5 ways to create sustainable business events

Tracey Edwards, global strategic lead and general manager of ETM (CTM’s specialist event management division), shares some considerations that can assist event planners to get the most out of events while meeting their organisation’s sustainability goals

Recycling is not new and can be easily implemented into an organisation's sustainable event strategy

In the 2022 Corporate Travel Management (CTM) Global Customer Survey conducted in May, 59 per cent of respondents said they are seeking to conduct more in-person meetings over the next 12 months.

These meetings and events are a large part of business, providing employees, customers, partners and the supply chain opportunities to build meaningful relationships, share knowledge, innovate and grow. How then, can events be more sustainable?

Recycling is not new and can be easily implemented into an organisation’s sustainable event strategy

1. Good planning and event design

In the discovery phase of the planning, organisations must be clear on their sustainability goals and what they wish to achieve. A more sustainable event design may require considering where and how an organisation wishes to host their events. Should a central venue location be selected? Or perhaps, another consideration might be to host outdoor breakout sessions to reduce electricity usage.

Selecting suppliers that fit with an organisation’s sustainability policy is also important. Where organisations have had established relationships with suppliers, but no longer align, sourcing new suppliers may be considered.

Going digital – pending the demographic of your audience – can also be part of an organisation’s preferred delivery method. Utilising online registration and communication platforms is more sustainable and cost-effective, and will save delegates time and eliminate paper printouts.

2. Selecting event partners

An event’s carbon footprint can be reduced by looking at some of the big decisions in the event planning process, like where the event is held, to ensure they meet an organisation’s sustainability expectations.

The 2022 CTM Global Customer Survey revealed that 72 per cent of respondents say having access to supply chain sustainability strategy information in the coming 12 months is very important, while 57 per cent seek environmental sustainability features when selecting airlines, hotels, and car rental providers.

Further to this, the Global Business Travel Association sustainability report said 74 per cent of respondents rank both investing in more energy-efficient technologies and phasing out single-use plastic products as the most impactful way for their suppliers to improve their environmental performance.

The ultimate goal for organisations is to have all stakeholders aligned in their sustainability efforts. This will help create a more seamless experience where organisations are not the only ones contributing toward a sustainable event.

When procuring event partners, questions to consider could be:

  • Does the hotel or venue have programmes that reduce water usage or use renewable energy?
  • Does the venue have accreditation for sustainable events like ISO 20121?
  • Does the venue have a recycling programme? Are they paperless? Is there natural light and ventilation?
  • Does the accommodation have opt-out housekeeping services, and do they support local or sustainable businesses?
  • Does the city you choose impact your carbon footprint because of the carbon intensity of the local power grid or the availability of public transit in the area?
  • Does the catering use the least amount of packaging possible?
  • Is there an opportunity to support the local community by using local high-quality food?

3. Reducing food waste

Having sufficient catering is always of importance, ensuring delegates are energised to learn, network and stay engaged through the duration of the event. However, there are ways to help reduce food wastage.

Partnering with a venue that has already established sustainable practices will make catering easier. For instance, the venue may already have recycling or composting programmes in place. In cases where the venue does not have such programmes, there arises an opportunity to donate to a local food donation programme (in accordance with food and health regulations). Check with the venue as they may already work with local charities including food banks or social enterprises.

Another consideration around food is to order local. While it will not reduce waste, it is a better option not only in terms of environmental responsibility, but also in supporting the local economy and offering a local experience for delegates, especially for international visitors.

4. Reusing and recycling

Recycling is not new and can be easily implemented into an organisation’s sustainable event strategy. For items like lanyards and signs, organisations may wish to avoid personalising them where possible so they can be reused for future events. This reduces waste, and saves money and time.

Banning single-use plastic can be applied to menu choices with minimal packaging, ideally supplied in biodegradable or recyclable containers. With many more sustainable products available, whether it be biodegradable or bamboo for example, there are sufficient options to reduce your event’s carbon footprint.

Recycling education for delegates can also be carried out by inserting notices in event programmes or listed digitally. Placing clear signs on bins and communicating where and why to recycle will make it easier for delegates to know what to do and where to go.

Other actions include:

  • encouraging delegates to refill water bottles through drinking water stations
  • using compostable items and reusable crockery for take-away options
  • ensuring any packaging the food arrives in is recyclable
  • ensuring an ethical supply chain and materials with the smallest carbon footprint

Conference tote bags have historically been filled with promotional items and use energy and resources to produce, only to be discarded in rubbish and end up in landfills. Hence, organisations need to think about what they want to achieve by providing tote bags.

For those that do decide to provide them to delegates, consider providing reusable branded tote bags, recycled notebooks, plant and seed packets, reusable cups and mugs. This also provides opportunities for extended brand awareness through repeated use. Organisations may also like to refrain from date stamping any of the items for longevity. To ensure the promotional suppliers are using ethically-sourced materials that are environmentally friendly, check with the suppliers what social and environmental certifications they have.

5. Reducing carbon footprint 

There are more sustainable options for organisations to consider when it comes to transport, whether it be land or air, and this may help reduce the event’s carbon footprint.

  • Should delegates require transportation while at the event destination, there are options for eco-friendly car hire, such as hybrid or electric vehicles, and public transport.
  • Select a venue and accommodation that are within walking distance, or a venue with onsite accommodation to eliminate ground transport.
  • Get your travel management company (TMC) to coordinate flight arrival and departure times enabling group transfers and thereby limiting the amount of ground transportation required.

In the 2022 CTM Global Customer Survey, 71 per cent of respondents said their carbon footprint will be important to a very important consideration for their travel programme over the next 12 months.

Through CTM Climate+, organisations can offset against flights, accommodation and car hire by calculating, recording, and reporting CO2 emissions per trip and per traveller. Further to this, CTM’s partnership with South Pole, a leading project developer and global climate action expert, allows organisations to offset their carbon footprint against a range of global climate action and sustainability projects.

While the thought of arranging an event that meets organisational sustainability strategies and policy might be overwhelming, small and manageable actions can go a long way to protecting the environment, supporting local communities, and saving organisations some money along the way.

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