A few years ago, sustainability was a hot topic, a buzz word, and for a time, even a bandwagon that many an organisation tied themselves to (if they weren’t brave enough to actually jump on) in order to boost their reputation as greener than the competition.

Don’t get me wrong, there were, and still are, companies that take sustainability very seriously, but for many, sustainable came to mean burdensome, time-consuming and expensive, so their shiny new policies were quietly forgotten. Now, around two-thirds of corporates admit that they don’t have a CSR strategy to speak of and clients rarely ask agencies or suppliers to build sustainability into their proposals.

This is plain wrong. Sustainability needn’t be burdensome or expensive. Nor should it be time-consuming if it becomes built into organisational processes. And a great place to start is with events.

Why a sustainable events strategy?

1. Cost savings
Yes, savings. One of the biggest benefits that a sustainability programme brings is that it reduces, not increases, costs. Its celebrated 3 Rs – Reduce, Re-use, Recycle mean that businesses begin to really look at where they are wasting money and resources in the event process.

2. Positive CSR impact
Reducing wastage, using greener products, recycling, choice of venue and refreshments all make a positive impact on social and environmental considerations. And the policies you adopt for your events can easily be adopted across other areas of your business.

3. Reputation
Businesses that are seen to follow a set of sustainability principles for genuine CSR reasons earn a positive, environmentally and socially-friendly reputation that gives them stand-out and increased engagement.

How to be sustainable?

Sustainability is not something you achieve overnight; its achievement will be a process. But it’s a process you can embark on straight away in your events programme. Remember, customers won’t necessarily expect every part of your policy to be watertight – but they will expect you to try. Here are 7 ways you can start.

1. Choice of venue
Try to use venues that have sustainable or environmental policies of their own. This makes it far easier to get them on board with your efforts.

2. Location of venue
Reduce the impact of travel by choosing one that’s centrally located and easily accessible by public transport. If travel is unavoidable, encourage vehicle sharing and recommend local accommodation for any overnight stays.

3. Use digital communications
Cut out the need to use paper and incur postage costs by promoting your event by email, social and web. Same goes for post-event comms. It’s kinder to the environment and to your budget.

4. Reduce hard-copy event collateral

Provide memory sticks or links to downloads of event material rather than brochures or hand-outs. If you need printed material, try to format so that you minimise the amount of paper you use. Avoid plastic, non-recyclable carrier bags.

5. Re-use promotional props
Make sure any signs, banners, badges and the like are produced so they can be re-used at subsequent events (for example, avoid printing the date or the event name).

6. Choose catering carefully
Choose fairly traded and locally sourced items (consider the food miles involved); provide tap water rather than bottled; supply fruit rather than prepared desserts.

7. Recycle waste
Work with the venue to provide recycling opportunities for any waste.

Finally, make sure your efforts don’t go unnoticed. Communicate your sustainability measures to your customers and delegates at every stage from event promotion, through event delivery, right through to your post-event communications. Not only will it make a good impression, but it will help and encourage your customers, venue and suppliers to join in too.

What will success look like?

Evaluate the success of the steps you’ve taken by measuring their impact – and invite delegates and visitors to feedback too. Calculate the amount of energy savings, for example, or reduction in paper, printing and promotional materials, or the percentage of waste recycled.

But perhaps the truest measure of your success is when sustainability becomes part of your corporate DNA – when you start to see employees and colleagues taking personal responsibility at events and beyond…


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