Why You Need to Run a More Sustainable Event
The reason we have to run more sustainable events is clear, you only have to look at the very basic building blocks of our events to find out that we have a challenge ahead of us:
- The temporary nature of events
- Excess and waste
Number one. Travel
The single most damaging thing anyone can do is to travel to an event powered by carbon. You can minimise your negative impact by various means, but travel for the majority of attendees leads to the release of carbon.
And what are events without travel? Well, they are empty events.
Number two. The temporary nature of events
Let us consider one of the world’s most popular events: the exhibition. If someone was to sit down today and design an event format that was as unsustainable as possible, they would come up with the modern-day exhibition.
The tools, materials, and staff for a temporary city are transported across the globe. This city is constructed and lasts for a few days (normally never more than five days in total). It is then dismantled with tools and staff sent back home with a considerable amount of material ending up as waste.
This all happens, just in time, for another cycle to start. This is unsustainable.
Number three. Excess and waste
We want to make our events an experience for our attendees. We want to make sure they NEVER forget our events. And we know a sure-fire way to do that is to treat our attendees as superstars.
So we lay on every choice we can for them. More food choices, red and white wines. And we provide as much as possible, as we don’t want them leaving thinking we have skimped and saved on their attendance. And we provide only the best.
We provide what our attendees could never consume and we create waste almost by design. This is unsustainable.
You may have never looked at the events industry like this before, and no one can blame you. But these facts are unavoidable. We work in an exceptionally unsustainable industry.
On top of these environmental impacts, we have to look at the impact our events have on the locals, those who host our events.
Over tourism (and events has a major role to play in that) causes significant problems for popular destinations. A city like Barcelona is struggling to balance an almost insatiable demand from the events industry. Tourism is impacting the locals.
Many other cities are feeling the strain. Edinburgh in particular sees a huge percentage of public space given over to events every year. This is unsustainable.
We also have to consider our working practices. Our industry relies on the hospitality workforce. Many of whom are on zero-hour contracts, doing low-paid, physically demanding work. Some events even expect you to work without pay! All of this is unsustainable.
The reason why you have to and why you can run a more sustainable event is that we are already starting from a very lowly position. But there is a HUGE upside to this. If we all start to do something now, we can collectively, reduce our negative impact and make a HUGE positive impact.
And turning this round has never been easier. As an industry, we are trying. We are reducing plastic and paper use. Some of us are embracing technology that allows us to remove the paper. Many of our events and plastic bottle-free zones. But in the same breath, we have to admit that we prioritise many other things ahead of sustainability.
Just try it. Think about your next event. Have you had ANY thoughts about making it sustainable? Because if you are the average event organiser there is little evidence you have even thought about it.
So, let’s look at the choice of your venue? If you had any sustainability considerations did they come before cost, location, ease of access for potential attendees, facilities, room sizes? Like perhaps 90% of organisers if you considered sustainability it was an afterthought, at best.
This may be difficult to read but sustainability is a difficult issue for our industry and we have to address it. We have to talk in challenging terms and we have to ensure we do not shirk our responsibility. And the first thing to do is to raise the awareness of sustainability as an issue for our industry.
No longer can we think sustainability is an issue for other industries and other people. We have to look at our events afresh and put sustainability alongside profit. We always chase profit but sometimes we have to decide to run a less profitable event to make it more sustainable. We have to say at some point growing an event is not a sustainable option. We have to be in a situation where the owner of an event or an events business says:
“don’t try and grow this event, it’s big enough. Just make it better and try to reduce the negative environmental impact of our event”
As a carbon-intensive, high waste industry there is a lot that we can do. But there can be no business as usual.