ISO 20121
ISO 20121 Standard

ISO 20121 Standard
ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management System Standard
ISO 20121 is an international standard that specifies a management system designed to assist the events industry improve the sustainability of events. The standard is based upon an earlier standard British Standard called BS 8901 Sustainable Event Management System developed in 2007.
In basic terms, the standard encourages organisations to take greater consideration of environmental, social and economic issues within their strategy and operations and in the products and services that they provide.
The ISO 20121 standard applies to all organisations in the events industry – not just event organisers and agencies. Venues, stadiums, caterers, hotels, sound & lighting, security, staging and media agencies can all achieve ISO 20121 – along with corporate and public sector event teams.
In simple terms, ISO 20121 describes the building blocks of a management system that will help any event related organisation to:
  • Continue to be financially and commercially successful
  • Become more socially responsible
  • Reduce its environmental footprint
The standard will enable organisations to identify opportunities to improve efficiency, cut costs and improve reputation and brand image. Adopting ISO 20121 will therefore provide competitive advantage as event clients, regulators, delegates and other key stakeholders choose to work with organisations that have adopted the standard.
Organisations that successfully implement the standard will be able to seek independent recognition of their achievement through a process called Certification (often mistakenly called  “accreditation).

So why has ISO 20121 come about?
Financial, social and environmental issues are a major concern of governments, industry and the public alike. From the banking crisis to climate change to social justice, industry is increasingly being challenged to carry out its business in a more sustainable manner.
ISO 20121 is the world’s first international certifiable management system standard on sustainability. The standard has been specifically developed for the events industry. By adopting this standard, the events industry has the opportunity to lead the world in addressing the sustainability issues facing us all today.

Five important points to understand about the ISO 20121 Standard
The ISO 20121 standard is a complex document and there are five key points to understand when considering implementing it:
1.     ISO 20121 is difficult to understand
Unfortunately, international standards such as ISO 20121 are written in a way that is often unintelligible to many people. Consequently, you may need help in interpreting the requirements. Fortunately there are checklists and guides available that will help you understand the requirements – see below on “How to get started”
2.     ISO 20121 is a “specification”
The standard “specifies” the management system elements that an organisation has to have in place. All the elements described in the standard must be in place prior to the organisation being able to claim compliance with the standard.
3.     ISO 20121 is not a checklist
The standard is not a checklist but is a more complex document that describes the elements of a management system that an organisation has to have in place.
4.     ISO 20121 is about the management system
The standard applies to the management system used by organisations in delivering their event related activities, products and services. It is the management system operated by the organisation that is compliant with ISO 20121, not the event.
5.     ISO 20121 does not set performance requirements
The standard does not specify which sustainability issues to manage or what performance levels to achieve. What the standard requires is that an organisation has in place a transparent process through which it systematically evaluates the issues relevant to its operations and sets its own objectives and targets for improvement.

What does ISO 20121 require?
ISO 20121 applies to the organisation’s management system. A management system is defined as the “set of interrelated or interacting elements that are used to establish policies and objectives, and the processes to achieve those objectives”. The standard follows the traditional management model of “plan – do – check - act” and involves developing a strategy and policy for sustainability, engaging with key stakeholders and identifying key sustainability issues. From this, objectives and targets need to be set for improving performance and measures implemented to control and minimise negative impacts.
More specifically, organisations will need to ensure that they are:
  • Identifying threats and opportunities to long term business success
  • Setting a clear strategy based on an understanding of their marketplace and the expectations of their stakeholders
  • Designating appropriate responsibilities and provide the necessary resources and training
  • Managing the supply chain effectively
  • Implementing operational control procedures including measuring performance against targets, correcting problems and conducting management system audits and management reviews
  • Maintaining and controlling documentation and records
Organisations will be expected to demonstrate continual improvement in their sustainability performance.

What does the term “Sustainability” mean?
There is much confusion about what the term sustainability actually means. The important point to note is that sustainability is not just about being “green” and more environmentally responsible – it is more encompassing than that.
In a nutshell, sustainability is about how an organisation continues to run its activities in a commercially successful way whilst contributing towards a stronger and more just society and reducing its impact on the environment. It is about improving resource efficiency, enhancing customer relationships, reducing risk, stimulating innovation and creativity, improving employee motivation and behaving responsibly.
With respect to events, sustainability is about delivering events that not only have a minimal environmental footprint, but which exceed clients and attendee expectations, contribute to stronger communities and networks, build capability and generate a good return on the resources invested.
To achieve ISO 20121, an organisation will need to demonstrate that it has considered within its management system all key financial, economic, social and environmental issues relevant to its operations; focusing solely on environmental issues will not be sufficient.

Benefits of adopting ISO 20121
As ISO 20121 is simply a business management framework, adopting it can bring a number of internal benefits to an organisation including:
  • Clarity of purpose and strategy resulting in a more energised and aligned workforce
  • More integrated management and joined up thinking resulting in improved efficiencies and stronger teamwork
  • Simpler, clearer and more effective systems and processes
Experience has shown that the standard is particularly useful for smaller organisations as it provides a robust framework for running a business as well as standardised procedures and processes which enable the rapid integration of new staff.
As the standard requires social and environmental issues to be addressed, this can help to:
  • Boost employee motivation, attract best talent and improve retention
  • Enhance reputation and strengthen relationships with key clients, suppliers, partners and other external stakeholders who hold similar values
  • Achieve costs savings with respect to material consumption, waste and energy
  • Reduce carbon emissions over the entire event supply chain
  • Strengthen the position of the organisation within the community
ISO 20121 challenges “business as usual” and drives creativity and innovation which in turn can provide organisations with a competitive edge.

How to Get Started

If you want to get started on your journey to ISO 20121 then contact us at and we will see how we can help you.

For more information on ISO 20121 go to  From here you will be able to obtain checklists and guides as well as finding out how to obtain training and other support to enable you to implement ISO 20121.

If you are looking for ISO 20121 certification then go to for more information on how to obtain certification to the standard.

ISO 20121 Standard