What should planners consider when organizing a Green Meeting?
Successful event planners have to constantly keep an eye to the future to ensure that they are able to anticipate their client’s needs with regard to organizing sustainable events. This requires the planner to interact with various stakeholders to get a feel for what are the emerging demands in the event management industry and then to plan for how to incorporate these trends into their client’s future events. Experts have weighed in on what were the trends in the sustainable events industry and the following five (5) trends were identified:
- Reduction of food waste
- Implementing a digital strategy throughout the event
- Imposing a ban on plastics and using alternative materials that degrade or are easily compostable
- Working with sustainability experts to ensure that the event has as minimal environmental impact as possible
- Putting up a green wall – a living, breathing installation that can also serve as a room divider
A sustainable event consists of innumerable moving parts and the successful planner would be able to identify the different parts and address each of these in an efficient and thoughtful manner. Some of those moving parts or key impact areas to consider when organizing a sustainable event are the event venue, food and beverage, transportation, accommodations, marketing materials and products in general. These are elaborated further below and examined from the perspective of its potential economic, social and environmental sustainability impacts.
The location or venue of an event is typically one of the first (and often, most important) decisions to be made when planning an event. The space in which an event is held has significant impact on the atmosphere that an event is supposed to convey. Some of the sustainability issues related to the venue that an event planner needs to take into account are how affordable is the event space, the distance between the venue and the closest public transportation and also if the venue space has adopted any green building requirements.
In 2014, the organizer of ITB Asia, an annual three-day travel trade, chose the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands, to hold its first ever carbon neutral edition of ITB Asia. Marina Bay Sands, an ISO 20121-certified venue, and the organizer worked together to reduce the carbon footprint generated by the event. They achieved this through a variety of initiatives such as choosing food items sourced regionally, utilizing newly activated in-room motion sensors to ensure maximum room lighting efficiency, and setting a room temperature of 24 degree Celsius for optimal energy usage.
Food and Beverage
A majority of events have a food and beverage component and in fact, most events center on a specific meal. Expenses for food and beverage are often one of the largest when planning for an event. There are several potential sustainability impacts that the planner can look into for this key component. For example, the planner should look into affordable food and beverage options, donation of surplus food from the event to local organizations or to use locally sourced food and beverage options instead of imported ones. In the past few years, significant event spaces and hotel groups have banned shark’s fin from their menu.
To minimize food waste and ensure that food cost is well-managed, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre analyzed data from previous events to enhance the formula to calculate the amount of food required for a particular event. This effort has resulted in as high as 95 percent of food prepared for an event, being consumed.
Transportation, in the context of an event, refers largely to the travel arrangements of those involved with the event such as the organizers, speakers, guests, etc. From the sustainability perspective, event planners can try to secure group rates for public transportation or make transport available at no cost to participants. This would be sustainably economical. Socially, the planner should choose transportation that is accessible for persons with disabilities while environmentally, organize an event that offers the option to participants to participate virtually/ remotely.
Organizers of the 2015 International Green Building Conference (IGBC) in Singapore held their event at Marina Bay Sands, a BCA Green Mark Platinum-certified venue that incorporates a multitude of sustainability features and is easily accessible by public transport. The choice of venue reduces participants’ reliance on private transportation and also reduces unnecessary carbon emission.
During an event, especially for an event that spans over several days and include international participants/ speakers, it is expected that the organizers make arrangements for accommodations. Though the organizers will not be able to directly influence the sustainability impacts of the selected accommodation, event planners can still ensure that the accommodations are affordable, located near the event venue and possess facilities that meet environmental, health and safety regulations.
As part of their effort to engage their guests on sustainability, the Westin Singapore designated 56 rooms on two floors of the hotel, as Green Rooms. These Green Rooms are equipped special meters to help guests monitor and hopefully reduce their energy consumption. Guests who stay in these Green Rooms will be ranked according to how much energy they use; green (for energy consumption 20 percent below average), amber and red. In addition, for every guest that achieves a green ranking, Westin Singapore has also agreed to donate US$1 to UNICEF.
For an event, marketing materials generally consist of, but is not limited to, promotional pamphlets, buntings/ signage/ posters, event programs, tickets, name tags, etc.… An event planner can reduce the economic, social and environmental impact of marketing materials by controlling the cost of development and distribution of the marketing materials, ensuring that the materials can reach out to those with disabilities (have a portion of the materials be printed out in braille) and also minimise (better yet, eliminate) printing of materials by distributing and promoting the event via electronic means.
During its recent event, visitors and exhibitors of the Build Eco Expo (BEX) Asia used mobile apps to retrieve event information and exchange e-contacts as instead of printed business cards. Additionally, organizers of the event printed limited event materials and whenever printing of the materials was required, eco-friendly options are used.
Products in General
As mentioned earlier, planning an event consists of numerous moving parts. Aside from the key components already listed here, other components that need to be considered by the planner to ensure that the event is sustainable includes, but is not limited to, giveaways, prizes, decorations, office supplies, reusable bags, or folders. When considering if these products have an impact on sustainability, the planner needs to determine if the products are necessary to the success of the event, whether the products have been produced in an ethical manner and whether the products can be reused once the event is over.
As part of the Pan Pacific Hotels Group’s (PPHG) sustainability efforts, unused notepads after any event is redistributed to their internal associates thus diverting this potential waste from landfills.
As the importance of sustainability increases in the event industry, event planners have to be ready to view each component of planning an event through the sustainability lens. Event planners that are able to do this and thus organize an event that meets the internationally accepted definition of a sustainable event will prove valuable and be sought after.