The benefits of ISO20121


By Gina McIlwraith

With the Green Sports Alliance Summit last month and the Paris Olympics on the horizon, the ISO20121 certification is a central topic of conversation for event hosts and sustainable event professionals.

ISO20121 is a sustainable event management system certification for sports- and entertainment-focused, or really any, organization looking to improve their event sustainability and financial performance. It was developed in 2012 for the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) ahead of the London Olympics. Now, it’s commonly used by event hosts worldwide.

One thing I tell 3R Sustainability clients is that ISO20121 is more than checking boxes. When done correctly, ISO20121 is a valuable tool that will help organizations get the most value from their event management and ultimately improve their event performance. ISO20121 provides a framework for:

1. Identifying business risks and opportunities to enhance performance, reducing operating expenses, and improving business resilience;
2. Integrating sustainability across the entire event lifecycle — from planning, procurement, and operations to analysis of performance and the event’s long-term legacy;
3. Formalizing sustainability efforts and retaining organizational knowledge both now and for ongoing continual improvement; and
4. Minimizing environmental impact, enhancing positive social impact, and sustaining financial viability.

In addition to working with a partner who will help you build a customized event management system, a key to reaping the value of ISO20121 is choosing a reputable company to complete the external certification. A certifier that is thorough will be able to identify the strengths of the system and key opportunities for continual improvement.

Pursuing an ISO20121 certification may be intimidating, but I assure you it’s not as scary as it seems. Most organizations have the pieces and parts existing in their organization; it’s a matter of formalizing and realizing the full value of the management system.

Recently, I worked with a client that was looking to be certified. They told me that the ISO20121 certification process helped them organize their existing efforts across the organization and enhance the sustainability work they were already doing. Plus, it gave their team standard nomenclature to talk about their sustainability efforts. This is just one example of how 3R helps organizations realize and take advantage of the benefits of ISO20121.

I’ve been working with ISO management systems for almost 30 years(!) – realizing this value for events, especially sports- and entertainment-focused, is a dream come true.