Sustainable Event barriers and how to overcome them

5 BARRIERS TO A Sustainable Event and tips on how to overcome them

During the Tech Fest in 2015 event a group of experienced Events Organisers were asked “what are the five biggest barriers you face when creating a Green or Sustainable Event”. In a short session the attendees looked to “start a conversation” or to kick start the discussions on sustainability. This summary is the next step in that discussion.

Our biggest challenge – the lack of a joined up approach

Without ‘joined up thinking’ across all key stakeholders, organisers, clients, sub-contractors and venues, suppliers and other parties the event organisers concluded that the event can never truly be classed as green or sustainable. However in order to move ahead the event organisers concentrated on the barriers that stop them (as planners) running a sustainable event. We identified the 5 most commonly faced barriers to going green at events:

The five barriers to a sustainable event:

  1. There is a belief from organisers or clients that it costs too much to ‘go green’
  2. Managers and stakeholders just don’t see the benefit or the value of going green
  3. Supplier challenges. It’s sometimes just too difficult to ‘green’ the whole supply chain for events
  4. Presenters, clients and organisers are not prepared to alter the format of events to support for example event technologies
  5. Meeting logistics. Delegates and organisers prefer mainstream locations and traditional travel options

So how to address these?

  1. The belief that it costs too much to go green

This is a commonly held perception amongst stakeholders. Our planners advice was to start with the end in mind. Make it clear from the start this this is an objective for the event. Thinking of creative ways to demonstrate the value in going green was suggested as a way to really have an impact. If this is a concern for stakeholders it was suggested that this should be at least identified at the planning stage.

Examples how to overcome

  • Green Sponsorship – Look for opportunities to sell ‘sponsorship for green activities’. One participant sold a sponsorship package which paid for the hire of a fleet of electric vehicles to get delegates around London.
  • Crowdfunding – We had another event organiser who had successfully used a crowdfunding site to get delegates to opt in to pay for ‘extras’ and support green transport and the provision of local foodstuffs which ultimately supported local communities.
  1. Managers and Stakeholders just don’t see the value of going green

The discussion often seems to come down to return on investment and reducing the overall costs of running events and increasing margins. To make progress in this area you need to think of ways to convince senior stakeholders of the monetary value of going green.

Examples how to overcome

  • Sell the benefits! One great example was a presentation to stakeholders where the emphasis was on the positive impact on the company brand by delivering green events. By aligning the company’s brand with the delivery of sustainable events ­­­this could help differentiate the company.
  • Stick to the principles of being green or sustainable and do what you can! Achieve small wins possible as a step towards a fully sustainable event. Printing and packaging are common examples, simple steps such as insisting on using recycled paper, double sided printing and printing locally rather than shipping van loads of paper around the globe.
Sustainable Event

Reused floppy discs for badges.

  1. Supplier Challenges. It’s sometimes just too difficult to ‘green’ the whole supply chain for events

This might be the case in the short term but many event organisers shared the ‘steps towards’ greening the whole supply chain as best you can.

Examples how to overcome

  • Crowdfunding was used as an example here too. At one event they publicised a ‘premium’ for using a local caterer rather than the standard hotel or large corporate caterer team for an evening meal. As a consequence a crowdfunding site available to delegates generated the additional funds necessary to source the catering locally.
  • Offering different priced sustainable options re travel and carbon footprint ‘taxes’ to offset global travel and similar are all recognisable tools. By offering delegates to click an ‘add a carbon footprint’ offset contribution generates funds to support the impact of the event
  1. Presenters and Organisers won’t alter the format of their events to support event technologies

This barrier was seen as one where there are challenges on all sides, not only from presenters comfortable with the format of sessions and generation of their materials through to event directors who were keen to go to well proven and ‘safe’ locations. Participants also reported the challenges of getting delegates to consider different options based on a green or sustainability platform.

Examples how to overcome

  • Be creative and offer a range of solutions. Offer Kindles or their equivalent with different apps preloaded with event content and materials. You can use interactive event apps such as MiThoughts (an interactive iPad based solution) where delegates can take notes against presentations and send them by home by email. You can run evaluation forms on delegate apps and similar.
  • Printing again was raised here as a real opportunity. Delegates suggested that in many cases there is an assumption about the best way to deliver which can be challenged and overcome by agreement or by stealth. You can reduce the brochure size, setting up recycling bins at the exits to the conference hall and always plan to recycle name badges and lanyards.
  1. Meeting Logistics. Delegates and organisers prefer mainstream locations and traditional travel options

There is a belief amongst many organisers that you can never tempt delegates to attend locations and facilities that are not seen as ‘mainstream’ European or Asian locations. This is a belief rather than a proven fact.

One has only to consider the recent rise of ‘interesting’ locations for event such as Peru or the Baltic States or the way in which personal holiday travel locations have expanded to include ‘developing’ nations.

If heading to Peru is seem as too risky in the short term then it is possible to ‘move towards’ locations where there is a change to offer green or sustainable events.

Examples how to overcome

  • Look for green venues even in your tried and tested locations. There has been a significant increase in locations, venues and conference chains that are choosing to become green
  • Ask about green transport especially in cities where public transport could for example be run on biofuels
  • Offer incentives to organisations and delegates to stay ‘local’ rather than travel to long haul destinations
  • Source the bulk of event staff locally rather than take a team of staff ex-UK

In Summary

The challenge with being green or sustainable often comes down to a definition challenge. However you define a green event the session I facilitated at Tech Fest 2015 convinced me that there is a real movement towards running green and sustainable events.

Identifying the barriers both real and perceived which stop organisers in their tracks is certainly a useful first step.

The one tip which came through loud and clear from all participant is to start small and build from event to event. Don’t try and go from ‘nothing’ to a fully green and sustainable event as your first attempt.

Being fully green and delivering a fully sustainable event is a great leap forward for all of us but as is said frequently “the longest journeys start with the smallest steps”.