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World Environment Day: building a greener future for the events industry

The conversation around creating a greener future has never been louder, thanks in part, to the young and wise Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg.

We live in a time where information, figures and statistics about the environmental impact of everything from a car journey to the lifecycle of a hamburger are obtainable. Yet we continue to use fossil fuels, take long flights and indulge in environmentally damaging behaviours.

Unfortunately, the meetings and events industry isn’t innocent either. According to a report from Hope Solutions and power management specialists, ZAP Concept, the UK events industry emits 1.2bn kg of CO2 emissions every year. A variety of factors such as travelling, food waste and outdated venue infrastructure contribute to these emissions.

However, the prevalence of eco-conscious event planners rallying against environmentally-harmful practices is becoming the new norm in the industry.

We create really high-quality events that combine both remote and face to face and commit to reducing the environmental impact.

Entire agencies are being created with the sole focus of creating sustainable events. Although it’s easy to blame delegates with small appetites or venues that refuse to upgrade their heating systems, ultimately, the responsibility to create environmentally-friendly events lies with the planner.

Sowing the seeds to create greener events can be daunting, so Stuart Coleman founder of sustainable events company Eventism, shares how to get started.

Top tips:

Be committed, be passionate

You have to want to make a difference and then actually live and breathe it. Feel some passion and don’t be afraid of talking to colleagues, clients, venues and suppliers about why you’re committed to delivering a sustainable event.

A small change is better than no change

I follow the kaizen philosophy with my events and clients: if we can all work on being better than we were last time, then that will drive significant change. Where you can push for as much positive change as possible, but be realistic as you want to take people on the journey with you. And when you do something good, celebrate it!

Ask, ask, ask again and verify!

You have to ask the right questions of clients, venues, partners and suppliers to ensure you’re working with people and businesses that are committed to making a difference. Don’t be satisfied with an answer on an email that doesn’t demonstrate that commitment. Be inquisitive. Ask for proof of how a hotel’s CSR policy is helping local communities for example. Don’t let a catering partner tell you they have a food waste policy without seeing the data to prove they’re serious about it.

Get measuring where you can

Always measure your impact; find out how much food waste you’ve created and then compare it next year; calculate the amount of CO2 your event generated and record what you did to offset it. Set your benchmarks as that’s the only way to demonstrate progress as you go on your journey.

What the pandemic has shown the industry

The requirement to rethink traditional events has never been more ubiquitous than it currently is. As the world began shutting down in February as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which started in Asia and quickly swept across the globe, industries that required people to travel and meet also ceased. But only in the physical form.

The restrictions on travelling and gatherings resulted in event planners needing to adapt and get creative. In doing so, the rise of the virtual events gained traction, with everything from virtual industry dinner parties to hybrid tradeshows running successfully.

“I think there are some pretty obvious things that have come to the fore about how remote events can work,” added Coleman. “If you look at the Microsoft Build Event, there are some brilliant metrics around the number of people that took part this year.”

Coleman refers to the Microsoft’s Build developer conference in which the tech company hosted a 48-hour live stream with more than 23,000 virtual attendees, up from 6,000 at last year’s physical event.

However, Coleman hastened to add that, while virtual events are becoming more impressive, it’s the ability to combine face-to-face and virtual events which is intriguing.

“I’m a huge advocate of face-to-face events and what really excites me is how we create really high-quality events that combine both remote and face to face and commit to reducing the environmental impact.”

While studies show that face-to-face meetings are the backbone of the events industry, understanding, accepting and excelling in virtual events, not only adds another string to the event planner’s bow, they can also dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of physical events.

Moving towards a greener industry

As an industry, sustainability and eco-approaches to event design have always been a hot topic of conversation. However, greening the industry has, at times, proved difficult due to the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But since the global lockdown, the industry has adapted and proved its dynamism.

Virtual events or hybrid events should now be considered as a way of reducing the environmental impact of events, along with the sustainable practices the industry was integrating before the pandemic, such as food waste reduction and zero-plastics.

This is not to say that all events must be carbon-neutral, but reducing the environmental impact of an event needs to be high on the list of planners’ priorities.

Need some inspiration?

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to create a sustainable-focused event, take a look at what their agencies are doing:

Legacy

Bio: At Legacy, we organise events as a showcase for inspiration and best practice for organisations. We work with clients to deliver beautiful events that engage and delight their guests. We advise planners and other event professionals on how to create events that are enjoyable in new and imaginative ways. We give access to our network of sustainable products and resources, democratising event planning and creating the conditions for innovation and positive change. We give credit to those individuals and organisations making big efforts to run genuinely sustainable events, creating a legacy for generations to come.

Legacy represents the next generation of events and experiences, a collective of inspired organisations and empowered communities.

Case study: SPONGE2020 conference

Eventism

Bio: Eventism was born from two great passions.  The first is creating and delivering experiences that inspire, educate and entertain. The second is having a positive impact on the world in which we live.

We believe that every event should be brilliant and sustainable. With over eight years of experience creating corporate events all over the world, you’re in safe hands with Eventism.

Case study: Shorelight Education, Phuket 2019 Sales Summit

Smyle

Bio: Sustainability is really important to us. Our processes ensure we take an environmentally responsible approach to delivering events. Back in 2011, we were one of the first agencies to gain the ISO 20121 Sustainable Event Management certification from BSI. We were also pro-active in establishing the annual Sustainable Events Summit and a wider community of like-minded companies.

Today, sustainability is part of how we work. For our clients, we’ve developed a unique Event and Sustainability Investment (EASI) Report.

Case Study: BT Beyond Limits Brand Launch