Sustainability isn’t going anywhere. We are always looking for ways to "go green" and learn about how we can do our part to impact the environment. It would only make sense that this effort spills into the events industry. The sustainable event trend is continuing to grow with no signs of stopping so it’s time to get on board! Many businesses and event planners have already begun brainstorming how to implement ways they can make their events environmentally friendly.
So, what does it even mean to be “sustainable”? Well, being sustainable means that you are making changes to avoid the depletion of natural resources. The goal is to help maintain the environmental or at minimum ecological balance. Creating sustainable events is key to being a responsible event planner. We are going over a variety of ideas that you can implement to go green and jump on the sustainable event trend. Some of these ideas are simple and you can quickly implement. Other ideas will take time but are so worth it!
Why Become Sustainable?
Before we can make these changes, we need to understand the footprint we’re leaving on the environment. What is the impact of our jobs, the events we attend, the festivals we go to, even the way we communicate with each other? Events cause a lot of waste and leave a large carbon footprint. According to meetgreen.com the typical conference waste attendee produces 1.89KG of waste per day, 1.16KG of that will go directly to a landfill. When you calculate that number for 1000 attendees over 3 days you get 5670KG of waste, the equivalent of 4 compact cars. It’s not just about waste either, there are many factors that go into event sustainability we will touch on later.
To really understand how you can make a change you need to think about a few questions. How can we truly make an impact and reduce our footprint? Where do I start? Can I really make a difference? It’s not as hard as you might imagine but it takes conscious effort. Something as simple as going paperless for our bills, using biodegradable cups or eco-friendly transportation will help minimise your impact on the environment. However, there is so much more you can do!
As an event planner, it’s your role to make changes in the events you create. You are responsible to make your events more sustainable. This requires you to think outside of the box. How can you begin changing the way you do business? What choices can you make to be more sustainable? Before you can make big changes to the way you are planning events and doing business, you need to make a plan. There are a variety of different areas you can make changes in, from venues to catering and overall event production. In order to know what to change, you need to know your impact. Start with taking a hard look at your events. What environmental impacts can you begin to make more sustainable? Are there ways you can immediately start implementing some changes? Below is a list of a few ideas you can focus on to create more sustainable events.
Starting with something as simple as going paperless is an easy way to make a large impact. Instead of mailing out invites or memos, create an event page, app or email subscription for your attendees. Not only do these options help you minimise your footprint, they allow you to communicate with your attendees and staff in real time. Suddenly a last minute change to your event won’t seem so daunting, you can easily distribute the new information immediately to your attendees. You will also save money in the long run because you will never need to reprint thousands of programs when you add a speaker or make a change to the schedule.You most likely already have a website, an email list and are set up on social media platforms so leverage that!
Having your information readily available on your site, blog or social channels makes it easier for your attendees to locate your information. It also allows them to share your updates, event information and connect with others all over the world, building your audience and reach for your events while increasing engagement. Bonus, they will never lose your event information again because it will be on the one item attendees keep with them at all times, their smartphones.
Transportation and Location:
The location and transportation at your event can create some big opportunities to cut down on your carbon footprint. Taking into play both the attendees and your staff, there are multiple ideas you can implement. Let’s focus on your attendees getting to and from the event. If you are able to host your event and lodging in the same hotel that immediately cuts the need for transportation greatly reducing your events carbon footprint. If that is not a possibility organising a shuttle service from 2 or 3 main pickup points can greatly reduce the use of cars too. This would reduce your events carbon footprint and also make your attendees experience easier and more enjoyable.
Another option is to pick an easily walkable location for your event. Sourcing venues that are easily reachable by public transportation or foot can greatly reduce your environmental impact. Make sure that there are plenty of things to do nearby that are easily walked to such as great restaurants and shopping. Even look at the lodging aspect of your event. If you know that a bulk of your attendees are coming from out of town, try and source eco-friendly or “green” hotels.
Production and Purchasing:
By using effective project management you can reduce overall planning and cost of your event. It will also help you avoid the unnecessary use of resources. Ensuring you have a properly mapped out plan will not only help you reduce your footprint, but it will you save money. Look at past years budgets to see what areas you over-used and which were on par with your budget. Bonus: this will make the overall execution of event go smoothly.
Food and Drink:
This includes everything from seed to plate. Look at reusable or biodegradable cups if you know your event will have a high waste rate. Events are notorious for wasting food. Stop throwing that food out! Get an accurate guest count and finalize the amount needed with your caterer. Don’t overdo it. If you do end up with lots of leftover food consider donating it to those who are in need. It has become considerably easier to do this now so take advantage of local programs.
Using renewable energy sources with efficient system design and the latest in technology can help cut power usage and minimise your footprint. With the advancement in technology and continuous growth in our digital capabilities, there are many ways you can save on power to make a more sustainable event. Options as simple as switching to LED lighting and lower power efficiency systems will help minimise your footprint. Talk to your event production company and AV team to see how you can create a more sustainable event by using less energy. This is not only a great way to go green but can save you money!
