We’ve noticed a serious uptick in the number of articles about conferences needing to be more mindful of their “sustainability credentials”. But what do we even mean by “sustainability” in the conference world?
As we see it, it’s referring to the impact a conference has in terms of the resources it consumes. And by “greening” a conference, we’re looking at how to minimise the negative impact it has on the environment.
There are some that say holding a conference is in itself a travesty – with people flying all over the world and the associated consumption that comes with it. Sure, there’s an argument that is indeed a problem.
One possible solution is to bring the event to the people rather than requiring them to travel – a roadshow if you will. And many a successful conference company has done just that.
We don’t believe that events are going to be replaced by something online any time soon, which is something we’ve covered extensively before – even in a world of strange viruses. With so much of our lives now online, the desire for true connection is only getting stronger. It’s human nature after all.
So how do you “green” a conference?
Grand gestures of paying for carbon offset aside, it’s about the incremental initiatives adding up to something much bigger. Meaning there are numerous places an impact can be made across the whole planning process if this is something you truly care about.
Here are some areas which might be "unsustainable", and the alternatives you could consider:
Printed checklists at update meetings - why not use a projector and have people take notes on their tablets?
Site visits - would a video call suffice?
Sourcing - look for local partners for everything from planning to catering to transport
Tickets/proof of entry - don’t ask people to print out; have them show you on their phones
Transport - where possible opt for a centrally located venue with public transport links and walking distance from essentials such as hotels and post-event venues
Water bottles - ditch them and use filtered water in glassware
Plastic tableware - opt for reusable, or at the very least, biodegradable
Delegate booklets - an app + a summary of proceedings on a sign board (for people to snap a photo of)
“Just in case” catering - don’t over order, and insist on a supplier with flexible terms around changing the numbers closer the event
Plastic name badges - why not sturdy card or some other recycled and recyclable material?
Synthetic lanyards - source something that can either be recycled or is biodegradable?
Giveaways (swag) - really? We all know most people just bin them. Save the planet and opt for something far more memorable such as a gift to a local charity; but if you must have, at least find reusable items that people will take home
Menu cards - why not simple chalkboards? Makes for a modern look too
Buffet wastage - donate it
Surveys - move them online; if your venue has wifi, ask them to complete in-situ
And the list goes on.
Interestingly, in some cases the above might actually save you money too!
At this point you might be asking yourself - but are people really choosing an event based on its sustainability credentials? It’s definitely the case in some camps, given attendance is often a corporate decision, and certain corporates are starting to mandate use of suppliers who adhere to certain standards (“sustainable sourcing”).
But we don’t believe that’s the point. Making an event sustainable shouldn’t just be about attracting more people. Instead it should be done simply because it’s the right thing to do. And yes, we think it will quickly become the new norm. And rightly so.