Top Banana on sustainability: it’s more than just plastic

Has the war on plastic blinded us to other problems? Top Banana commercial director Jemma Peers explores sustainability issues and shares the top three quick wins the industry can start doing to have a long-lasting impact…

In 2019, plastic has been the driving force behind messages of sustainability throughout the industry, with more importance than ever being placed on reducing waste from items like straws and cups.

But plastic is merely a drop in the ocean when it comes to lowering our environmental footprint. Without a doubt, our marine life and oceans are being massively affected by plastic, but if we’re looking at global warming and sustainability as a whole – it’s only a small part of the problem.

Jemma Peers

Watch those air miles
On average, commercial airlines (not including private jets) burn 94 billion gallons of fossil fuel globally per year and account for 2 per cent of global carbon emissions. To help bring these numbers down, our industry needs to start considering alternatives to frequent international travel. This could be anything from organising virtual site recces to organising online events for international delegates – it’s all about weighing up the benefits and impact.

It’s important to stop and think and only travel when absolutely necessary and always try and book direct flights (did you know that take-off and landing alone produces 25 per cent of a plane’s emissions?). Purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by air travel is a great way to give back. From investing in green energy solutions to planting trees – work out what that trip cost the environment and give it back to counteract the effect.

Aim for zero waste
From recyclable cups, straws, cutlery and decorations to the volume and impact of food waste – see how far you can push your event to be waste free. It’s a tough one, but forward thinking can make this a reality. Look at cardboard, paper and bamboo alternatives which can be recycled and think of the life cycle of the event décor – confetti, plastic lanyards and balloons for example are only going to end up in landfills, so work out an effective sustainable alternative that’s still going to wow your guests.

Recycling materials is one thing, but it’s important to know exactly where your food waste is going, as it’s one of the biggest problems in landfill due to the amount of methane food produces when it breaks down. Small changes can make a huge difference, whether it’s by more careful planning of food quantities, the venue better managing food distribution or having plans in place as to what to do with leftover food, every little step can make a huge difference.

Create sustainable menus
Asking a venue or your caterers about where their food comes from should be high on your priority list and it’s always good to challenge them on the following environmental issues. In the UK alone, 95 per cent of our fruit is imported and over half of our vegetables. If food is sourced locally to your event and is seasonal to the country you’re in, you’re reducing the number of miles it’s taken for your dinner to get on your plate, which means less pollution from food being transported hundreds of miles – so always ask the question and see what caterers can do.

Why not mix it up, like a client of ours recently did and try a meat-free, fully vegetarian menu. Meat production and consumption produces almost 15 per cent of global emissions, with beef and dairy creating 65 per cent of all livestock emissions on their own. By going veggie for one day – 300 people at the event will save a staggering 3,747,600 litres of water, 2,400 sqm of Forest and 8,100 kg of CO2. The little changes make the biggest difference.

In reality, these changes aren’t going to happen tomorrow and aren’t necessarily the biggest changes that would have the biggest impact, but if for every event, every agency and every client took these sustainability elements into consideration, the results could be enormous. As an industry we have a huge responsibility for creating a more sustainable world and we need to make sure we’re working together, step by step, to make a change.