Alya Khalidi is the Whitespace Group Sustainability and Social Impact Manager, a relatively new role in the company’s 20-year history working alongside each Brand – Skyline Whitespace, Whitespace XPO and WhiteboxGo – to ensure environmental considerations are further embedded.

Q1: Alya, tell us about yourself and your role.

A: I joined Whitespace back in 2018, initially as a Project Admin. However, our experience with the NHS Vaccination rollout during the pandemic made us realise how we could make a positive impact on our community. That’s when the role of Sustainability and Social Impact Manager was established, marking a significant step in our journey towards our ESG development.

My role involves engaging with various charities to see how we can support causes that support our values and goals. We calculate our Co2e emissions and report internally so it’s a lot of data collection and departmental meetings. I also spend a lot of time researching suppliers and keeping an eye on regulations to make sure we’re compliant and ahead of any major changes. We are also working towards obtaining ISO9001 and ISO14001 accreditations to formalise our operational commitments and improve our efficiency.

Q2: What are the factors driving sustainability and social impact as a priority?

A: Our industry is notoriously wasteful and labour/resource-intensive, we need to show that we’re part of the solution and not the problem. ESG isn’t just about environmental preservation; it’s about increasing efficiency and holding ourselves accountable as a business, to our workers, the environment and our communities.

We’re investing in our ESG efforts now more than ever because it’s what people want, it’s good for business, and honestly, it’s the right thing to do.

Q3: What is our Sustainability Mission and how do we go about achieving this?

A: Our primary mission is to provide sustainable stand solutions without compromising quality or creativity, while minimising harm to the environment. We’ve been focusing on reusability since 2002, with a substantial rental library to reduce the need for manufacturing and transportation. We are strong advocates for moving away from the traditional ‘build and burn’ format that’s so common in the industry. We’ve received encouraging feedback from our clients who are now looking to reuse more parts of their stands over multiple shows, which is both cost-effective and eco-friendly.

Q4. How can we better reduce waste in the construction of live events and exhibition stands?

A: Reusing materials, using less energy, and reducing waste all add up to cost savings in the long run for both us and our clients. Waste reduction all starts at the design stage, with careful and clear communication with our clients we can plan for stands over multiple shows, re-using where appropriate, focusing on form and function as a priority. Any custom furniture or stand elements are donated as part of our contribution the circular economy. This is where our charity partners come in, helping us to find new homes for any hard to recycle pieces. For example, vinyl flooring and carpet is not made to be used for one day and thrown away. Working with the right partners means we can ensure that flooring is either recycled or donated to be used in social housing.

Q5: How have company employees responded to ESG developments?

A: The response has been overwhelmingly positive, both internally and externally. Our staff have embraced new changes with enthusiasm. We survey staff annually to gather feedback on benefits and DE&I helping to identify areas where improvement is needed. Our recent volunteer day at the Wetlands Centre was a huge success so it will be something we continue to grow more of in the future.

Q7. What types of ESG initiatives have already been implemented at Whitespace Group?

A: We have introduced a wide range of initiatives over the past year. From providing free period products in the office, to increased paternity pay and a menopause policy, we are always investing back into the health and wellbeing of our staff. Our new Sustainable Purchasing Policy acts as guide for where we should be purchasing goods and services from, allowing us to be more thoughtful about who we support and the impact that has. We offer incentives for greener travel into the office and have a sponsorship budget for individual charity work. It’s a work in a progress and we have a lot of exciting plans for 2024.

Q8. Could you describe some of the ways in which you plan to engage with the local community and some of the benefits of these partnerships?

A: We’ve recently been awarded Sustainable Impact Award at the Merton Business Awards, which has allowed us to meet and strengthen partnerships with more local businesses and charities. Looking toward 2024 we plan to work closely with Sustainable Merton, while continuing our support of Wimbledon Guild. Most of our preferred suppliers are based in South-West London and we are looking at ways in which we can collaborate more with independent businesses for internal events and marketing. The benefits are that we are often all facing the same challenges regardless of business sector, and the more we know about each other, the more support we can give.

Q9: What can the industry do better to improve our environmental impact and avoid ‘greenwashing’?

A: It’s great to see increased dialogue within the industry about increasing ESG efforts. With events like Reset Connect and the Mash Media’s Sustainability Summit gaining traction, collaboration and open dialogue among stand builders, agencies, venues, and organisers is the key. It’s about acting with integrity and being honest about where we all are with our journeys. Nobody is expecting a completely carbon neutral events industry to happen overnight, but you can already see attitudes changing from what they were just two years ago, it’s only going to get better from here.

Q10. What advice do you have for others who are struggling to decide which social impact strategies to pursue?

A: Internal support is the most important factor when implementing any ESG strategy within a business. If senior management isn’t on board, it will be very hard to achieve any meaningful success. I would always recommend asking for help and ideas from your staff, find out what they care about and what they want to see their employer supporting. It’s so important to listen to the people around you and make sure communication is there throughout the journey.