A view on how the landscape has changed through the lens of the partnership between EMFD and Glaziers Hall.
Few people would argue that the hospitality and events sector has seen a seismic shift over recent years, not least as a result of the pandemic. During that time, priorities changed, giving businesses and consumers a greater opportunity to consider the impact they were having on the planet.
According to Elizabeth Marsh at Elizabeth Marsh Floral Design, there has been both a positive and negative shift: on the negative side, costs and wages have risen across all areas, and staff availability has become a challenge.
This is not specific to the events industry, however, but it is especially intense in the floral design sector where “hours are always long, staff shortages are commonplace with a seasonal business model and tight profit margins are faced with a lot of competition”. On the positive side, the people who are in work are much happier. This is strikingly obvious to see these days even when buying a coffee.
“The next generation seem to be more relaxed and kinder to each other than ‘back in the day’. It would appear that they have developed a united front in the face of adversity - something which many grandparents, and to a lesser extent parents, would have been familiar with in the aftermath of the two World Wars.”
In the floristry sector, people are struggling with mental resilience with such depressing news constantly being played out to them like a barrage of bullets assaulting their imaginations, so flowers are more appreciated now than ever before.
Ironically, with the increase in the cost of food, drink and other basics, people expect to pay for what they get and so are less questioning about prices now than before lockdown. “Weddings are generally a little smaller than they once were but the budgets are not necessarily less: people want to spend money on people they really care about and so spend more on fewer people, choosing their guests more carefully than they otherwise would have done.”
Certainly, sustainability is key to many these days. At EMFD, their locally-sourced foliage is very popular and there is both much more demand and availability of UK-grown flowers than before. The other shift lies in the styles that are popular; “tiny bud vases that run down the length of a long table in the “Therese Desqueyroux,” ‘citizenship’ style as opposed to the round tables favoured ten years ago, remain very popular as do the less structured designs that border on art rather than decoration.”
As a venue that works with private clients and also corporate bookings, Glaziers Hall, based on the Southbank in London, has updated its approach to meet with its sustainability targets and the changing needs of its customers.
At EMFD, customers are keen to know that their flower choices are sustainable and are often keen to give away the flowers to their guests after the event rather than have them thrown away. Whilst keen to create an evocative setting for their event, they are hesitant to be seen to be lavish and wasteful.
At EMFD however, the flowers are recycled through a charity called Floral Angels, who give them to people in hospices and old people’s homes.
Clients do not ask about the sustainability of EMFD practices, but they are relieved when they’re told about the various things that have been done to reduce environmental impacts; this includes driving an electric van, eliminating landfill waste, recycling event flowers, dis-using oasis unless absolutely necessary and using, by-and-large, London sourced foliage.
New considerations for event planners and venues
The first and most notable difference with bookings during 2023 has been the need to consider many different aspects of an event.
For example, at Glaziers Hall, significant investment was made into the installation of a 1 gigabit fibre-optic internet link at the venue.
This was supported with 4G backup and WIFI mesh network to WIFI 6 standards, providing connectivity for increasingly complex events that require online and in person attendance with access for more than 500 people at any given time.
When working in a modern venue with the various technologies being used, both new ones and also older ones, the main criteria are so-called ‘lines of sight’; ensuring the florals don’t obscure the view across the room for speeches, video equipment etc.
Health and safety issues are also important; ensuring there is no water around electrical cables, and that plinths with large arrangements are steady and balanced, especially if positioned close to cables and technical equipment.
One of the biggest changes is the more structured approach to health and safety. Risk assessments are increasingly needed by both the venue and the client to ensure best practice is observed and the wellbeing of guests managed as far as possible.
Working with local suppliers
Based just a short walk from Borough Market, Glaziers Hall is fortunate to have a variety of fruit and veg’ suppliers quite literally on the doorstep. With fresh, seasonal ingredients, the team can rely on a year-round supply of produce.
Not only is EMFD close to New Covent Garden Market, the company is actually in it! This means that they are close to the latest designs rolling out across the industry, and their carbon footprint is lower because they do not have to travel to buy their flowers; literally, they can walk!
Being close to the heart of the industry, and, with Liz being on one of the boards that help the direction of the market, they have a chance to voice their concerns especially around sustainability and the ethics and values the market upholds.
