The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has taken a massive toll on the events industry. The lock downs designed to minimize the spread of the virus have had an economic impact on an industry that is built on socializing and group gatherings. Many event organizers have been left helplessly checking for updates, hoping that they will be able to start working again sooner rather than later. In spite of all of the turmoil and unease, there is a particularly bright silver lining to the entire situation.
The reduction in green house gas emissions due to the stay-at-home orders has allowed the earth to visibly revitalize. Vivian Belzaguy—founder of Miami’s first sustainable events consulting firm, Ascendance Sustainable Events—believes that this is an opportunity to initiate long term change. In an effort to kick start that change, Ascendance has released a free 15 page event sustainability guide.
The Elevating Event Sustainability guide is available for download from the Ascendance website. The guide is an invaluable resource for an industry that finds itself in the precarious position of handling the fallout of the pandemic. While we may be in murky waters, Belzaguy is right when she says, “it’s a perfect time for events to re-think the way they operate so that they can collectively step lightly back on the planet” using “free to implement, cost-saving or revenue generating” techniques.
We had the opportunity to speak with Belzaguy about the Elevating Event Sustainability guide and her work at Ascendance Sustainability Events. Check out this great interview where we discuss her work in sustainability, the state of the events industry and the future of her company. Be sure to share the free guide so we can all do our part to maximize the environmental rebound from the lock down!
Grit Daily: When did you start Ascendance Sustainable Events?
Vivian Belzaguy: The idea for Ascendance was born in 2017 when I attended an event that I felt desperately needed sustainability initiatives. When I approached the event organizers about it, they agreed but had no one on their team who could take on the program. Soon after, they became my first client!
GD: How did you put together this team of talented women? Did being a group of all women present any challenges?
VB: I am lucky enough to call all of these incredible women my friends. I’ve known some longer than others, but I knew them all personally before we decided to work together professionally. We all share a common love for the planet, so when I had the idea to bring our talents together for this great cause, the answer was a resounding yes. Absolutely zero challenges came from being a group made entirely of women… I’m tempted to say quite the contrary, but I won’t go there!
GD: What are some of the notable projects Ascendance has worked on?
VB: As Ascendance, our most notable project has been our work with Rakastella Music Festival which has been called “the most eco-conscious undertaking by any Miami electronic music festival.” What a compliment!
I also served as the Senior Manager of Sustainability for Ultra Music Festival, which has been the most notable project of my career. It was a dream job for me and I am so proud of what we created together with the “Mission: Home” sustainability program, which reached over 3.3 Million people online and 50,000 attendees per day of the event.
GD: How did your sustainability efforts at Ultra pay off?
VB: It certainly paid off for the environment. In the first year alone, we diverted over 60,000 pounds of waste from landfill, reduced 526,000 single-use plastic items from our waste stream and achieved 100% acceptance of our recyclables by our local recycling facility. In year 2, we planned to move beyond waste reduction, adding the focus of reduced energy consumption and carbon emissions, which would have significantly grown the environmental benefits!
GD: Over recent years, sustainability has become a much bigger priority for businesses. What obstacles do you think are preventing the widespread adoption of sustainable business practices?
VB: In the U.S. we are quite behind other countries when it comes to having sustainable solutions that are easily accessible and/or affordable. Some states and cities in particular are even further behind. For example, here in Florida we have virtually zero industrial composting facilities. In Miami, we can’t even recycle glass and a vast majority of plastics. It might be far different in more progressive states like California, but I think it still holds our country back as a whole when we can’t establish a widespread norm for sustainable practices in all of our states and local municipalities.
GD: Would you say the lock downs are offering us a head start to repair the environment? Is that why you thought now would be the best time to put out your free sustainability guide for events companies?
VB: Absolutely. While it’s incredibly unfortunate that it took a global pandemic for us to put a pause on the damage being done to our planet, we’ve seen stories from all over the world of how the environment is rebounding at an incredible rate. That’s exactly why I thought to put the guide out now. While we may not know when, we know that events will come back some day and boy, will we have some big parties on our hands when that happens! It’s a perfect time for events to re-think the way they operate so that the industry can collectively step lightly back on the planet.
GD: The live music and events industries have been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you think smaller companies will be able to afford implementing the changes you’ve outlined in your free guide?
VB: Definitely. In fact, many of the ideas presented in the guide are either free to implement, cost-saving or revenue generating… so, some will actually save events money or create additional profits! This was another good reason for me to put out this guide now. I know most events will not be able to invest in hiring on consultants like us anytime soon, and I didn’t want that to stand in anyone’s way. I wanted to give them all the resources I could for them to get started on their own.
GD: Do you have any other projects that you are rolling out during the rest of the lock down?
VB: Yes! We’re working on building out some affordable “plug and play” packages that provide some further guidance and specific tools for events who can’t afford to fully bring us on, but still want more help. More to come on that on our website very soon!
GD: What are your goals for Ascendance once Florida and the Nation completely re-open?
VB: I’d love to continue working with electronic music festivals that take place in environmentally-rich, outdoor spaces. It is a personal passion of mine to be around this highly influential music scene, utilizing it as a platform to create awareness around sustainability. Plus, I miss being out in nature and natural venues need to be protected now more than ever!