The events industry has lagged but now has the chance to become a world-leading exemplar in sustainability
The events industry has been slow to engage with the issue of sustainability, but there are welcome signs of change. The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity (albeit an unwelcome one) for the industry to take a step back and rethink how events are planned and executed, and to be more flexible and creative as a result. With a global focus on environmental impact, there is suddenly a real opportunity for the industry to transform itself to become a leading sector in sustainability.
Three key areas provide the key to unlocking best practices: reducing waste, reducing carbon emissions, and promoting sustainable actions.
One of the biggest challenges facing the events industry is waste reduction. Events generate large amounts of waste, including single-use plastics, food waste, and materials used in event production. To reduce waste, event organisers must focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Reducing waste can be achieved through a range of strategies, such as sourcing local and sustainable materials, reducing the amount of packaging used, and encouraging attendees to bring their own reusable water bottles and coffee cups. Reusing materials, such as event signage and decorations, can also help to reduce waste, as can recycling materials such as paper, cardboard, and plastics.
Some events have already made big progress in reducing waste. The Glastonbury Festival in the UK has implemented a range of sustainability initiatives, including a reusable cup scheme, composting toilets, and a food waste reduction program.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
Another key area where the events industry can make a significant impact on sustainability is by reducing carbon emissions. Events generate large amounts of carbon emissions through travel, energy consumption, and event production. To reduce carbon emissions, event organisers must focus on reducing energy consumption, promoting sustainable transportation, and only then by offsetting emissions.
Reducing energy consumption can be achieved through a range of strategies, such as hosting virtual events where appropriate, either wholly or within a hybrid format. On-site things to consider include; using LED lighting on-site, reducing the use of air conditioning, and encouraging attendees to use public transportation or carpool to the event. Promoting sustainable transportation, such as cycling or walking, is a key part of helping to reduce carbon emissions.
Offsetting carbon emissions is another strategy for reducing the environmental impact of events (although not producing the emissions in the first place is always the preferred strategy). This could be initiatives such as investing in renewable energy, carbon capture (well-known as planting trees)), or supporting community projects that promote sustainability.
The events industry needs to not just pay lip service but actively promote sustainability, raising awareness of the importance of sustainability among attendees, suppliers, and partners. This can be achieved through a range of strategies, such as providing information on sustainability initiatives, offering sustainability training, and promoting sustainable products and services. Working with suppliers and partners to promote sustainability is also key, through initiatives such as sustainability clauses in contracts, supplier audits, and sustainability scorecards.
Social sustainability is an important aspect to consider – evaluating the impact of events on local communities and working to ensure that events benefit everyone involved.
For example, events can partner with local charities or businesses to provide opportunities for attendees to give back to the community. It’s also important for the events industry to consider the impact of events on the mental and physical well-being of attendees and your event staff – including those who serve your lunch and drinks, take away your rubbish and service your hotel bedrooms.
One major challenge in achieving sustainability in the events industry is the lack of standardised metrics and reporting. There is currently no consistent way to measure the environmental and social impact of events, which makes it difficult for companies and event planners to set goals and track progress. However, the United Nations has developed a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that provide a framework for sustainable development across a range of industries. These goals can be used to guide the events industry in developing sustainable practices. For example, SDG 12 focuses on responsible consumption and production, while SDG 13 addresses climate action.
The events industry has a long way to go to become a world-leading sustainability exemplar. However, by implementing sustainable practices in areas such as waste, the reduction of carbon emissions, and promoting sustainability, it can reduce its environmental impact and demonstrate its commitment to sustainability – showing other industries how it can be done.
If you’re interested in finding out more about sustainable event planning, our carbon footprint calculator – track – can calculate your own event’s projected and actual carbon footprint. Please get in touch, we can give you a demo and show you some more sample reports to illustrate just what it could do for you.