23 Apr 2019

Why the future of events is sustainable

Sustainable meetings are not a burden on the budget but deliver competitive advantage – let’s spread the word now and get everyone on board

By Matthias Schultze, German Convention Bureau

Sustainability has long ceased to be a mere buzzword. It is a topic that matters to people and a social responsibility that we all have. Be it the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the EU banning single-use plastics or students worldwide taking to the streets to make a statement on climate protection. Sustainable behaviour is crucial in all walks of life and work and that includes the meetings and events world. In fact, the commitment to sustainable  meetings and ability to deliver on sustainability goals will become a major economic factor for our professional community. The good news: Managing your events in a sustainable fashion makes perfect economic sense and can put you ahead of the competition. Let’s look at the ins and outs of sustainable Events: 

1. Sustainability in the meetings and event sector: What does this actually mean?

Sustainability covers every step and element when organising events, including catering using regional and/or organic products, energy-saving events tech, paperless attendee management, choosing a venue with sustainability credentials and a mobility concept that provides environmentally friendly travel to and from the event.

For companies in the events sector, be it service providers or event planners, sustainability plays a role in every part of their business, i.e., every department needs to consider sustainability criteria, for example, when it comes to purchasing or energy management. The social aspect of sustainability mainly relates to human resources and the wider social commitment of a company. And then there’s the final piece in the puzzle – sustainability communications – where you talk about how your company makes sure to respect the environment and individual to get this message across to all your Stakeholders.

2. But where’s the competitive advantage in organising sustainable events?

Firstly, and most importantly, organising your meetings, conferences and events in a sustainable manner has no disadvantages. Look at it this way: You realise a 100% sustainable event which might initially incur additional cost. However, you will still have added value to your business because any sustainable event always requires a thorough review of business processes beforehand – and as a result you will be able to look at everything you do in a new light and improve on that. In general, there is a false believe that being sustainable equals “more expensive”. In fact, just the opposite is true: In the long-run, you will reduce cost because sustainability also always means economic sustainability and saving on resources.

Next, there’s the image effect that should not be underestimated. As mentioned before, sustainability matters in society. Hence, sustainability efforts are appreciated so that service providers as well as event organisers can benefit form sustainable events. They send out a positive message – and it is one that should be spoken about loud and clearly – which, in turn, will reflect back on them in an image-enhancing way.

As a third point, sustainability expertise can generate new revenue streams: Event agencies that have proven their sustainability credentials will be able to tap into new markets to target companies and organisations that solely organise sustainable events because of their specific fields of business.

3. And how do you actually reduce the ecological footprint of events?

There is a whole range of measures that can be put into place to reduce the ecological footprint of events. To that end it is key to look at each piece of the “event puzzle” and literally every activity involved in the event organisation process. Only then can the damaging impact on the environment be reduced. Apart from aspects such as venue, catering, attendee management, technology and mobility, the choice of furniture and decorations as well as the use of printed materials and give-aways, waste management, accommodation and energy management all need to be thoroughly reviewed. At the end of this process, you will very likely realise that many things can simply be done away with (and/or environmentally-friendly alternatives be found) – which will lead to the above mentioned cost-saving effect.

4. How can we boost sustainable conduct of everyone in the meetings and events community?

Sustainability is not just going to happen as if by magic. For instance, within the German events sector, we believe that a concerted effort and dedicated focus including necessary structures is vital to really see some change. Initiatives, offers, platforms, guidelines and standards are necessary if you really want to see things moving forward and at the German Convention Bureau we have therefore considerably ramped up our sustainability activities in recent years:

In 2012, we launched, “fairpflichtet” (“rightandfair”) jointly with the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC) as the sustainability codex of the German-speaking events industry. It is a voluntary self-commitment to corporate responsibility for sustainability when running events and all stakeholders involved in this process are invited to join the sustainability codex. We have also been running a special sustainability training programme for the last seven years to qualify industry professionals as sustainability consultants. About 400 event planners have gone through this training so far and we aim at building up a network of ambassadors that spread the word about sustainability in their organisations.

Finally, our greenmeetings & events conference, launched in 2011, is a major platform for our community to discuss and be educated on sustainability topics. We organise it every other year and, incidentally, this year’s fifth edition in February focused on the added economic value of sustainable events. We took delegates through the entire cycle of a sustainable event, from strategy via implementation to evaluation, and the conference has shown that, apart from the ecological value and the importance the topic has taken on in society, sustainable events also make perfect economic sense, for the reasons mentioned above: They put you ahead of the competition and enable budget savings.

If we want to see sustainability take hold in events, we need to take advantage of the momentum now and communicate the benefits of sustainable events management to get everyone on board. We also need to make sure that information, training and guidelines are available and easily accessible to inspire and engage people. After all, sustainability is a chance for improving the services and offers delivered by the meetings and events community – and for making sure that what we do will still be of value and sustainable in the future.