The venue also works closely with partners that have the same values and commitment to sourcing local produce and reducing food miles. This ensures that when clients come to Glaziers Hall for an event, they can be reassured that the catering has been carefully considered.
It’s not just the fruit and vegetables. As a venue that has clients relying upon meeting space and business events each week, working with Missing Bean Coffee Roasters based in Oxford, the team know that the coffee offered is ethical.
The commitment from Missing Bean is to buy direct from farmers to ensure a fair wage, to ensure sustainable production and ethical labour practices and to maintain direct communication with the farms to ensure these practices are followed.
As stated above, EMFD has a lower carbon footprint because they are based at the market and are close to their clients. So, whilst they pay more in rent they travel less. Liz, their founder, trained in traditional floristry methods that did not use artificial oasis, so the company is able to reduce the use of this highly damaging material to a minimum.
Anything that can be recycled is recycled. Liz has also designed a light that helps plants to grow; it is not well known but some corporate planting companies place plants in areas where there is insufficient light and simply change them over when they look unsightly.
Unlike the characterless offerings that many corporate schemes embrace, EMFD is committed to planting responsibly so that plants thrive and develop their personality. Currently, Liz is developing a filter in tandem with a company that specialises in reducing the impact of mankind on the water systems.
This will enable florists to recycle their water and will have the capacity to save thousands of litres of water once it comes to fruition. Whilst the UK flower market is not able to compete with sophisticated Dutch systems yet, whenever possible, EMFD uses UK grown flowers and certainly flowers that are indigenous to this country rather than exotics commonly used in the past.
Encouraging clients to make more sustainable choices
In addition to implementing more sustainable practices throughout the business, Glaziers Hall also provides its clients with access to sustainability experts.
Thanks to a partnership with From Now, the dedicated sustainability consultancy, Glaziers Hall can provide clients with everything they need from one-off consultancy about how to improve the environmental impact of an event to detailed goal setting, measurement and benchmarking.
What’s more, the team at From Now also offer workshops and team training to cover all of the topics that matter most to those with a clear focus on reducing their impact as a result of the events they deliver.
EMFD finds that clients want to enjoy themselves and are open to suggestions as to how they might do this. The company tends to suggest things that are known to be environmentally beneficial or at least not detrimental, and usually clients embrace them too.
At the end of the day, clients are not told what to do or what to have, but they are encouraged to consider the options available and their impact. Both EMFD and Glaziers Hall have this continuously front of mind in delivering for their clients.
Working towards becoming a more sustainable venue
The team at Glaziers Hall recognise that becoming a more sustainable venue does not happen overnight. It requires careful consideration, investment and in some instances, partnerships to deliver lasting and positive change.
Taking its commitment one step further, Glaziers Hall is participating in the Mayor’s Business Climate Challenge (BCC), a voluntary energy efficiency programme developed to support businesses in reducing their energy consumption, costs and carbon emissions.
The venue has pledged to reduce its energy consumption by 10 per cent in a year and will receive free customised technical advice from consultants to help make the workplace more energy efficient and future-proof the business against rising energy prices.
Findings from the BCC pilot indicate that in the first 9 months of the programme, participants reduced their energy consumption on average by 16 per cent, saving £8,300 in energy costs.
While the sustainability journey at the venue is ongoing, Glaziers Hall is making changes that will reduce its impact on the environment and that of its customers. In working collaboratively, it is hoping that it can become a business that endorses best practice beyond its own commitments.
By working with venues that embrace sustainability, EMFD forms a virtuous circle and increases their own impact. The world is in a critical state, and whilst people may or may not believe it, this is the result of human intervention; changing our practices has already proved to be hugely beneficial with areas restored to miraculous levels being showcased by the likes of David Attenborough.
Along with diversity and inclusivity, sustainability is becoming a part of responsible living and individuals should all want to embrace that together in the hope of a better world.
The EMFD founder, Liz Marsh, set up a charity around integrating nature into the urban environment. She did this because of her passion in creating a world where inclusivity doesn’t just relate to people but also to plants and animals.
“A world where humanity can thrive as part of a rich abundance of species is infinitely more appealing and more inspiring than living a life surrounded by a concrete jungle.”
As a floral designer, dependent on nature for both her materials and her inspiration, this project is close to her heart.
Glaziers Hall and EMFD are very much in sync when it comes to sustainability and sustainable practices and look forward to continuing a great partnership together.