The institutionalisation of sustainability in event management: a case study of the diffusion of ISO 20121 at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

  • Andrew Bakos

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Sustainability has become an increasingly significant issue in the events industry, especially within the context of planning and staging major sporting events. The release of the International Organizations for Standardization (ISO) 20121: 2012 – Event sustainability management systems exemplifies an industry-specific innovation as a solution to the growing societal demands for the production of sustainable events. Empirical analysis of management standards has predominately focused on the global diffusion of previous ISO standards. Scholars have called for more research on the early days of diffusion whereby standards are diffused through a few number of key actors. Given the relatively novel quality of ISO 20121, there is a current lack of understanding on how these standards are diffused. This gap in the literature was addressed by analysing and evaluating the diffusion of ISO 20121 within the host city of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

This study follows a single-case study qualitative research design that relied on interview data, participant observations, and organisational documents. Data collection occurred from September 2015 to November 2018, which included 32 semi-structured interviews with event and sustainability professionals. The research was carried out in a three-phase research design that followed the researcher’s conceptualisation of the Field-Configuring Event Innovation Diffusion Model. The first phase analyses the GC2018 field in which ISO 20121 had potential to be diffused in the local events industry to identify the key actors involved in the diffusion of the standard. It argued that GC2018 qualified as an interstitial issue field, whereby the field emerged at the intersection of multiple exchange fields. The second phase examines how key diffusion actors disseminated ISO 20121 within the GC2018 field. Findings illustrate an uncoordinated effort in the diffusion of ISO 20121 with most of the diffusion activities being done by the organising committee for the 2018 Commonwealth Games (GOLDOC). The third and final phase of the research analyses the perception of potential adopters through Rogers (2003) Innovation-Decision Process. Subsequently, there was only few instances of the standard’s adoption within the local events industry of GC2018.

The study has significant implications from a theoretical perspective. First, it addresses calls for empirical sport and event research (Mallen, 2018; Lockstone-Binney, 2019) in the area of sport and event sustainability standards (Nguyen, 2018). Within organisational studies, the research findings provide a better understanding of the link between the processes of diffusion and institutionalisation through an empirical analysis using Stamm’s (2019) diffusion work perspective.

From a practical perspective, the findings from this research are important as the implementation of the standard has become a requirement for future Organizing Committees (OCs) of the Olympic Games. Yet, outside of major events, the implementation of the standard has been lacklustre to date. The findings from this research provide insight as to why the sport and event industry has not accepted the ISO 20121 standard as well as expected and how to increase awareness and adoption of the standard through major and mega-events. A network approach for ISO 20121 small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) adoption is presented as an approach for future mega-events to positively impact the diffusion and subsequent adoption of the standard.
Date of Award12 Feb 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDanny O'Brien (Supervisor) & Lisa Gowthorp (Supervisor)

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