Sustainable event management

My hope is that this year 2016 we start to see sustainability back on the agenda for most event professionals. I know it has slipped down the list for most planners in recent years and we no doubt understand the reasons why but it’s been down that list for quite a while!

In the last few years I have not had one single client who was looking for support to run more sustainable events. In 2008 (pre financial crash) sustainable event management was an industry buzz phrase. However I believe that things are looking up for those planners who want to make a positive impact at their events without making a negative environmental one.

Sustainable event management on the horizon?

Last year at Tech Fest we ran a session on how planners can use event technology to help them go green. It was a late addition to the programme. No one had requested the topic when we did our market research but I was keen to cover it as I believe running a sustainable event is one of the big benefits to using event technology. Much to my surprise the session was really busy and even more of a surprise was watching the attendees decide not to head to the refreshment break but continue the discussion!

We summarised the session last year and you can read the article here. The session facilitator commented: “The challenge with being green or sustainable often comes down to a definition challenge. However you define a green event the session I facilitated convinced me that there is a real movement towards running green and sustainable events.”

Is being green the new black I thought? But for every up there is a down. At IBTM World in November last year we used a real life case study as part of a meeting design session. Our guinea pig planner was asked to place the twelve key elements of their next client event in order of importance. Guess where “Sustainable” ended up? Yup, in twelfth place!

The Meeting Design Game.

The Meeting Design Game.

But I am sure that things are getting better. Well I must admit this is more of a hope than an expectation. But even before we hope that our industry runs more sustainable events we first have to understand what sustainable event management really means.

What does sustainable event management mean to you?

Running a sustainable event will mean different things to different planners. Here’s what WiKipedia says it is. In summary (although do read what is a very useful article): it is a holistic approach to running an event and “involves including sustainable development principles and practices in all levels of event organisation” This definition is fine by me however I would like to think that this is the end game rather than where we should start: thinking about it holistically could put many planners off. I think if your event tries to be sustainable you are more than half way there!

Breaking down sustainable event management

The idea that we can all run events that have no negative impact and actually have a positive impact is, to say the least, a challenge beyond most events. So I would like to think that most planners can start small in one or two of the following areas:

  1. Minimise waste / pollution and use less resources in planning or delivering the event.
  2. Use local suppliers.
  3. Use suppliers who are sustainable and who ‘green’ their supply chain.
  4. Make a positive impact in the community in which the event is held.
  5. Promote the role that planners and the wider industry can play in a more sustainable world.

If you tackle one of these areas in your event (while keeping an eye on all the other ones) I think you can say you have a “sustainable event management” approach.

A small change can make a big difference

I plan a few blog posts with some examples of how we can approach the first four but I want to start by highlighting number 5: that planners are in a very fortunate and I would argue powerful position when it comes to sustainability. Every Event Planner makes decisions that impact hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. And this is real sustainability power! As an example, if on a personal level we decide to stop drinking bottled water we may across a year reduce total consumption by a couple of hundred bottles. Now this is ace, however if we (as a planner) decide to replace bottled water at all of our events we reduce consumption by thousands of bottles. We have power. Let’s use it for good.

At the end of last year I wrote this piece for Conference News and I would love to hear any ideas or comments on sustainable event management.

And here’s something interesting on bottled water. Enjoy!