Plastic water bottles on the tables, creamer-sachets for coffee, (material) tokens of appreciation for speakers, printed agendas, event and sponsor pull-up banners, bags filled with advertisement materials, plastic badges and overflowing lunch buffets – sounds familiar from conferences and events?
I’ve organised several large scale events and attended many more, and have started to notice the huge differences in the sustainability efforts of the event management. The above mentioned are the standards of many events, whether focused on sustainability or not, although there is a big difference with different event organisers and venues. In Asia, I’ve experienced the whole spectrum from complete ignorance to sustainability of event organisation to the efforts of making the full event zero-waste and carbon neutral.
The venue and their collaboration and facilities of course tie the hands of the organisers to an extent, and therefore choosing an appropriate venue becomes an important factor itself. In Singapore, the clear leader for a sustainable venue is Marina Bay Sands (MBS), whose efforts in sustainability are remarkable. Through their Eco360 meetings programme they help even organisers reduce the carbon footprint to a minimum and support community work as well.
Food waste from the banquets is a typical event consequence, and one that venues rarely proactively pay attention to. MBS is a front-runner in this as well, as they donate excess food to the less fortunate through their partnership with the Food Bank Singapore. That’s an initiative I hope to see spreading throughout the other popular venues in the city, as Singapore has the existing infrastructure and services for safely distributing the excess food portions. Event organisers can at the very least ask for and urge for this when negotiating their booking. Event organisers should of course also be mindful of ordering the right amount to reduce excess production – an easy way is to ask during registration to the event whether the attendee is intending to stay for lunch.
Easier initiatives to tackle with venues are swapping bottled water to water dispensers and glasses, ordering a conservative amount of food and snacks, advising against single-use plastics (coffee stirrers for example) and sachet usage and demanding for moderate aircon usage.
There are also many easy ways for increasing the event’s sustainability that are completely in the organiser’s consideration. Here are some selected handy tips that are easy to implement and will increase the event’s sustainability:
- Use badges and lanyards made out of recycled materials and re-use them (also an easy community / CSR project)
- Don’t print out event agendas, provide them instead in event apps or online (these days technically every one has a smart phone). A tablet or laptop can also be dedicated at the registration desk for viewing the agenda.
- Use digital signage for sponsor and event promotion instead of single-use pull-up banners.
- Urge sponsors and partners to not handout print materials or freebies. Event website can have a section for sponsor’s e-materials.
- Restrain from material “tokens of appreciation”. These are old-fashioned and the handout after presentation / panel also disturbs the flow of the agenda. If token of appreciation is considered of importance, consider an eco-friendly option such as a promise of a tree being planted or support for acommunity programme.
- Choose a venue that is easily accessible by public transportation and provide the details for attendees or promote car sharing
- Collect information from attendees on how they traveled to the event and partner with a suitable organisation for carbon off-setting.
- Collect information from the attendees on their planned attendance to lunch (on each event day) to have a more accurate estimate for quantity of food needed.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle where ever possible, and partner with your venue for similar efforts.
Inform the event attendees of your sustainability efforts and ask for their support and understanding. If the venue is supportive of your efforts, make sure to give them the appropriate appraisal for this to encourage continuous efforts for increasing events sustainability.
I hope to attend more sustainability-focused events in the future!