Facing up to responsibilities
Often there’s no substitute for in-person events, says Neal Baldwin, but how can you make sure they’re done responsibly?
Just like Elvis, event planners are caught in a trap. In a post-Covid world reshaped by hybrid working, the desire to throw off the shackles and meet face-to-face is perhaps bigger and more relevant than ever before. Yet businesses are under even more pressure to stick rigidly to ESG policies that demand responsible and environmentally-friendly actions in the name of work. We asked a host of experts for their advice on how to hold a genuinely ‘green’ event.
The typical event attendee is responsible for producing more than 176kg of CO2 each day and generates an average of 1.86kg of waste. The numbers don’t make for comfortable reading.
But sound planning goes a long way. Cvent Vice President of International Sales, Graham Pope, backs online sourcing platforms as a great first step, allowing planners access to interactive 3D floor plans and virtual tours without the need for multiple site visits.
“Venue sourcing technology enables planners to build and customise RFPs to send directly to venues, and like-for-like responses to critical information, including sustainable practices, can be reviewed. Planners can also directly collaborate with venues and remotely explore virtual scale event layouts,” he says.
“Imagine your CEO telling attendees the chairs they are sitting on will go to a local school. You are making a difference and can create a real feel-good factor”
The technology also means venues can showcase their sustainability initiatives more effectively by uploading content highlighting sustainable practices and certifications such as Green Tourism, energy-efficient solutions and waste management.
In a similar vein, tools such as those developed by Thrust Carbon allow businesses to generate emission impact reports for potential destinations based on hundreds of data points, including flights, road travel and hotel choice.
“With 70% of an event’s carbon emissions caused by travel, no amount of fiddling around the edges with waste and cutting plastics is as important as how people arrive and depart,” says Spencer Brace, Head of Growth Strategy at meetings planning platform TROOP.
“Using technology is the best way to filter possible destinations overseas, since it can also consider traveller wellness and wasted time by cutting out issues such as the need for connections and applying for visas.”
For gatherings closer to home, organisers should make efforts to discourage private vehicle use. If it’s an internal company event, consider choosing a venue that is a convenient mid-point for the majority of employees and promote car-sharing. More generally, incentives such as travel cards and vouchers for electric Ubers can be a nice touch, alongside running shuttles from train and bus stations near your venue.
ATPI Halo Product Director, Pippa Ganderton, has a sneaky trick: “We use visual guilt to encourage public transport use,” she says. “Send an email asking people to tell you their mode of transport in advance. They rarely say ‘car’ if confronted by greener options!”
Carbon emissions from venues account for around 4% of an event’s total, but while this is a small amount it can be an easy saving for organisers. Look for options that are members of accredited sustainability schemes, such as Green Key, Greengage and EU Ecolabel, which oversee how properties operate. Meanwhile, LEED and BREEAM certification shows venues are built to the latest green standards.
Greengage analysis last year discovered the majority of bookers will now not even shortlist venues without established sustainability policies or plans. As a result, its latest research in July revealed venues were increasingly investing in their environmental credentials, with over 80% of those on its database saying they were actively working to reduce energy and water use. Meanwhile, the trend is for bookers to seek out venues with 20 or more EV chargers and ask questions about how providers look after their staff and contribute to their local community.
“Using technology is the best way to filter possible destinations overseas, since it can also consider traveller wellness and wasted time by cutting out issues such as the need for connections and applying for visas”
Andrew Perolls, Chief Executive of Greengage, said: “Sustainability is now a top priority for hotel and venue bookers. Our partners report that many bookers won’t even consider a venue if it can’t show that sustainability is at the heart of its operations.”
De Vere is a good example. It has switched to 100% renewable energy across its country house estate using biomass, wind, hydro and solar power, has an on-going programme to roll-out EV chargers, sources food locally and even recycles used cooking oil into biofuel. “We’ll also shortly be launching our ‘Sustaynable’ initiative where guests staying two nights or more will have the option to opt out of having their room cleaned and instead we will plant a tree,” says Chief Commercial Officer, Alan Corlett.
While every event organiser worth their salt knows single-use plastics are a no-no, there’s more to waste management than ditching lanyards and cutting out the branded corporate tat.
Progressive firms are looking at every purchasing decision with an eye on the packing away afterwards. Reusable stages, repurposing existing stock, and even building with reclaimed materials should all be on the list, say Event Cycle Director Chantal Kerr-Sheppard.
And with the focus on buying less, turn attention to ensuring waste avoids landfill by being passed on to others in a demonstration of the ‘circular economy’.
“We’ve helped clients get rid of old backdrops by donating them to Syrian refugees, who turned them into fantastic tote bags,” says Kerr-Sheppard.
“Imagine your CEO telling attendees that the chairs they are sitting on will go to a local school. You are making a difference and can create a real feel-good factor.”
Showing its commitment to the cause, the ITM’s own conference in April was a lesson in green planning. “Even our table centrepieces were created using locally-grown organic flowers provided by an ethical florist,” says Stacey Dean, Head of Events and Partnership. “In fact, delegates created the centrepieces themselves to learn more about sustainable flower growing. Afterwards the flowers were given to a local nursing home.”
Back in 2019, meeting specialist Lime Event Portfolio coined the phrase ‘FORO’ (‘Fear Of Running Out’) to capture the perennial nightmare of event organisers. Its research showed a typical three-day gathering ‘over-catered’ by 15%, the equivalent of 500g of food per person, most of which went straight into the bin.
Thankfully, the sector has made huge progress since, with the emphasis on better portion control and getting attendee numbers right in advance. With food production a major contributor to greenhouse emissions, switching away from red meat and dairy, and sourcing more local in-season produce is particularly helpful.
“Don’t forget charities too,” adds Event Cycle’s Kerr-Sheppard. “Often venues will work with local organisations to take good food.”
While video conferencing was once touted as a threat to in-person events, the reverse is true. Lockdown has made online communication far more acceptable and commonplace, and many venues are now set up to offer hybrid events for a mix of on-site and virtual attendees. Often these can be cheaper than going ‘virtual only’, says Dana Moore, Agiito’s Proposition Manager – Air, Ancillary and Sustainability.
“Technology can hugely support when it comes to registration and documentation. Having an event app with networking capabilities removes the need for business cards, saves on printing documents and can encourage car-sharing,” she adds.
“A typical three-day gathering ‘over-catered’ by 15%, the equivalent of 500g of food per person, most of which went straight into the bin”
Additionally, dedicated event apps give organisers the ability to collect valuable feedback during and after proceedings, which helps shape future plans.
“We capture granular detail from attendees, which really helps us,” says ATPI’s Ganderton. “We can go to future suppliers knowing what worked and what didn’t. We also use the app to communicate positives to guests, such as explaining how we are offsetting their emissions rather than handing out unnecessary branded giveaways.”