The how and why of sustainable meetings

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

The world is evolving and as a business, we need to change with it. From choosing environmentally friendly venues to reducing plastic waste, there are many ways to make your meetings more sustainable.

Consider this. The average conference delegate produces over 170 kilograms of CO2 emissions per day – the equivalent of four flights between Heathrow and Manchester. [Source:]

A three-day conference for 1,000 people creates 5,670 kilograms of waste [source: MeetGreen], over half of which will go directly to a landfill. While a five day conference attended by 2,500 delegates will use 62,500 plates, 87,500 napkins, 75,000 cups or glasses and 90,000 cans or bottles. [Source: IBID]

All of which represents a significant opportunity for responsible businesses to work towards more sustainable meetings and events.

Why sustainable meetings?

Thanks to Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion movement, environmental activism is front page news. Protests in major meeting destination cities including London, coupled with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals have raised awareness significantly.

For employers, changing workforce demographics have made a responsible business approach and company culture more important than ever. Climate change is the millennial generation’s greatest concern, and if their work or event environments do not confirm to their views, they will look for alternative employment. [Source: Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2019]

The fact is that employees and consumers alike want to be associated with a brand that reflects their values. Meetings are the ideal medium to prove it. Many organisations have taken notice. Offsetting emissions from travel, reducing plastic waste, sourcing locally-produced food and prioritising ethical suppliers are examples of practical action.

In 2018, the European Commission issued guidelines for organising sustainable meetings and events. They include initiatives such as the Clean Energy Package, successive Water Framework Directives, the Circular Economy Package, the European Plastics Strategy, and support for the Paris climate agreement. Collectively the guidelines set out to ensure that “Europe leads in delivering a more sustainable future in line with the global vision provided by the UN.” [Source:]

What is a sustainable meeting?

A sustainable meeting is defined as a “meeting that incorporates environmental considerations throughout all stages of the meeting in order to minimize the negative impact on the environment.” [Source: MeetGreen]

In reality, making a meeting sustainable involves every stage of planning and delivery. From venue selection to minimising waste through recycling, composting and avoiding disposable items, decreasing energy consumption, using products with post-consumer recycled content and serving food that is organic, local or fair trade.

Sustainable meetings also include social responsibility including charitable donations and support for community-based projects.

It’s not just large meetings that can be made sustainable. In isolation, one small meeting might not yield the potential to reverse global warming. But even the environmental impact of travel to and from a venue can be significant. Then multiply the benefit by the number of small meetings that take place over the course of a year.

How to make your meeting sustainable

  • Question whether a face-to-face meeting is necessary. A virtual meeting generates anywhere between 0-4kg in emissions, compared to 67kg for a face-to-face meeting. [Source: Zoom/Chorus]

  • If face to face is essential, choose a destination that minimises delegates’ travel and select a venue with environmental certification, especially waste and energy management accreditation.

  • When menu planning, making locally sourced organic and seasonal produce, or providing vegetarian/vegan dishes reduces environmental impact and benefits the local community.

  • Contrary to popular belief, having too much food isn’t a good thing. Delegates numbers have to be precise to reduce waste; making half or children's portions available will help.

  • Work with your venue to provide recycle bins, water pitchers (rather than water bottles), dry erase boards instead of flipcharts and paper take-away cartons instead of polystyrene cups.

  • Natural light helps reduce electricity usage. Choosing a venue with energy-efficient lighting control will ensure lights are only on when needed.

  • Make delegate communication digital. Wherever practical use a delegate registration system to minimise paper and distribute content electronically. And make sure any gifts are made of biodegradable, recycled and sustainably sourced materials.

  • Source local AV and production suppliers to minimize emissions from long-distance deliveries to the event.

  • Offset any carbon emissions from your event by supporting energy efficiency projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

Our Meetings Optimiser technology is a great place to start - it's an online meetings calculator that takes a holistic view of the meeting, taking into consideration wellbeing and travel impacts.

There are many sources of information and guidance for meeting planners. For example, Meetings Professionals International (MPI) has created a Sustainable Meeting Professional Certificate course for those who want to improve sustainability in planning meetings and events.

The fact is that every meeting, large or small, can become more sustainable. All is takes is a commitment to try.