These days now, most of us are familiar with the term sustainable. From eliminating single-use plastics to purchasing electric or hybrid vehicles, sustainability is a part of many of our lives. By definition, sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
When meeting and event industry experts were making their predictions in 2019, it was unanimous that sustainability was among the top five event trends for 2020. However, no one could have predicted what 2020 would hold, and the top trends would end up revolving around virtual or hybrid meetings and virtual attendee engagement.
As more and more vaccines are administered around the world, in-person events are beginning to resume. So it comes as little surprise that there is an increased focus on the health of attendees and concern for the health of the planet.
How do you know if your event’s attendees will value sustainability? Recent research conducted by Booking.com found that 69% of U.S. travelers identified sustainable travel as important to them, and 53% said they are more determined to make sustainable choices in future travel. Another recent study of over 1,000 conference attendees conducted by CensusWide found that 60% of people prefer attending conferences hosted using sustainable practices, with over 25% strongly preferring such conferences.
With attendees valuing and expecting sustainability from events more and more each year, it becomes imperative that we incorporate sustainable practices into the events we are hosting. Below we’ll dive into some tips, tricks, and best practices for sustainable or green events.
Selecting the Location
One often overlooked, major contributor to carbon emissions and sustainability is the travel you, your staff, and attendees will need to arrive at the meeting or event location. Selecting a centrally located location can minimize the travel needed to attend and thus reduce the meeting’s carbon footprint and resources consumed. Since air travel is so highly carbon insensitive, consider regional meetings where people can travel shorter distances often by car whenever possible.
Selecting the Venue
When deciding where to host your event or what venue to partner with, look for accreditations, certifications, or ratings the venue has received. Below are some certifications to look for:
The LEED rating system is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council and awards points for various green building strategies earning the building a rating at Certified Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
The Green Globe Certification is administered by Green Globe and focuses on the 3S, safety, security, and sustainability. It is a structured assessment of the sustainability performance of travel and tourism businesses and their supply chain partners, and if their performance warrants it, a certification will be awarded.
The WELL Health-Safety Rating is administered by the International WELL Building Institute and focuses on design, operations, and behaviors within buildings that can advance human health and well-being. V1 focuses on seven concepts, air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. V2 focuses on ten concepts, air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community.
In addition to formal certifications or accreditations, the venue may have other initiatives or sustainability practices that they’ve implemented. Various convention centers in the U.S. have converted flat plain roofs to rooftop gardens to be used by their catering services, added solar panels to the top of parking garage structures, and even installed water treatment systems to convert rainwater into usable water for cleaning and gardening. Before you decide on a venue, make sure to ask not only about their formal certification but also any other green initiatives they may have. Since we know this is a focus of our attendees, consider adding these unique initiatives to registration materials or information about the event.
In this day and age, most registration and pre-event correspondence are conducted online, but if you are still sending physical brochures, save the date cards, or registration forms, moving this online is an easy way to make registration more sustainable.
Just like with most pre-event registration materials, switching the in-person registration to occur digitally can reduce the consumption of printed materials and paper products. Encourage your sponsors and/or vendors to communicate through a digital platform. Instead of providing pamphlets that often end up in the trash, recognize sponsors on recyclable or reusable signage/materials.
If vendors or sponsors are given the opportunity to sponsor specific items for the attendees, offer them a selection of reclaimed, reusable, recyclable, or sustainable products. If you’re interested in sustainable promos or giveaways, head over to Eco-Friendly Products For Your Next Green Event, where we dive into the various materials and products on the market.
Food and Beverage
In the same CensusWide survey of over 1,000 conference attendees discussed earlier, 54% of respondents said sustainable dining practices matter (compostable or reusable dishware and locally sourced menu items.
Offer fresh, healthy, and locally sourced food whenever possible. As we mentioned above, some venues have their own farms onsite - it doesn’t get more local than that! When you are sourcing vendors and caterers, prioritize those who use locally sourced products.
For years there has been a push to eliminate single-use plastics, but how can we keep this up while limiting touchpoints and offering pre-packaged options? When it comes to single-use food and beverage service, opt for recycled plastic options (rPET) or biodegradable wheat straw products. Single-use plates and bowls should also be compostable or biodegradable. Offer cartoned water or touchless water stations and consider offering a reusable water bottle as one of the event giveaways, so attendees have a way to use the touchless stations.
Make sure you have trash, recycling, and compost receptacles to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill. If the venue has a garden, the compost can go full circle, maybe contributing to the food at your next event!
Another way to make your foodservice more sustainable is to donate or repurpose leftover food. For example, make bread pudding for the next meals sweet with unused bread or partner with a local brewery who can use the bread to brew some of their beers.
COVID-19 Health and Safety
We’ve been told for years to eliminate the use of single-use plastics, but this seems increasingly difficult as we are limiting touchpoints and carrying hand sanitizer everywhere we go. How can you promote and emphasize sustainability while promoting the new health and safety standards of 2020 and beyond?
Single-use sanitizer wipes are the least sustainable sanitizing option available. Consider setting UV sanitizing stations up throughout the event or gifting UV sanitizers to attendees that they can use over and over again. Additionally, no-touch, large refillable wall or stand-alone dispensers are the best options for sanitizer when it comes to sustainability. Another easy switch to encourage your attendees to make is switching from surgical masks to reusable, washable fabric masks.
When planning, keep the 5 Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot) in mind and, whenever possible, add them into the attendee experience. Let attendees know it is okay to refuse anything they don’t want or need. Reduce single-use items, printed handouts, and food waste. Reuse by replacing single-use items with reusable substitutes. Create opportunities for them to recycle anything they can reuse and rot/compost to reduce the 20% of landfills that are food waste.
Sustainability and sustainable events are here to stay. With attendees placing increased value on the events they attend being green, it is more important now more than ever to incorporate aspects of sustainability into our events. While it might not be possible to implement all the tips, tricks, and best practices we discussed above in your next meeting, picking one or two is a great place to start!