By Julia Hernández Malagón
With the summer season approaching and all the pandemic restrictions being lifted, we’re seeing an increasing number of upcoming in-person events.
While certain activities and celebrations can be done online, there’s no replacement for physical contact, making connections in person, and exploring new environments together. This sort of in-person time is, in many cases, very important for our personal and professional development.
Nevertheless, these events can also have a detrimental impact on the environment.
This is why reducing the environmental impact of your events can be a big opportunity for your organization to commit to sustainable practices.
A paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production shows the results of a comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) being performed on the three main parts of a conference: preparation, execution, and post-conference activities.
The study revealed that travel activities play a dominant role in the overall environmental impact of such events, along with catering selection, hotel overnight stays, and other aspects related to the venue. The analysis also concluded that changing travelling methods, adopting vegetarian meals, and reducing the amount of conference materials can significantly better the environmental profile of a conference.
In this article, we provide some ideas you can keep in mind to organize more sustainable events.
1. Plan your event with the help of accepted guidelines.
ISO 20121 is an internationally recognized standard that provides guidelines for sustainable event management. It allows for a common language and comparison between organizations. It is applicable to all types and sizes of organizations involved in the delivery and design of events. This standard can be certified by a third party, increasing the credibility of the sustainability of the event.
2. Choose an accessible location.
Because a large part of the carbon footprint of events results from transportation, try to find a location that is easily accessible by foot or public transport. Make recommendations on how attendees can arrive via public means.
3. Go hybrid or online.
While an in-person event can be an incredible experience, going online or hybrid can help reduce food consumption, material waste, and the impact of travelling for people living far away from the venue. It will also eliminate barriers, allowing you to open your doors to a broader audience and be more inclusive.
4. Choose sustainable suppliers.
When selecting suppliers for the different phases of your event, apply sustainability criteria and select those who are more committed to sustainability practices. Engage with them to better understand their environmental policies and activities. Do they match yours?
Some ideas for how to choose sustainable suppliers can be found here.
5. Avoid paper and reduce material consumption.
Traditionally, large quantities of paper have been used in events (programs, reports, booklets, etc.). Try to change this by relying on digital tools and keeping your use of material aids to a minimum. If print assets are needed, use only recycled materials.
6. Find a green venue.
How do you look for a green venue? Look for buildings that are LEED-certified, and keep in mind the following aspects of their operation: waste diversion (clearly visible waste sorting and recycling), energy reduction, sustainable sourcing (local sources), and green spaces.
You can find some ideas for venues in Canada here and here.
7. Make Earth-friendly catering choices.
If possible, try to choose vegetarian meal options, calculate portions to avoid food waste, encourage the use of tap water, and provide reusable utensils.
To go the extra mile, you can consider hiring a zero-waste caterer, such as Suppli or Unboxed Market (which both serve the Toronto area).
8. Say no to food waste and other material wastes.
Try not to provide more food than is needed, encourage participants to take only what they know they’ll eat, and if leftovers are inevitable, craft a plan for where that food can be used or donated.
Finally, ensure that your venue or caterer provides the resources needed to compost organic waste and that guests know where organics bins are located.
You can find more ideas here.
9. Educate others about sustainability and the impact of your event.
Actively inform participants and organizers of sustainable practices, and make sure they understand the rules. You should also consider communicating the impact of the event, as this can paint your organization in a positive light while also stressing the importance of sustainability and encouraging other groups to follow suit.
Here’s an article on the evolution of sustainable events in Toronto.
10. Track your progress.
Last but not least, you should track your progress to identify areas for improvement and major achievements that you can leverage for communication purposes. You can also ask your attendees for feedback about the sustainable practices you implemented and ideas for future events. This way, you’ll engage your audience while showing your commitment to sustainability.
Organizing a sustainable event can help your organization in many ways, from inspiring others to be more environmentally friendly to spreading awareness among your community, reducing your environmental impact, and reducing costs associated with energy, and waste.
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