Why We Need More Sustainable Events And How To Start Planning Them

We attend, plan, and participate in a lot of events. Conferences, symposiums, concerts, races, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, meetings, etc. The list goes on and on. I bet you can relate. Whenever I attend or participate in an event I often find myself wondering why so many organizations can miss the mark when it comes to addressing sustainability issues.

Strengthen credibility and boost your reputation

When you fail to address and message about key sustainability issues (e.g. carbon emissions) and social responsibility issues (e.g. wages) for your event, you are losing the opportunity to strengthen credibility and boost your brand's reputation. Even worse, you can damage what people think about your organization and your commitment to doing well while doing good.

This happens even at events hosted by organizations that consider themselves to be leaders in ethical business. There is guidance out there about making events more sustainable. It is difficult to navigate and implement. There are a wide variety of impact areas and identifying and implementing best practices can feel daunting. Even so, there have been some very large events that worked hard to integrate sustainability considerations.

Why we need ethical events

Many people wonder about the impacts of hosting and attending events like conferences, weddings, or meetings. Sometimes your guests are flying and driving from far away. You’re usually serving food and beverages. Sometimes you are using lots of disposable products that end up in the trash. Many different kinds of service people are working hard to ensure your event is successful. Sometimes people need thoughtful accommodation to ensure that the event is accessible and inclusive.

At a minimum, a most sustainable event needs to address the major sources of environmental and social impacts. For leaders, there are tremendous opportunities to go beyond the minimum in ways that will generate buzz and inspire peers. A more sustainable event can offer an unparalleled marketing opportunity.

For purposes of this blog post I'll discuss six key impact areas for making your event more sustainable: climate, food & beverage, materials, workers, venue, and inclusion & access. Next time your planning an event, consider incorporating the goals that follow. I also provide some example best practices that can serve as a starting point.   

Key Area 1: Climate

No surprise here. Travel associated with attending events is one of your biggest sources of impacts. But it's also one of the easiest to address in some respects. Your goal should be to protect our climate through a more sustainable event.

Best practice: Fully offset carbon emissions associated with attendee travel, food, and venue

Key Area 2: Food & Beverages

One of the most visible sources of impacts is also an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability. This is through your food and beverage choices. Your goal should be to support more sustainable food systems.

Best practice: Contractually require caterers to source local and seasonal products to the greatest extent possible

Key Area 3: Materials

Another in-your-face issue that can really undermine your sustainability credentials involves your choices around materials. Are you using disposable food service wares? Uh oh. Do your gift bags contain a bunch of cheap swag? :( Your goal should be to minimize waste and select better, safer materials.

Best practice: Host a zero waste event

Key Area 4: Workers

Many sustainability efforts wrestle with identifying and addressing social equity and impact issues. Events are no different. But they do offer a great opportunity to advocate and act on a commitment to safe and fair workplaces. Your goal should be to help foster worker-friendly organizations that protect people and equitably share in the benefits of success.

Best practice: Give preference for service providers and venues that are worker-friendly businesses

Key Area 5: Venues

This may seem like an obvious one. You can help minimize the energy and water footprints of your event simply through your choice of venues. Your goal should be to minimize impacts by selecting event venues with elevated energy and water efficiency and provide ecosystem benefits.

Best practice: Book a certified green building or facility for your event

Key Area 6: Inclusion & Access

This one is important if we want to make our movement for a fairer and more sustainable economy bigger and better. Sometimes our events fail to recognize and act on institutional barriers that prevent some people from being able to participate. Or, the fail to accommodate people who have different physical needs and abilities. Your goal should be to create a socially inclusive and physically accessible event.

Best practice: Include at least one admission option designed to include guests with barriers to access

Example: B Corp is hosting their Champions Retreat next month in New Orleans. They offer a heavily discounted ticket option designed to make the event more accessible to members of the B community with "historical/institutional barriers to access". 

Work with expert partners

A good partner can help make your events as sustainable as possible and guide you through process every step of the way. You'll want someone to help address the major sources of impact and amplify the benefits associated with planning and producing events. Hint: We are here to help! Colin Price Consulting works with organizations to plan and produce ethical events. 

Make sure that your efforts are credible & comprehensive

To be credible and comprehensive, you should base your ethical event efforts on sustainable event standards and guidance developed by international standards organizations. Like I said, they can be complicated but they are still relevant. Let us know if you want help finding and interpreting these.   

Feel free to contact us to discuss how we can help you benefit from a more ethical event.

A future blog post will dig in to the details about how to make your event more sustainable through our Future Friendly Events service.