How to practice event sustainability without it feeling like a token gesture

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Striving to make your events more sustainable is a commendable goal. But as consciousness is raised about the need for companies to be greener; to be more conscientious and less self-serving – some businesses may find themselves coming under fire for jumping on the sustainability bandwagon with less-than authentic intentions. 

Trying to improve brand image by piggy-backing on a good cause without putting the time, money and effort into actually making a difference is likely to lead to worse PR traction in the long-term. Essentially it is (quite rightly) not a good look. 

So how do you make sure your sustainable moves are big enough, bold enough, to be taken seriously? This is a question particularly pertinent to those in the larger scale, corporate events world. But it’s just as important a consideration for any event planner that’s keen to effect change, no matter the size of their operation.

In this article, we explore some of the key things you can do to incorporate sustainability into your event – and really mean it.

Be ready to research what event sustainability really means

By now, most people know that getting rid of single-use plastics, using recyclable materials  and implementing paper-free ticketing are respectable green moves to make. And it’s important not to minimise the impact of these actions, of course. But there are so many more things you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of your event and company, which is why educating yourself and your team is a vital first step. 

Attend webinars, read up on the UN’s sustainable development goals, organise creative sustainability brainstorming sessions, find out about your past events’ environmental impact. Read, read and then read some more, and – most importantly – set real time aside each week to grow your knowledge on the subject of sustainability. Only with this kind of effort and commitment can you be sure your efforts are coming from the right place.

Add sustainability as an agenda item for all internal meetings

Solidify your sustainability goals by making it an official topic for internal meetings and planning sessions. It’s a good idea to think of sustainability as something that needs to come from the roots of your event upwards – it affects so many things, it’s not going to be possible to just tack it on at the end. 

For example, some of the key ways to incorporate sustainability into your event might include things like making sure your venue is accessible via public transport, and that the venue itself already has a solid sustainability policy in practice. These are definitely the kind of decisions that need to be hammered out right from the get-go. 

Outline a sustainability preference clause in request for proposals and contract templates

Making sure you partner with people who share your sustainability goals and ethos is going to be an important part of the event planning process. To make things easier, bake a sustainability preference clause into your request for proposals and contract templates that means vendors and other partners need to communicate their sustainability policy and best practices from the start. 

Consider making your event hybrid to reduce its carbon footprint

The larger your in-person event is, the higher its carbon footprint is going to be. One way to significantly reduce its environmental impact, then, is to make big cuts on numbers through taking some of it into the digital realm. Hybrid events are becoming increasingly popular with tons of scope to be seriously impressive thanks to the technology now available. So there’s no reason this has to reduce your event’s impact – if anything, it can strengthen it. 

Going hybrid is also a great way to show that you’re a future focused organisation; one that’s willing to move with the times in order to provide longer-term solutions to the threat of climate change.

Be vocal about your sustainable practices – without bragging

Baking sustainability into your event brand is a good move to make. But to ensure you come across as sincere, strive to offer genuinely useful information, education and inspiration rather than merely boasting about your ‘mission’. 

For example, it can be helpful to post advice about green travel to your event on your website or social media pages. And it’s a great idea to give shout-outs to the green suppliers and vendors you’re partnering with by shining a spotlight on their credentials and background. The important thing to remember is that facts are king when it comes to this kind of stuff – people want to know how you’re supporting sustainability, not just why. 

Making your event more sustainable can feel daunting. But it's better to grab the bull by the horns and give it your absolute best shot than put off what is now seen as a non-negotiable move for organisations across the board. Only by tackling the daunting and the difficult will we collectively be able to make a difference, and it’s everyone’s duty to do so.

Keen to keep driving change? You might also find our article on fostering LGBTQIA+ inclusivity at events useful.