60 seconds with… Anna Abdelnoor

60 seconds with… Anna Abdelnoor

Anna Abdelnoor is the co-founder and CEO of isla, the independent industry body driving the events sector transition to a sustainable future, and will be one of the speakers joining us online for our IBTM Wired conference programme on Day 4 of the event. She will be delivering a session on “The Sustainability ‘Game-Changer’ for Events”.

Ahead of this session, we sat down with Anna to find out a little more about her and her passion for sustainability in the events industry.

How did you get into the events industry?

After a series of mistakes! I always wanted to work in events, but my family told me to ‘get a real job’. At 25, after working in mental health for five years, I decided that ‘a real job’ was rubbish and so started from scratch in the industry as an intern, working my way up before starting isla.

Favourite thing about events?

Controversially, the de-rig! I love the way everyone moves in, and you close out the event as one big team saying goodbye to weeks and months of hard work.

Where does your passion for sustainability within events come from?

I finally decided to align my personal life with my professional one in 2019. I’m very socio-politically active and engage in social justice causes and I believe environmental justice is social justice. I think the meetings and events industry has a part to play in supporting and accelerating global decarbonisation and transition to a circular economy. Both of these have positive socioeconomic impacts too.

What do you think is the current status of sustainability in the events industry? Has it changed at all due to COVD?

It’s definitely taken more of a front seat. The narrative around building back better is about building back greener and so there’s a lot more movement than pre-pandemic. We still have a long way to go but the cultural shift is really positive and behavioural & system changes will happen as a result, as long as we’re all taking part in the change making!

What are some of the key challenges facing event planners regarding sustainability?

Inconsistency in information and practices. What Venue A is doing is probably really different to Venue B, and the same will go for Caterers A and B. The same will stand true across all event service business. As a result, there’s a huge challenge to consistently practice sustainability and an inability to track progress event to event. That’s one of the reasons isla was established – to help standardised sustainability in the sector and we’ve got some great resources to support this.

What has been your crowning moment in your career so far?

I feel I should say launching isla! We launched in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 and have gone from strength to strength. However, I think the crowning moment in my career was finally starting it back in 2013 when I left mental health to become part of the event sector.

What are some sustainable quick wins that event planners could look to include when planning their next event?

  • Look at your biggest activity area. Are you feeding 5000 people or are you building 5,000sqm of exhibition stands? Start with where you’re doing the most and see how you can eliminate waste and / or limit carbon emissions in that specific area.
  • Talk compellingly about sustainability as an opportunity for your clients / stakeholders to demonstrate leadership and promote positive climate activities.
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to unsustainable practices, just make sure you have a realistic alternative solution and can confidently present this.

What’s on your desk?

Apart from my laptop… A bottle of Frank’s chilli sauce, a glass of water, some British-grown flowers I bought myself, my sunglasses, headphones and a finished bowl of Eton Mess (I didn’t put the Frank’s on it, don’t worry!)

What are you most looking forward to doing when the world is back to normal?

Getting the train to Northern Italy, to eat gnocchi, cornettos and pizza, as well as to splash about in icy-cold mountain water.

Do you have any favourite books or podcasts or accounts you can recommend to get people more engaged in sustainability topics?

Jon Richardson & The Futurenauts is a great podcast and covers so many really interesting topics. They use humour to help convey some of the harder messages we need to hear!


Hear more from Anna Abdelnoor when she appears online on Day 4 of IBTM Wired for her session “The Sustainability ‘Game-Changer for Events“.

Register to attend here.

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