Sustainable Event Management

Literally millions of results are revealed on Google using the search terms “sustainable event management” and “sustainable events”. There are lists, top tips, scholarly academic reports and blatant examples of event agencies jumping on the bandwagon for promotional purposes. All this soul searching and hand wringing has the feel of a fervent rally or a lecture about how to be good global citizens.

The reality of achieving tangible sustainability results is that, beyond a few obvious sorting and recycling initiatives, the law of diminishing returns kicks in early in the process. The potential cost of doing things better is usually the primary obstacle to getting client or budget-holder approval for change.

Big corporations all have grand CSR policies described in detail on their web sites, but mid and senior level executives struggling with budgets and targets will understandably have more pressing priorities to address and will generally leave the event organisers to tackle the sustainability issues. As long as the conference, exhibition, hospitality event or incentive travel programme delivers the expected return on investment (ROI) they will be satisfied.

Definitions and delivery

There are again many definitions that pop up when searching online for “sustainable event management” and here are some of them:

From “The Development of Competitive Advantage through Sustainable Event Management” by Dr. Stephen Henderson, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University:

Like other industries, event management needs to make decisions about how to prioritise the triple bottom line elements of planet, people and profit. Furthermore, there is a need to scope the range of sustainable activity associated with the event by consideration of the consumer and supply sides of the event.  If both these aspects are clearly defined by the organisation, it becomes clear what is meant by describing an event as sustainable. However, this definition is specific to the event and organisations leaving limited means of comparison between events until clear standards are laid down by legislation or other policy making outputs such as quantified standards.”

Meegan Jones is President of the Sustainable Event Alliance and author of Sustainable Event Management: A Practical Guide. In her paper entitled “Steps in the Journey to Sustainability” Meegan says:

“The first step is to gain commitment from top management, plus interest and engagement by the event team and stakeholders. Getting the go-ahead to address sustainability must be achieved for your efforts to be supported and successful. The event team and other stakeholders also need to be engaged and committed, as they will be helping you implement your plans.”

Wikipedia says:

“Sustainable event management (also known as event greening) is the process used to produce an event with particular concern for environmental, economic and social issues. Sustainability in event management incorporates socially and environmentally responsible decision making into the planning, organisation and implementation of, and participation in, an event. It involves including sustainable development principles and practices in all levels of event organisation, and aims to ensure that an event is hosted responsibly. It represents the total package of interventions at an event, and needs to be done in an integrated manner. Event greening should start at the inception of the project, and should involve all the key role players, such as clients, organisers, venues, sub-contractors and suppliers.”


So, where do we start and what can we regard as realistic goals for sustainable event management?

The recent meeting of heads of state in Paris reminded us that the movement towards reversing global warming does not have unanimous support among the world’s biggest nations. We are all familiar with the concept of carbon footprints.  Every individuals and organisation can make a marginal difference, but the global scale of this problem demands total commitment from governments and national leaders first and foremost.

In the case of live events, we combine the services of a range of specialist suppliers to create the experience. With conferences, product launches and exhibitions in particular we work with design, display, technical production and transportation specialists. Corporate hospitality and incentive travel programmes involve hotels and other venues, air, rail and road transportation, catering and entertainment suppliers. This is the area in which we can best influence the carbon footprint, by selecting companies that share our concern for the health of the planet and the future for our children and grandchildren.

Sustainable events can only be delivered when all the stakeholders, from commissioning clients to participants and everyone in between, share a common commitment to better standards.