Sustainable events.

[A four minute read]

Recently, I was lucky enough to score tickets to the Responsible Business Events [RBE] conference being held in Copenhagen in October, as well as the opening keynote for sister event Sustainable Brands [SB]. Copenhagen happens to be one of my favourite places, so I was cheering on multiple fronts.

I was born in a forest, raised in a mud brick house in the middle of nowhere [country NSW] and as an adult, I buy organic when I can, I take my KeepCup everywhere and I recycle. I am also known for being a little preachy when it comes to the sustainability of the planet.

When I received my ticket for RBE, I asked myself how this sustainability mindset has influenced my career and my events. I’m ashamed to say, not much. I ask caterers to use reusable or sustainable servingware, I encourage delegates to bring drink bottles and their own notepads, I persuade clients not to hand out ugly useless plastic satchels and I use services like OzHarvest when possible. But that’s an icecube when there’s an iceberg to deal with.

My industry friend Rosie joined me for the event, and I believe we were the only Australians in attendance. Most delegates came from Denmark or their close European neighbours and it was really interesting to learn what the northern European markets were doing. A hellova lot actually. In 2012, they signed the Scandinavian Sustainable Meetings Accord.

Peter Larsson coffee

Peter Larsen Coffee cart – it’s fully electric and folds into itself to become the driveable ‘cart’

One of the key challenges I face with sustainability in events is that things are so last minute now. Clients are engaging agencies a lot later than they used to. I once worked on an event with FOUR YEARS lead time. I now organise similar scale events in a few months, and often in a few weeks for smaller events. When time and resourcing is against us, we tend to go with the fast option rather than the most sustainable one.

Guy Bigwood is the Group Sustainability Director at MCI and one of the speakers at RBE. By coincidence, I first met Guy many years ago at another industry event… in Copenhagen.

I asked Guy how we can focus on sustainability whilst sprinting for the event finish line with short lead times. His advice was that being proactive is key. If we work with suppliers in advance to understand and influence their sustainability measures, we can develop a preferred supplier list of partners who are awesome at delivering our events, and also practice sustainability.

Sustainable brands

There are too many insights and too much knowledge from RBE to share in one post, so my highlights are shared in snippets below.

A few practical ideas learnt from RBE + SB

F&B: the low hanging fruit. Monash University has a great guide to sustainable catering with lots of easy to implement tips. Use fairtrade coffee + teas. Increase vegetarian options. Ban straws. Put smaller plates on the buffet. Cook a dinner using the excess food waste. Add the chefs name to food labels and add some info about where the ingredients are sourced. The emotional connection means delegates are less likely to waste.

Exhibitions / Set Designs: how can you plan ahead to reuse elements of your exhibition booths or set designs throughout the year? Can they be designed in a way you can easily re-skin them? Lots of set builders are happy to store these for you, for a rental fee.

Green teams: can you create a committee of sustainability advocates in your workplace? They can proactively work with suppliers to understand / influence their green credentials, develop a preferred supplier list and also act as consultants to ensure colleagues are equipped with tools / ideas to improve sustainability for their events.

Recycling: a lot of offices and events have recycling bins, but people often don’t know where things belong [ahem coffee cups] and they end up in the wrong bin. Let’s glorify recycling and make it easy for people to help. Add clear signage + infographics above each bin showing what goes where. Use volunteers as waste warriors onsite to guide delegates to use the correct bin.

Collateral: unless you are providing good quality, stylish, practical and unbranded gifts, please don’t. No-one needs another notepad or ugly plastic satchel. Communicate in advance to delegates to bring their own notepad, pen etc so they can come prepared.

Water: when I attended C2 in Montreal earlier this year, the organisers communicated in advance to BYO drink bottle. Water refill stations were peppered throughout the venue, and they sold NICE drink bottles to those who didn’t get the memo.

Delegates: how can you reward and gamify sustainability in your office and at your events? Talk to your clients about this early in the planning as you’ll need time to communicate the plan to delegates. Think about how you could integrate this into your event app.

Clients: sometimes we think clients don’t care about sustainability. But have you actually asked them?

Sustainable catering

Fun facts

2017 is the year of sustainable tourism.

Almost 70% of hotel rooms in Copenhagen are eco-certified. Boutique local chain Guldsmeden has extensive and creative sustainability measures.

67% of Meeting Planners International members have increased their focus on event sustainability in 2017

87% of CEOs believe the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] provide an opportunity to rethink approaches to sustainable value creation // UN Global Compact-Accenture Strategy CEO 2016

Learn more

International standards for Sustainable Events [thanks to Claudia van’t Hullenaar for sharing]:

> United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]
> Sustainable Brands
> Event Industry Council Sustainability Initiative
> ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management system
> APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards
> Global Reporting Initiative [GRI] Event Organizers Sector Disclosure
> Accor’s Planet 21
> Global Destination Sustainability Index [Melbourne is currently ranked #13 and Sydney #14]


Sustainable Development Goals



Oomph lanyards

Sustainable event guide.

C2 Montreal Skylab interior

C2 2017: The dossier.

Agent Grace phone

Negotiate like a pro.

Busyness vs balance.

The power of thanks.


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