Ten ways to improve your event’s sustainability

Following the company’s Best Eco Supplier win at the EN Elite Awards, Sam Rowe, CEO of Ignition, looks at some easy sustainability wins for organisers. 

Following the UN’s announcement that we only have 12 more years to limit ‘climate change catastrophe’, we all have to think more seriously than ever about sustainability. We’re no longer ahead of the curve on the issue. If anything, it’s a question now of not falling any further behind. As Greenpeace says, there is no ‘Planet B’!

The ‘build and burn’ culture of the event and exhibition industry simply has to end and, in its place, a more responsible, future-focused and environmentally-kinder industry needs to emerge. Culture, of course, is where change always starts, which means that at all levels of our businesses and organisations we should be asking, ‘How can we do more’?

Here are ten simple ideas for event organisers to do just that:

1. Demand more of your venue

If you’re hiring a venue for your event, use your purchase power to demand more of the proposed site. What is its BREEAM rating, for example? Does it have a Well Building Certificate? Let venue landlords know that sustainability is not only a concern, but a key criterion of your selection process.

2. Set a sustainable policy for exhibitors

Business is business. Of course, you need to secure exhibitors and not be self-injuriously prohibitive with your terms, but you can still clearly set out your sustainability mission. Ask everyone who signs up to submit a sustainability statement for display on the event website. Just the possibility of public scrutiny can be enough to get companies thinking harder!

3. Demand zero landfill

Although many companies who exhibit regularly have great intentions when it comes to building more sustainable stands, immediate short-termist and cost-based agendas often mean sustainability gets pushed increasingly lower on the list of priorities. A ‘zero landfill’ policy would certainly focus minds, as would a high-cost penalty for any landfill waste.

4. Push for modular exhibition stands

Multi-use modularity for stand designs is another route to improved sustainability. Encourage those commissioning or designing stands to create designs that will last for numerous events, underlining the advantages of modularity, from quicker assembly and disassembly to flatter packing and lower transportation costs.

5. Re-think ticketing and badging

Fossil-based plastics are leaking into our oceans, earth and water supplies and estimates suggest that by 2050, in terms of weight, there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans. If it’s not possible for all the ticketing and badging at your event to be done digitally, here are some alternatives, all either coming to market now or already launched, to replace traditional paper and plastic lanyards:

* The Georgia Institute of Technology has created a fusion of cellulose nanocrystals from trees and chitin from crab shells and fungi cell walls to create a flexible, transparent, completely compostable film to replace plastics, whilst algae and seaweed are also currently being explored as viable substitutes to non-biodegradable plastics.

* In 2017, Finnish brand ‘Paptic’ won the ‘Bio-Based Product of the Year Europe’ for its innovative, wood fibre-based paper, which provides a real alternative to plastic packaging and plastic bags.

* In Sweden, train operator SJ is offering the option of a biometric implanted chip under the skin as an alternative to paper tickets, linking to an App. Whilst it’s hard to imagine anyone signing up for that for a single conference use, should such chips become widespread, they could certainly be adapted for event use – as long as we can all get over the potential ‘Big Brother’ feeling that is!

6. Use locally-sourced food producers

Using local suppliers for your food and drink products can tell a great location-specific story, as well as providing you with a sustainable narrative through the minimising of your carbon footprint in terms of produce-to-venue transportation.

7. Ban single-use plastics in hospitality

Many major brands are making pledges to reduce single-use plastic right now. Pret a Manger has pledged to reduce its reliance, for example, and is also removing straws, drink stoppers and teaspoons from stores, whilst Starbucks and McDonald’s plan to phase out plastic straws and are joining forces in a new, open challenge to find a worldwide recyclable solution to disposable cups. As well as recycled plastics, there are also completely new innovations out there. New York-based start-up Loliware, for example, has raised nearly $60k to date for its project to use seaweed to manufacture edible, compostable and marine-degradable straws.

8. Put surplus food to good use

When it comes to fresh produce, the tragedy of our rising food bank requirement in the UK provides an obvious answer to perishable unsold food items, combined with organising donations to homeless charities such as Crisis and Shelter.

9. Reduce food and drink waste

In terms of actual leftovers, there is plenty of attention being paid to improving food waste recycling right now too. Innovations include the WasteMaster machine from British company Green Eco Technologies. Aimed primarily at the hotels market, the WasteMaster can process a tonne of food waste a day, reducing food waste volume by up to 80 per cent.

10. Reward and acknowledge achievements

Everyone likes their efforts to be recognised and so, if you’re running an event, why not create your own awards system that acknowledges sustainability achievements, large or small? Extra accreditations could recognise improvement in percentage terms from year to year too. Encouragement is powerful a driver for all people – individuals, SMEs and large businesses alike.

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