After a long journey we’ve made it to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change COP21 in Paris. We’re working on a freelance event management project for Bristol City Council at COP21.

Security, as you might imagine, is tight.

I’ve never worked on an event site where security consists of private soldiers in full body armour, balaclavas, machine guns and dogs.

Nor a site that is protected by what look to be ground-to-air missiles! You’ll have to forgive the fact that I didn’t stop to take any photos…

To be fair the security have been really good. Yes our passes were still not approved by the local police (although the foreign office had said we were approved), and yes we had to wait more than three hours for a member of the organising team to sign us in, but when you consider the scale and importance of the event, it’s to be expected.

The site is amazing. Over several months they have created a temporary city block, formed mostly of clear-span marquees but then fitted out internally with full auditoriums, catering and restroom facilities and all other services that you’d expect for a venue set to receive over 40,000 visitors.

Event sustainability

I was interested to see how the event was being managed from a sustainability perspective, especially the exhibition build, as traditionally they are not all that sustainable. From what I have seen the approach in Paris can be summed up in one word: OSB.

The organisers have used unfinished/painted OSB for pretty much the entire build. I knew that this was the plan, and on first hearing it I was concerned about the look.

Thankfully the space was pretty good. Through an effective use of graphics and the fact that the OSB was everywhere you looked, the space actually felt like a cohesive bit of design, rather than a rough and ready workshop space delivered on the cheap.

From a sustainability perspective OSB Is a good choice of primary material.

OSB can be reasonably sustainable, as long as the wood comes from sustainably managed sources and the resins and wax used to form the boards is non-toxic.

After the event the boards could be recycled to wood chips for re-use – and given the amount of board they will be left with, I hope they do!

There were two key elements however where I think they let themselves down.

  • Lighting – I know it’s difficult to get exhibition contractors to specify LEDs, but for a UN climate conference? Come on – these should have been compulsory.
  • Paint – It’s always the little details that are hard to manage, and painters, as the last link in the delivery chain are often left to their own devices. However, for COP21 it would be nice to have seen natural paints being used rather than traditional chemical based products with VOCs that directly contribute to climate change.

Perhaps on smaller shows these choices could have been excused due to budget, but for COP21 – when the whole world is watching and you are building on such a scale – it’s the little things that make a difference.