This is an area that should be focused on from the beginning. Event after event we see the outcomes of what the venue and environment look like from attendees. After the attendees have left the site filled with trash polluting some of the most beautiful outdoor landscapes. Often it causes an uproar from the owners and locals which no longer want to have the events. Confirm that your event venue recycles their waste if they don’t have a system in place then start making a plan. Hire on or use volunteers to collect items that are recyclable after the event. Biodegradable cups and utensils are another area we have touched on and can have a big impact. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for your attendees to recycle and maintain the venue while still enjoying the event so be sure to place plenty of recycling bins around encouraging guests to help reduce waste. If you see leftover tents or products that can be reused, look into putting a donation together for your local charity. Learn to think outside of the box and create innovative ways to become sustainable.
Make A Plan:
Be sure to identify which area you want to target and track the biggest impact in order to maximise your plan. If you choose to focus on multiple areas, be sure to rank them in terms of importance. Your budget may not allow you to pick 2 or 3 areas but don’t let that stop you! Making just one change to any of the above groups will kick-start the sustainability levels in your business. If nothing else it will have everyone else around you thinking about how they can implement changes of their own.
Now that you have made a plan you have to create the goals. As with anything in event planning, you can’t go in blindly. Making a plan to break down each step is going to be crucial to the success of your changes. Be realistic; do not set goals that require too much in a short period of time. If you have one year to plan an event, make achievable deadlines.
If you remember anything from this article then let it be this: don’t be afraid to start slow and work your way up. Switching to a more sustainable event will take planning, time and if done poorly, can end up costing excess money. Develop a strong to-do list, checkpoints, and deadlines for results by a creating a timeline. Delegate tasks to the appropriate members and allow for open communication.
Ease Into It:
Beware, this isn’t something that will come naturally to everyone. Be patient and follow up to ensure the tasks are being met. At the end of the day, jumping on the sustainable event trend is going to take strong management skills and time. Be patient, collect your resources, ask for feedback and give yourself enough time to meet your deadlines. Remember don’t lose sight of the event experience and why you created the event in the beginning. Jumping on any trend just because is never a great reason always remember your events “why”.
Digital World and Sustainability:
What are some other ways to use the digital world to become sustainable? We’re in the middle of the tech age. Every day a new app is being developed and changes are being made to the way we do business. The sustainable event trend opens up the door for event planners and businesses to change the way we operate. This allows us to make a real impact on our environment. Whether it’s a music festival or a conference, there are tons of ways to implement digital tools. You can even create new ideas or tools to make your event and business sustainable.
Say you are planning an annual conference. You know that sign-up, registration and scheduling are areas you want to target to become sustainable, but how? Look at the previous year’s plans and brainstorm how you can improve upon each area. Was what you were doing efficient? Are there ways to make it more sustainable? What was your biggest pain point? Answer those questions and go from there.
A big way to add sustainability to your event is to create an online platform for registration and it’s easy! It’s also cost-efficient and will save your attendees time to enroll in your conference. Send e-mail notifications of enrollment and create an e-ticket that can be scanned from their smartphones to eliminate paper. This initial idea goes along with being both paperless and digital. Registration can be streamlined through early check-in and scanning of your e-ticket. Instead of printing off badges and handing out booklets, create an event app or use an event management software.
Social Media Channels If you are planning an event and already have a strong online presence through social channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, then you can skip handing out maps and programs for your event. Leverage your social channels to share this information in a greener way. Create a event page or group on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to add schedules, maps, allow attendees to coordinate a carpool from different locations and create a community board for attendees to discuss your event. Not only is this extremely helpful for your attendees but it creates great engagement to be shared to their social channels giving your event a larger audience. Having information available on social channels reduces paper and increases the impact of your sustainable plan. It also makes all of your event information readily available at their fingertips.
Another excellent way to do this, if your budget allows, is through an event app, you can create an app to increase engagement. Attendees can download the app right to their phones and constantly be engaged. If there is a delay or weather changes or important updates, your event app will allow you to reach them in real time.
Digital Event Planning Benefits:
There has been a fear that with the continuous implementation of new technology in the digital world. The fear is that we are going to eventually outsource ourselves and lose the human touch. This fear could not be more incorrect. Yes, we are in an age where the world is becoming more digital every day and instead of fearing it, we need to learn to embrace it.
Live events like concerts, festivals and conferences are not going anywhere. People embrace events because of the connections they make and sense of community events give them. Instead of fearing change, implement it and understand it to make a more sustainable event. There are countless ways to use digital platforms to update the way we plan and operate that will never take away from the experience:
Make the Most of the Current Environment We have covered a few areas of event planning and changes you can make in your strategy to ensure that you’re running a sustainable event. The first and most important step we can take is to truly be committed to making a change. It takes one person to make a positive impact. Be the person to stand up and pitch the idea of sustainable events at your next meeting. Research an hour or two a week on easy ideas you can implement and build out from there. Remember it starts with you and you can make these changes today to help sustain the beautiful world that we live in. The decisions we make every day will impact the world for decades to come and we have the opportunity to wake up and impact the way businesses, events and people in general feel. Let’s take care of the environment that takes care of us.
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