s no conflict between our environmental goals and our business goals,” Friedler says.
“We started with ordinary things like recycling and attempting to reduce waste, and now we’re moving off-grid. We use geothermal energy to cool the water that our platypus swims in, for example — not only is the new system a lot easier to maintain than the old conventional heat pump, but it’s got one quarter of the carbon footprint. Now most of our new buildings are air-conditioned with geothermal cooling.
“In any business, you trial new processes and when you find out they work you adopt them fully. Our new computers use a fifth of the power of the old ones, and they’re better in every way. The staff prefer them, they cost less, they create less heat, and they use less energy. So we’re really finding that a lot of these green solutions have absolutely no downside.
“I have a green ethos, but when you’ve got 108 staff members they have to buy in too. And when they see that green products and solutions just work better and are easier to use than what they’re used to, it really helps them to do that.”
The next step for Lone Pine, Friedler says, is to promote the benefits of sustainability to their customers.
“We get half a million customers a year, so we’re working on an education plan to make sure they’re aware that the building they’re in is cooled with energy from the earth and the electricity for the lighting comes from the sun,” he says.
“We hope that our guests will be inspired to adopt green technology and initiatives within their home and workplace, making a wider impact on the environment than what we’d achieve at Lone Pine alone.”
Both Edmonds and Friedler have found that taking an incremental approach, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel overnight, has helped their organisations to successfully embrace sustainability.
“I think a lot of people hear that word ‘sustainability’ and think it’s something that’s going to take them a lot of time and effort to achieve, but it doesn’t have to be if you start small and just keep taking it up a notch every year,” Edmonds says.
“It doesn’t have to be an arduous process, and it’s very rarely a costly process. It’s just about making the right choices. It’s about being more mindful, and that costs nothing.”
A simple way to start, Friedler suggests, is to gradually replace your equipment with green alternatives as the need arises.
“Anytime anything breaks down, you should be asking yourself if you can replace it with something that’s more sustainable and efficient, because there’s no downside to that,” Friedler says.
“I think the first big thing we did at Lone Pine was replacing our conventional hot water system in the food area with a solar system. That was really easy to do, and it paid for itself in a couple of years. On our requisition forms now, we list how much energy the old equipment used and how much energy the new equipment will use. That’s just adding a few lines to your paperwork, but it makes everyone in your organisation start asking the right questions.
“When you start asking those questions, you often find that there’s an option that’s much better for the environment. It’s no great hardship to do, and it doesn’t require a master plan — but you’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make.”