Sustainable event planning

R.I.S.E. to the occasion by integrating sustainable elements when evaluating event success

Sustainable event planning

Sustainability is a powerful conversation within major corporations and the corporate meetings marketplace. According to the 2011 Carbon Disclosure Project Canadian report, the top 200 largest Canadian companies report that the three main drivers for increased transparency related to sustainability impact monitoring are: 1) new revenue streams, 2) an increase in brand value, and 3) reducing cost and mitigating the risk of rising oil prices. The CDP Canadian report notes: “In short, the majority of companies see a clear economic benefit in implementing efficiency initiatives that replace emissions-intensive technologies and processes with cleaner and cheaper alternatives.”

As a result of these market driven factors, corporate and association meeting planners are integrating sustainable event elements in evaluating the performance of their events. Sustainable events differ from their more traditional counterparts in several ways. We have begun to use an acronym (RISE) to describe the difference:

R – Responsibility research

A sustainable meeting professional seeks to not only understand the environmental and social event impacts of their event, they want to ensure they have the ability to track, monitor and consistently report the effectiveness of their actions back to key stakeholders. This is the phase where you identify your key event issues, engage your stakeholders in creating a plan of action and establish measureable objectives within your sustainable event policy.

Questions that may arise during this phase of the planning process are:

  • What are my most significant meeting impacts environmentally (looking at issues around waste management, water savings, carbon footprint and transportation, food and beverage procurement and energy efficiency)?
  • How can my event bring about positive solutions to the local host community (economically, socially through charitable connections and food donation and awareness building with our attendees)?
  • What do I have control over to manage and minimize, and what do I need to work with my local community/stakeholders to achieve the results I desire?
  • Do I have buy-in from senior leadership in order to implement my sustainability strategy and engage with my suppliers in a manner that is supported by corporate initiatives? (see example of Sell it to the CFO).

I – Innovative design

Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. A sustainable meeting is one that is designed with reference to the larger goals of the organization, and how it can be benefit society, the environment, economic prosperity and key stakeholders in the long term.

A key component of innovative design and sustainable event planning is determining the best strategy to maximize the audience experience while also reducing your environmental footprint and respecting local host communities. The intentional innovation phase speaks to designing your event purposefully to consider how your responsibility criteria can dictate your overall strategy but keeping in mind that thinking “greener” looks at finding new ways to address meeting design solutions.

S- Sustainable event standards

Every great plan is a roadmap. Fortunately, in planning sustainable meetings there are excellent tools to help you stay the course. Driven by the global meetings industry, international governments and large scale event organizers, 2012 marks the release of three major sustainable event standards; APEX/ASTM, ISO 20121 and GRI EOSS. These standards provide the new global framework for defining, measuring and reporting the performance of a sustainable event.

It is important to determine a baseline from where progress can be measured when getting started. The APEX/ASTM Standards may help you select criteria to be measured and open up a conversation with your key stakeholders. Even if you choose not use or follow international standards, it will be important to establish your own internal guidelines and criteria to help you assess your progress and create continuous improvement for your events.

E- Evaluation

This step is where you ensure that your research, planning, innovative design models and tools selected are closely aligned with your core audiences: What was your communication strategy to involve your key stakeholders? Did you achieve the goals and objectives you outlined in your innovative design map? What would you do differently next year?

Major enterprises such as Oracle, Microsoft and KPMG, as well as industry associations such as Meeting Professionals International, and many others are looking at ways to engage their supply chain, reduce their impacts, become more efficient in their event management process, and develop event report case examples. These and many others seek to RISE above the norm and ensure their events are reflections of their values.

About the author

Tamara Kennedy-Hill, CMP, is executive director of Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). The Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) is the premier global community solely dedicated to sustainable meetings and events through education, research, policy, and standards. As an active member of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), GMIC inspires and trains leaders at all levels to make meetings better through sustainable solutions. For more information, visit

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