Sustainability In Events

In a challenging economy is sustainability a realistic priority?

Author Emily Stone Co-founder Gilded Bee

I had the pleasure of hosting two roundtable discussions at this year's London Summer Event Show with leading event agency and corporate professionals on sustainability in a tough economic climate. The discussions at both were fascinating, and it was really encouraging to hear how passionate individuals and companies are at looking to become more sustainable.

Unanimously every company in the room agreed that sustainability was a realistic priority. They did however voice several challenges they were facing internally and externally.

Challenges

Cost - Becoming more sustainable has a perceived additional cost. Customers want more sustainable options, but aren’t necessarily willing to pay the higher initial costs.

Tradition and culture - It’s hard to break traditional ways of working, such as global events and printed literature.

Resource - Needing a dedicated resource and expertise on the subject was highlighted a few times.

Knowledge - Individuals felt overwhelmed by choices and found it hard to decipher between greenwash and actual sustainable ways of working.

Short term thinking- It was agreed that many sustainable options such as going digital, offered a good return-on-investment long term. However individuals in the room felt that in this economy clients were thinking short term.

How To Overcome Barriers To Running More Sustainable Events

Audit - It’s important to know where you are before you start trying to work out where you want to get to. Once they got talking many companies were surprised by how much they were already doing. It’s also important to understand what your customers and people want, and what's important to them. This valuable feedback can help support a business case for investment. The audit provides a benchmark on progress.

Reuse - Within the event industry signage is often produced for each specific event, resulting in a high volume of wastage. You can reduce the single use items like signage, by thinking creatively and considering future events. Writing on windows, using chalk boards and relying more heavily on technology were some of the solutions discussed. At The London Summer Party Event show. There were some really great examples of this as Story Events had recruited artists to help with signage on windows. At the end of the show these were easily wiped clean.

Creativity - Thinking creatively is so important when approaching the topic of sustainability.

Some examples of creative ways of working discussed included;

  • Using flattened beer bottle lids as tokens instead of plastic purpose-made tokens. Apparently they were really well received by delegates. They were supplied for free as the beer company who supplied them recognised it as a marketing activity and were happy to be involved.
  • Using computer terminals for one-to-one dialogue with remote guests to create a global networking event without the need for travel.
  • Working in partnership with food banks.
  • Gifting reusable water bottles with refill stations dotted around the event.
  • Hiring artists to produce signage on windows and walls that wipes clean.
  • Providing pencils with seeds in the end to plant when finished instead of plastic disposable pens.
  • Make it easy to travel to events via public transport or bike or foot, such as installing bike racks and having clear changing areas. You could also offer incentives to do so, such as a discount to attend or free gift.

 

Start small - There is a tendency for companies to want to do everything at once, but budgets and culture can make this challenging. Taking small steps by making regular small improvements towards being more sustainable is a great way to take action quickly, demonstrate the wider business benefit and reduce barriers to implementing new ways of working.

Business case - Everyone in the room agreed that the businesses they worked for saw sustainability as a priority, however were not doing as much as they’d like them to, mainly due to cost. We discussed that by having a clear business case and looking at benefits such as competitive advantage or cost savings would help justify the investments required. At Gilded Bee working sustainably has 3 core benefits to us: competitive advantage, reduced cost (by having no waste as we hold no stock) and It’s the right thing to do. We appreciate the last point isn’t a business reason necessarily, however it's important to note, as it helps us to continue to feel passionate about what we do, which has a positive impact on our business. For other businesses this benefit could be seen through improved employee engagement and productivity.

Push back - Expect more from suppliers and peers and be prepared to challenge.

Focus and prioritise - Don’t necessarily try to do everything, pick a few key areas that you can improve upon and focus on doing them really well. Also have dedicated focused resources or at least some form of accountability. The initial audit we discussed previously would help you benchmark against this and focus on constantly improving.

Offset - It’s not always possible to choose the most environmental option for various reasons. If this is the case, you can always look to offset the environmental damage created from your event. For example, there was a representative for a wealthy family present who said that they knew using private jets or flying first class created huge carbon emissions, but they were never going to stop this behaviour, so they focus on environmental investments and offsetting all travel.

Communications - Communication is key for anything you do when it comes to sustainability. For example, you could have the best recycling system setup, but unless people dispose of their waste correctly it will become contaminated and hard to recycle.

 

Hopefully there are some useful tips here for you. We will be holding more round table discussions in the future and writing more content on sustainability. We'd love to here your thoughts and views on this topic. Please get in touch here.

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Photo credit to: Round table image AMMP Media. Forrest image by Appolinary Kalashnikova on Unsplash

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