Sustainable Events

Sustainability is slowly creeping back on event planners radar. It’s been posted missing for the last few years. It’s not a great thing to admit but as an industry (I speak only about the events industry in most European countries) running sustainable events has not been at the top of many companies or event organisers list of priorities.

Sustainable events don’t need to be expensive events

The rationale for this is that when times are financially tough – and they have been for the last six or seven years – we only concentrate on the bottom line. As a consultant I see this all the time. The thing is I don’t really see this play off between sustainability and profit: I believe you can reduce your environmental impact while increasing the bottom line.

My hope is that the green agenda will really be on the agenda in 2015. And here’s one way to encourage your organisations to go green. Demonstrate that you can make less of an environmental impact while positively impacting your bottom line.

Go green to earn more green

So with this in mind here are some of my tried and tested ways to earn while you consider the impact of your event – to run profitable sustainable events.

1. Really, truly, go paperless on site

Removing paper in its many forms from your event makes a very positive environmental statement. So that’s removing copies of paper presentations, paper questionnaires, paper badges, notepads, flyers and other promotional material. With the power, quality and low price of mobile apps, and the proliferation of smart phones, laptops and tablets you have never had a more secure footing to take your event totally on line. Remove paper and see your four figure print costs disappear. And here’s how to frame that message:

“We’ve gone mobile to help run a more stainable event. We have an aim for this event to be paperless. This means that you won’t see paper programmes, flyers or inserts, feedback forms, packs or notepads. We have asked our exhibitors and our speakers to go paperless too and we are also asking you to do the same. You are of course more than welcome to bring along copies of the programme and a notepad if you wish.” 

sustainable events use of technology

You will be amazed what technology can do for your event

2. Engage your stakeholders

As we outlined above running sustainable events has to be a team effort. You need to engage not only your attendees but all of your stakeholders. So let’s encourage:

– your exhibitors to travel light and to have simple builds

– your speakers and your attendees to travel by public transport

– your speakers to upload material online rather than handing it out

– your venue to consider the environmental impact of your event and reduce it where possible

Ideas like these can reduce the amount of money that your stakeholders are paying to third parties allowing you, if you get creative, to earn that revenue for your event.

3. Embrace hybrid formats

Encouraging attendees to attend virtually rather than physically will allow you to reduce the overall environmental impact of your event. A smaller number of physical attendees (without reducing the number of people your event touches) will allow you to make saving on your fixed costs like size of venue as well as you variables like food.

4. Source local produce

One thing I love when I attend an event or stay in a hotel is getting a real flavour and taste of the country in which I am staying. I love seeing local fruits, confectionaries and alcohol (not necessarily in that order) supplied by the host. Many hotels and venues are now providing locally sourced menu options. This may or may not actually save you money but it is something that will help your event to be memorable and this always generates good customer retention. Like our picture there is some green in there somewhere.

sustainable events

Locally sourced means great tasting local food

5. Tap water

In the vast majority of western countries the tap water, chilled, with a slice of lemon or lime is the simplest and best refreshment possible. Remove the fancy bottled water from your conference. Iced tap water is much more sustainable and pity the venue that tries to charge you for it! Also ask the hotel you are staying in what is there water bottle policy? Encourage them to remove bottled water and replace it with iced water.

6. Use a venue with everything under one room (or at least close by)

If you have, let’s say a conference with an exhibition which kicks off with a dinner, why not try your best to find a funky venue that can house everything under one room? If you plan for your attendees to play golf or visit the casino or a nightclub see if you can find everything in the vicinity. Bang goes your fleet of buses and taxis. Lower emissions and lower fees. Yes please.

7. Don’t post anything

Do everything digitally. This aspect of running a sustainable event is very easy to do. I’ve worked with some organisations who still send out thousands of mailings to their target market. Thousands of flyers, envelopes and covering letters. Embrace the digital work (including email) and you will reduce your evil footprint and increase your bottom line.

8. Piggy back on other events

This one is so obvious that it is probably why we fail to do it. But just think of the road miles you can save as well as the money. Most busy venues will have an organiser moving their gear out as you move in and when you are moving out there will be someone ready to move in. So why not ask the venue for the details of the organisers who are sandwiching your event? Contact them and see if you can use the same suppliers. How simply green is this?

9. Recycle

Recycle and take it seriously. We are not just talking about badges and lanyards but this alone can save you £2 a badge (which for your average size conference can save hundreds of pounds) think about the material and signage. You shouldn’t be replacing all your banners for your annual event every year; not every one has to have “2014” on them. Think ahead. Reduce your waste and reduce the budget for next year.

10. Reduce the amount of food your use and order

It’s not always possible to ethically deal with leftover food but it is possible. At an event with the British Dietetic Association we worked with a local east London charity who collected some of our food from the event. We looked at our menu and decided on food that would have a shelf life if unused by our delegates. We made sure very little food went to waste. However the best way to stay green with the greens is to make sure you do not over order food. I would say that over 90% of events over order food. This is a waste of money. Speak to your venue and tell them to cater for the number of “expected shows” not the numbers you have booked and if you haven’t reached your min numbers make sure they don’t cater for those ghost attendees.

Sustainable events are the future

It’s my hope and belief that a more consistent approach to sustainable events will appear in 2015. Sustainable events were all the rage in the early part of the millennium as event organisers looked to differentiate their events and matched that with a desire to run more environmentally friendly meetings. This has slipped off the list of priorities and with many organisations still feeling a financial pinch an approach with leads with the heart and the wallet will have much success.