Meet Ecobooth, the events industry startup tackling events waste
In the past few years, businesses have gradually come to adopt sustainable strategies and solutions. Fuelled by consumer awareness and the actions of certain governments, sustainability has become a key priority. Although businesses have recognised that there is a need to change, this isn’t solving the problem of the waste that already exists. Each year, we produce 2.1 billion tonnes of waste. It might not be an obvious contender, but the global events industry has massively contributed to this build up. Ecobooth, launching today at Disruption Summit Europe, hopes to change this.
A resistant industry
The UK events industry is worth £42bn, servicing over 10,000 venues a year. In 2017, 1.3 million business events were held in London alone – but what happens to the waste that is left behind when the events are finished? Following resistance from clients, contractors, venues and trade bodies, Nick Marks, founder of Ecobooth, began to work out his own figures.
“I’ve been there at the end of the events to see what’s left behind and where it all goes,” says Marks. “The waste figures we worked out for ourselves were astronomical. From here we set a target of creating a zero waste, 100 per cent sustainable event, and that’s what drove the creation of Ecobooth.”
Sadly, a lot of the resistance that Marks faced comes with the territory of a competitive industry.
“You can find and develop ethical, sustainably sourced materials, but you have to pay a premium for them and until now nobody would pay that premium,” he explains. “The same applies to utilising good energy, electric vehicles, and recycling. The sustainable solutions are there, it’s just that no one is saying ‘you really should be doing this,’ and that’s what we’re trying to change.”
Luckily, that change already seems to be happening… But how far have businesses accepted the need to adopt circular economy strategies?
“Environmentally driven companies are becoming big businesses. There’s no longer any avoiding it,” says Marks. “The numbers that were released at the end of last year said that 60 per cent of companies in the UK are now embracing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I think the average across the world was 40 per cent, and the UK was second in Europe which is really promising. Germany were first, at 83 per cent.”
Championing the circular economy
When it comes to traditional events – booths, stages and other products are set up, used for the duration of the event and then thrown away – not to mention the food packaging, drinks containers and various other discardable items that end up in the bin. Ecobooth transforms this make, use, discard supply chain by using existing waste to create the structures needed to run events. They can then be reused at future events, or ground up and 3D printed into new products.
“We can work with a company directly, so for example let’s say a brand wants to set up an exhibition booth at an event. We can design and make the entire exhibition booth out of their old products or recycling by processing them, grinding them up and using that grind as a base material to start again. And at the end, we can grind it all up and start again. We also work with companies that may not produce direct material waste but still want to work towards a sustainable future, like a bank or a consultancy.”
In this instance, Ecobooth can tap into a supply network that provides a waste material stream. They currently work with a large UK based food packaging company who supply recycled plastic yoghurt pots, and a company that collects fishing nets from the Atlantic ocean.
“The core material is plastic. There is already enough waste plastic available for it to be a base material without us ever needing to produce anything new. If we can reinvest plastic waste in a process that is circular then we don’t need to make anything new. We’re all for reuse, repurpose, and recycle.”
Aside from their products, Ecobooth itself is run in an environmentally conscious way. The company’s dedicated HQ in North West London runs off renewable power, doesn’t generate any waste in its office and management facility, and has a fleet of electric vehicles to carry out deliveries and logistics.
DSE: Ecobooth’s first disrupted event
At today’s Disruption Summit Europe (DSE), Ecobooth will provide the whole stand and sponsorship area for PA Consulting. They have also designed and produced the event’s innovation lab. The company’s launch at DSE 2018 followed a conversation Marks had with DISRUPTIONHUB founder Rob Prevett.
“I was at DSE last year and following the event I put the idea to him and he believed in it. It’s people like Rob believing in companies like Ecobooth that creates the companies of tomorrow.”
In just 16 months, the company evolved from an idea into a business. This speed can be largely attributed to the increasing momentum for sustainable solutions, of which the circular economy is a fundamental part. According to Marks, a lot of credit for sustainable adoption should be given to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which he describes as genuinely driven by a desire to learn, educate and share.
Ecobooth has set its sights on corporate events but there are still a number of challenges to overcome, especially concerning corporate environments. One of the obstacles, says Marks, is breaking down the stereotypes surrounding environmentalism. In Ecobooth’s experience, many still hold the outdated belief that there is a disjuncture between environmentalism and business. Organisations across the world are certainly aware of and are working towards sustainability, but more needs to be done. Ecobooth’s contribution? The complete upheaval of traditional, wasteful events.
“The ultimate goal is to make the events industry sustainable and so, in turn, make the companies that depend on it for marketing sustainable too. We are going to be disrupting the events industry but because we have to, rather than because we want to, and in the long term our aim is ultimately to make things better.”
Eventually, maybe the entire industry will feel the same.
Nick Marks will be speaking on the Disruption Summit Europe Sustainability panel at 2pm. To read more about sustainable business solutions, sign up for our newsletter here.