Any gathering of a large number of people can have a potential negative impact on the air, soil, water, resources, and people. This includes not only the location where the event takes place but also far beyond. But by taking sustainability planning into consideration, event organizers have the opportunity to not only minimize potential negative impacts but also, given the large number of stakeholders involved, concretely influence change by leaving a positive legacy and hopefully inspiring those involved to live more sustainably. That's why we should urge organizers to include sustainability in their planning process.
Organizing sustainable events not only reduce their environmental impact but can also benefit the main actors involved. Such benefits include:
Conserving energy, reducing waste, purchasing local products, and simply consuming less can result in money saved. Despite a sometimes higher investment of resources (financial or human) to research new systems or invest in new tools, applying sustainability principles can bring immediate savings (e.g., by printing less material and having less waste to collect). They can also have long-term financial benefits, due to the more efficient use of resources and easier access to credit lines and sponsors.
Positive reputation and improved image
Promoting the fact that you are organizing or hosting a sustainable event will raise the profile of the event, attract participants that are becoming increasingly aware of sustainability issues and potentially engage the media's attention. It may also be appreciated by the general public as well as partners and potential donors.
If planned and implemented carefully, the event can provide benefits to the region by creating jobs, encouraging local investment, involving regional Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and can promote better working conditions and social inclusion. It can also act as a catalyst for encouraging environmental and sustainable best practices across the region, as well as improving the relationship between the organizer and the local community.
As an organizer of large, sustainable events, you drive the demand: your request for more sustainable products will both trigger as well as promote the development of innovative technologies and techniques, leading to more efficient use of resources and the improvement of the delegate experience.
Raising awareness and inspiring change
Your event is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness among your participants, staff and colleagues, service providers, the local community, the wider events community and the general public on the theme of sustainability and sustainable events. Leading by example, you motivate them to take responsible decisions and introduce environmental and social improvements into their own events and organizations.
Management principles of sustainable events
Organizing a sustainable event is a process that starts long before the event takes place and continues after its conclusion. If you decide to integrate sustainability into your event, make sure you start early and develop your strategy well in advance – any sustainably ambitious event might fail simply because of late planning. In particular, do not forget to:
- Prepare an action plan with clear measurable objectives (key performance indicators), responsibilities, deadlines, and appropriate monitoring actions.
- Allocate sufficient resources (time, staff capacity, and to a certain extent, money) – remember, the long-term financial savings and more efficient use of resources will quickly compensate for the initial investment!
- Build a core "sustainability team" with internal staff from the main units or departments involved in the organization of the event and, ideally, representatives from the main stakeholder groups (e.g., host city or country, sponsors, suppliers, venue, hotel, local community, etc.). If you have limited human resources, make one staff member responsible for implementing the action plan.
- Take a step-by-step approach: You can organize events with sustainable attributes despite your limitations (e.g., if you have never done it before, if you have a small team, or if you have limited financial resources). Start gradually, focusing on one or two aspects and, preferably, beginning where tangible and measurable results are quickly seen (e.g., reducing the use of materials or recycling waste). You can then expand your goals in the next event. This applies especially in regions where environmentally and socially responsible products, experience or infrastructure are lacking or limited. Identify your objectives realistically and work towards them with the resources you have.
- Focus on the areas where you have influence: If you are not responsible for the selection of the venue or of the service providers, your sustainability team can still offer recommendations.
- Develop a communication plan: if you have introduced sustainability into your event planning, promote it! Make sure your participants and other stakeholders are aware and engaged in your sustainable activities – use your communication channels to promote the sustainability of your event and engage those involved.
- Monitor and report: measure the progress of your sustainability activities – to quantify achievements, benchmark weaker areas, and set targets and improvements for the future. This can also be used as a marketing and communication tool.