Event industry trends are constantly changing. However, being eco-friendly is more than a trend - it has become a necessity.
In recent years, implementing sustainable event planning practices has become vital to the event planning process—and to the success of the event.
Climate change is a global crisis and the events industry has an immense environmental footprint, as events produce a lot of waste and consume a lot of energy.
According to MeetGreen.com, the typical conference attendee produces 4.1 pounds of waste per day, 2.5 of which goes directly to a landfill. For a 1000-person, three-day event, that translates into 12,500 pounds of waste—or the equivalent of four compact cars.
Multiply this by the number of conferences one company has per year and the output nears 4,938 pounds of waste per year from one company’s conference events alone, not to mention workshops, parties and private dining.
The increasing scale and frequency of conferences, festivals, corporate meetings and other events, along with surging consumer consciousness of environmental impact, has elevated sustainability from a trend to a necessity in the events industry.
Media is spotlighting sustainable events—and instances of a lack thereof—and consumers are increasingly influenced by corporate social responsibility when it comes to their buying and experiential patterns.
Both attendees and planners have embraced a greater understanding and awareness of their impact on the environment and are making choices and changes to address this cultural shift.
Event sustainability specialist Shawna McKinley remarks, “Sustainability has become a part of social consciousness to the point I would argue it is essential to have some type of basic policy and approach in order to maintain social license to operate for all businesses, including meetings.”
Sustainable event planning is all about making small but impactful changes to the event planning process that create sustainable events and reduce overall carbon footprint.
Establishing sustainability in the events industry began with the industry setting sustainability standards. In 2013, the Events Industry Council's Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and ASTM International, in collaboration with the Green Meeting Industry Council, released their standards for sustainable meetings.
Four years earlier, the IACC created its own set of standards and a green certification specific to the meetings industry.
These large-scale actions lended an industry-level importance to sustainability and conferred its value in the event management process.
Sustainable events became a surging interest to both professionals and delegates as planners recognized the environmental, social and economic benefits, and consumers embraced the enriching and socially responsible experiences.
Also, sustainable event planning options are more accessible than ever before.
The increasing focus on sustainability corresponded to a change in the market—one that provides a variety of eco-friendly products and resources.
Benefits of Sustainable Event Planning
Going green is a prime way to enhance corporate social responsibility. Firstly, it improves brand reputation and makes a statement of sustainability and consideration when it comes to climate change.
Implementing eco-friendly initiatives into events signals to guests, sponsors, stakeholders and the community that an organization is dedicated to improving the planet and the quality of life for future generations.
A sustainable event planning approach also engages returning and potential attendees—eco-consciousness matches their expectations and ideals, and makes the event more attractive, rewarding and worthwhile.
How To Get Started
For event professionals, initiating sustainable event planning is as beneficial for the bottom line as it is for the planet.
Primarily, eco-efficient practices can save money with cost and consumption savings in energy, food, water and supplies.
Specifically, environmentally friendly venues conserve electricity and the associated spend; sourcing food locally cuts back on importing costs; and waste management initiatives reduce output and squandered resources.
Going green also improves long-term success and profitability.
Sustainable event planning translates into sustainability of business. Being less dependent on natural resources means event planners don’t have to reckon with the rising costs of those natural resources.
Moreover, sustainable practices ensure viability of the event logistically and financially. Sustainable event planning could increase chances of investment and funding, engaging clients with similar corporate social responsibility objectives.
Committing to Sustainability
Event planners have the most power to influence sustainability in the pre-planning stage.
Defining and communicating the event’s stance on sustainability to participants, sponsors, presenters and other stakeholders is a key first step, gaining buy-in and devotion to an organization’s environmental goals at the onset.
The next step event professionals should take to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable event management is the venue selection.
Sourcing venues that have adopted eco-friendly policies and practices and are equipped with sustainable features and amenities goes a long way.
Additionally, identifying locations that are walkable, easily reachable by public transportation, and combine lodging and event spaces for attendees cuts down on in-event travel.
Transportation also presents multiple opportunities to create sustainable events. Organizing shuttle services to and from pickup points or perhaps even incentivizing carpooling for event-goers minimizes vehicle use.
And although air travel cannot be eliminated, offering remote, virtual, and/or hybrid attendance options if event logistics allow reduces such transportation.
Going paperless and digitizing event management has been a niche in the events industry for some time now, and is now an integral aspect of sustainable event planning.
Fortunately for event planners, our increasingly digital world and sustainability go hand in hand.
Online platforms, mobile apps, social media, and event management software like WorkTrip reduce an event’s environmental output and enable communication with attendees and staff in real time.
Plus, having information readily available in virtual hubs makes it easier for attendees to locate information and increases engagement.
At the event, more opportunities to reduce and eliminate printed materials include replacing passes with e-tickets, incorporating technology into activities, and avoiding dates on signage so they can be reused—or, depending on the venue, utilizing technology or staff for crowd control and guidance.
Waste management is vital to sustainable event planning because while incurring waste is unavoidable, being wasteful is not.
Naturally the magnitude of an event’s carbon footprint varies depending on the scale of the event, but there are several actions every planner can take to reduce their environmental impact.
Using biodegradable or reusable utensils and dishware is a prime way to abate plastic use and disposal.
They should also strive to source local, organic, seasonal, and sustainably harvested food and provide vegetarian or vegan options.
Coordinating with caterers about a composting strategy and donating leftover food reduces food waste tremendously. These actions also resonate as socially responsible to eco-conscious audiences.
Event planners should consider sustainability and environmental impact throughout each stage of the planning process.
Nowadays, people feel a personal responsibility to minimize their carbon footprint and take care of the Earth that takes care of them.
Relatedly, event planners have a responsibility to serve and inspire attendees who are aware of the innovative techniques used to create an environmentally friendly events.