The 6 golden rules for more sustainable meetings and events

Making your conference or event more sustainable needn’t be a hassle - and you may be surprised by the benefits.

In an age where debates over climate change and landfill waste dominate the headlines, it’s no surprise that sustainability is a hot topic in the world of business travel. Companies are raising their game, from hotels sourcing local food and drink to conference centres slashing the amount of waste they produce, and airlines investing in fuel-efficient aircraft. With planners under growing pressure to deliver eco-friendly meetings and events, how can you make sure your occasions have as little environmental impact as possible?

Choose a green venue

Working out the basic brief of an event, such as the budget and the number of attendees, comes first – but once that’s been decided, prioritise the green credentials of the venue. The choice of site will have a huge influence on your sustainability targets, including the carbon footprint of your event and the amount of waste it produces.

It’s very unusual to find a hotel or conference centre without any kind of sustainability offering these days, but the commitments of some venues will be more impressive than others, so do your research. Whether you choose a hotel that recycles all of its operational waste or a conference centre that prioritises working with local suppliers – and it certainly won’t be a struggle to find either – there are plenty of options out there that will bolster your event’s sustainability credentials, often at no extra cost.

Get your transport right

Ease of access will be a big concern for delegates, so it should be a key consideration when organising an occasion, but it also has a big impact on how sustainable your event is. You may have painstakingly picked a venue that offsets all of its carbon emissions, but if it’s so far away that all your delegates have to drive there, your efforts will have been undermined. Choosing a venue close to major hubs such as airports, bus and railway stations will allow delegates to arrive on foot or by public transport, minimising the environmental impact. Alternatively, organise car shares or shuttle buses.

The fight against emissions becomes harder if you’re organising an event overseas, but there are ways of reducing the impact if you have to fly there. For example, why not ensure off-site events, such as meals and team-building activities, are accessible on foot or by public transport? Or try arranging a sightseeing tour using bikes or Segways instead of cars.

Think local

Sustainability can be seen as a huge, intangible issue that’s difficult to break down into bite-sized chunks, but this needn’t be the case. Think of it as engaging responsibly with the local community. For instance, finding a venue that uses food and seasonal produce from local suppliers is a fantastic option. As well as reducing the number of miles your food has travelled before it’s consumed (which keeps down carbon emissions), sourcing food and produce from the surrounding area means more sales for local retailers and a shot in the arm for the economy.

Where you can, work with local authorities and charities to see if remaining food can be distributed to people in the area once the event is over. Alternatively, food could be served in ‘grab bags’, allowing delegates to take home any food they haven’t eaten.

Consider waste management

Where there’s food, there’s going to be refuse, so it’s crucial to ensure that you have waste management systems in place. Before the event, speak to the venue owner about the best strategies for rubbish disposal, and plan ahead to reduce the amount of waste that will be created. If you’re hosting an outdoor event, make sure to provide clearly labelled recycling bins, and consider using biodegradable utensils, which can be disposed of easily.

Make it paperless

Online booking and ticketing systems are having a positive impact on waste reduction, but there’s more that can be done to make events sustainable. It’s still all too common to see delegates leaving a hotel or conference centre weighed down by reams of paper brochures or pamphlets. Paper handouts, agendas and delegate packs can all be digitised and accessed by delegates through their smartphone and tablet, or via a downloadable app. Offer incentives, such as a free coffee coupon, to encourage delegates to go paperless.

The sheer convenience offered by technology of this kind means that it’s already being rolled out across the industry; factor in its sustainability credentials, too, and you’re on to a winner.

Create the right culture

Ultimately, if you want your events to be more sustainable, your business needs to be, too. One of the best ways of cementing a green ethos in your company culture is to make new starters aware of your goals and policies from the moment they arrive. For event organisers, the company’s sustainability checklist should be as vital a part of organising an event as calculating the budget.

And when you’re getting something right, don’t be afraid to shout about it. It’s not in our culture to boast about our achievements, but when it comes to sustainability, it’s well worth doing. Not only does it help boost morale by making employees aware of the company’s successes, it’s also a great way of communicating policy, sharing best practice and making sure everyone’s on the same page. So if you’ve arranged an event with an impressively green agenda, let people know. All employees need to recognise why sustainability is important – and why it should never be seen as a box-ticking exercise.