How to turn your events into a sustainable revelation?

Jul 21, 2020

Header photo: Delegates attending the Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development form the SDG wheel at the World Conference Center (WCC) in Bonn, Germany. Source: United Nations

The event industry is a huge polluter. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but it’s the truth. We spend countless hours preparing for meetings that usually last only a few hours. Often we’re left with unused promotional materials, leftover food (or champagne) and lots of other waste. 

So, should we stop the meetings at once? Absolutely not! We can, and definitely should, make them a bit more sustainable.

How should one go about doing so? There are a few ways. As our main focus and value at PUUF is sustainability, we’ve paid extra attention to noteworthy practices over the years we worked in the event industry. We’re glad to share (and learn from you, too) – so dive right into them and feel no shame about using them in your planning process!

1. Know your impact

How can you mitigate your impact if you don’t know it? That might be a somewhat painful exercise, but if you discover the areas where you pollute the most it’s going to be easier to prioritize and target them. It’s not a rule, but higher carbon impacts often come hand in hand with higher costs. Examples? Power consumption, transportation, or food waste. Filling 2 needs with 1 deed!

A case study of a basketball game with 560 spectators showed that the carbon footprint of the transportation constituted 73% of the event’s entire impact:

How to recognize the areas of impact?

There are tools that help find it out, but in my opinion, it’s good to start with just giving it a thought. What things are you actually facilitating? Is it food? Is it promotional materials? Transportation? Take a look at the operations and evaluate using common sense. Dividing up environmental impacts into groups can make them more manageable. If you are short on time, choose one that has the biggest polluting potential and tackle it first. 

If you want to dig deeper I would recommend using an event impact calculator offered by MyClimate.org [https://co2.myclimate.org/en/event_calculators/new]. Not only does it allow you to approximate your event’s impact, but also lets you offset it for a fee.

2. Involve your contractors via dialog

The best time to get input from contractors is when they’re bidding for the job. They will really think outside of the box to appear better than their competition, so make sure you stipulate that you want their help with reducing environmental impacts.

A good example if you’re running an outdoor event is to get your power contractor to start measuring power usage using remote monitoring systems. These systems can tell you how much power is actually being used by your generators in different parts of the show. Remember the ‘know your impact’ part? Exactly.

It’s a good idea to involve contractors early on to give them time to prepare because your request might be unusual. But don’t let that discourage you. The extra effort is worth it.

Visually appealing and informative waste bins at the Northside Festival. Prepared for this occasion by JS/WordPerfect, lit up containers were meant to attract festival-goers to sorting trash and educate about waste management process.
Source: http://worldperfect.dk/7

Are you working with caterers and bars? Make an agreement that obliges them to serve their food and drinks in recyclable serve-ware. Make sure appropriate recycling stations are available at the event site so the effort doesn’t go to… waste.

3. Vegan or vegetarian food. Optimally local.

Meat production and consumption, in particular, are of great importance to our carbon footprint and represent no less than 15% of the total global CO2 emissions. By choosing vegetarian meals as the main and basic choice for event participants you reduce the carbon footprint of the event significantly.

Carbon emissions of production for each ingredient of classic meals.
Source: https://www.teletracnavman.com/resources/resource-library/infographics/food-miles-and-co2-emissions-infographic

How to do it? In a recent study called ‘Nudging healthy and sustainable food choices’ the researchers found out that exposing conference participants to a fully vegetarian menu as the default choice, one can increase the popularity of the vegetarian menu by 81%. Let that sink in – 81%. (Source: https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/doi/10.1093/pubmed/fdz154/5637580)

To nudge – gently encourage (someone) to do something.

By making the food organic and local, you level the game up by not only supporting small organic farmers but also by minimizing the costs of transportation and its negative effects.

4. Support transportation alternatives.

As shown above, transportation can be the highest impact area of your event. Quite surprising for something that happens OUTSIDE of the event area. 

Inspire your guests to choose a bike over a bus and a bus, tram or train over a car. Support carpooling or pre-arrange bus transport to and from the venue. You do not have to choose one, you can do all of these. 

Yet another situation where nudging can play a big role: provide details for public transportation in your communication. Present its benefits over coming with a car. This will plant an idea in the participant’s mind, expose them to an alternative possibility.

How different transportation compares in terms of carbon footprint.
Source: https://www.reservations.com/blog/tips-tricks-budgets/carbon-footprint-travel/

Example: I participated in the Meeting Live Vest conference organized by Kursuslex. It took place in Fredericia, 220km away from Copenhagen. Normally I would drive there, but organizers offered free transportation by bus for all the participants. Naturally, I chose to come by bus, saving 0.10 metric tons of CO2 (440 km in a petrol vehicle using 10 L/100km)!

5. Inspire and show it

You’re doing a great job. Make it visible!

  • Let the guests know about your sustainable ideas, share your efforts and inspire others to consider this approach.
  • Use your event as a platform to show off and educate on what small steps we all can implement to achieve a better future.
  • Use figures and infographics. This will make your message appear reliable and understandable. We’re past the times when just talking about the environment was enough. Nowadays we need to provide proof that our actions are thought through and sustainable.

Infographic showcasing Rodkjaer Event code of sustainable conduct and philosophy.
S
ource: rodkjaer.dk

Not only will you make the participants feel good about attending the event, which creates a compelling experience. You’ll also send a message to a wide audience that says you’re a responsible and trustworthy professional. 

Once again: don’t be quiet about sustainability!

What comes next?

What we do, how we plan and organize affects everyone around us. It’s important to recognize the responsibility and act accordingly, with our well being and the environment in mind. Challenging ourselves, our contractors and even our clients into thinking sustainably creates a paradigm shift we should all enforce.

If the above has helped or inspired you, that’s great! Drop us a message with your story!

Do you have more helpful advice or tools? Please share them with us, we will make sure more people hear about them!

Extra resources

https://hallbartevenemang.se/

Hållbart Evenemang/Sustainable Events is a Swedish certification system for events, developed by Greentime. The central element is a reporting and assessment tool that offers event organizers help and structure in their sustainability work. The validity of the sustainability work is ensured by independent 3rd party audits. The English version of the tool is in development.

 

https://www.iso.org/iso-20121-sustainable-events.html – 

‘ISO 20121 offers guidance and best practice to help you manage your event and control its social, economic and environmental impact.’

 

https://www.globalgreenevents.org/certifications/

‘Whether you wish to be accredited yourself, for an individual event you are running, or for your company or organization.’