The disruptions of the past 20 months have shown the meeting and event industry’s resilience with event planners running numerous safe, meaningful meetings and events online, and recently again in hybrid and in-person formats. We’ve proved that we’re here to thrive through whatever the world throws at us, and are growing to meet the increasing demand for better-than-ever meetings and events.
Edmonton’s first carbon-neutral conference three years ago represented a pivotal moment for us, solidifying that sustainability must be the foundation of every conference or event, no questions asked.
A sustainable event is the only kind of event that there should ever be. You can also make your events all kinds of other things – like engaging, innovative, celebratory, regal, educational, social, and so on. But there is no excuse for it not to be sustainable at its core.
As the world increasingly prioritizes eco-friendly and carbon-neutral initiatives, it’s more important than ever for event planners to collaborate with clients, vendors, suppliers, and venues to plan sustainable events. Not only does this promote a safe and healthy environment – it increases event attendance and impact.
How do you shift to planning only sustainable events? It begins with a commitment – just say you’ll do it and stick to your guns. There are numerous online resources available, including those of the Events Industry Council’s “Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact”.
To get you started, below are a few simple solutions to increase sustainability and make events more impressive and worthwhile.
Reduce waste, increase joy.
There’s more to waste reduction than dedicated recycling and composting bins on-site. Consider an approach that excludes any single-use plastic items. This includes plastic straws, cutlery, dishes, bottled water, and any plastic packaging. Instead, offer your event attendees paper straws, bamboo cutlery, compostable dishes, and reusable mugs.
Reduce paper waste by providing electronic tickets and programs. Audiences love a good program, and you can make them interactive online with videos and visuals. Consider offering a Green Guide to your attendees: a mobile infographic about waste disposal and sustainable practices helps encourage green choices. You can create a QR code to direct your audience to your Green Guide.
When you’re creating swag packages for your audience, consider eco-friendly items like reusable linen masks, houseplants, and herb and veggie seeds. Think creatively. Consider giving attendees the gift of a donation to their non-profit organization of choice rather than material goods. Giving back to the community feels great and goes a long way – your audience is sure to remember it.
Eat green and involve your team.
Everyone loves the elaborate food and beverage spreads at events, but it can be a huge source of wasted products and energy. Order local cuisine including sustainable produce, and cut back on meat products when possible. Seasonal produce is a better environmental choice: it travels less distance and supports local farmers. Don’t be shy to call out your chosen vendors, either – display their signage so people know who they are!
Even more importantly, know your audience ahead of time to avoid over-ordering food and beverages. Offer attendees the opportunity to fill out short surveys about their meal choices, and order for each individual appropriately. If you have leftover, pre-packaged food, snacks, or even swag, donate the goods to a local school or shelter to spread the love.
Your team goes beyond you and your client’s offices. Include your audience as team members in the planning process by asking them what sustainable practices they’d like to see on-site. There’s no better way to guarantee satisfaction than starting a conversation!
Choose the environment.
Planning is all about making choices, and you have the ability to consider the environment in those decisions. Opt for green venues and sustainable vendors. Choose to showcase people who care about our planet – supporting their businesses keeps the ball rolling on green practices.
This one’s important: offer eco-friendly transportation solutions. Whether you order an event shuttle to reduce the number of vehicles needed to get to your venue, provide electric car charging stations, give ticket discounts to attendees who carpool or bike, or outline local public transportation guides, every choice matters.
Use local talent to showcase what your city has to offer. Reduce carbon emissions by limiting travel, boost the economic impact on your wonderful community, and support small businesses while you do it!
Sharing is caring.
In the digital age, social media is a powerful tool. Highlight your own sustainable best practices to spread the word. We can’t gatekeep sustainability – our communities need to work together, bouncing ideas off each other to share the love for our planet. Shout it out until you’re heard: eco-friendly choices are the best choices to keep your events sustainable, inclusive, and exciting.
Sustainability is no longer about what we should be doing – it’s about what we need to be doing. We urge you: try these tips to take your event to the next level of impactful, both for the environment and for your audience. Trust us – it’s worth it!
Jewel Buksa is president of BUKSA/ Conferences and Associations in Edmonton.