Why Should You Care About Planning Greener Meetings?

Green meetings and eco-friendly alternatives to implement in events have been around for quite a while. But still, many event organizers are not placing it on their oh-so-full to-do list yet. Maybe because they are afraid of (potential) costs to make their events ‘green’, or because they don’t know where to start. Therefore, this blog season will be dedicated to show you how easy it is to shift your event planning to a ‘greener’ direction.

The sustainable event trend will not stop at some point, but continues growing. So better get on board now and see which benefits this will bring you!

What are Green Events?

By making your event ‘green’, you become environmentally conscious about the negative impact of your meeting or conference on the environment and, thus, start incorporating actions that use fewer resources and reduce waste. If you think about the extensive amount of logistics involved in event planning and the number of meetings hold worldwide, it is obvious how significant the impact of the meetings industry is on the environment.

The biggest areas of event planning that help you reduce energy use, resources, or waste significantly are:

  1. An environmentally friendly venue

  2. Local and bulk food and beverage options

  3. Digital communication, and

  4. Shared transportation options.

Everyone having organized or attended events in the past probably noticed the huge amount of waste caused by most events. According to meetgreen.com, the typical conference waste produced by each attendee is 1.89 kg per day, 1.16 kg of which will go directly to a landfill (non-recycling waste dump).

The 1.89 kg include not only waste related to food but also other conference-related material, e. g. agenda, handouts, etc. Looking at waste related to meals only, there is an easy formula to estimate your event’s waste footprint that is calculating with 0.5 kg per meal:

# of attendees x # of meals / 2 = estimated # of kilogram

Let’s take a conference with 300 guests over 3 days with 3 meals per day.

300 pax x 3 meals / 2 = 450 kg per day
450 kg x 3 days = 1,350 kg waste for the entire conference

This amount would equal the weight of a compact car!

Of course there are food options that provide lighter meals and use real china and glass instead of disposable plates and cups. In this case, the above formula can be adapted by calculating only 0.25 kg (divide by 4 instead of 2). On the other hand, a heavy gala dinner or meals served with disposable dishes will cause a much higher waste. You could calculate with up to 1 kg of waste per guest per meal (remove division by 2).

Do you know your event’s waste footprint?

Becoming aware of the waste production per event and start taking sustainable actions doesn’t only help to improve the negative environmental impact of an event, but can also be an inspiration for event attendees and raise their awareness towards innovative techniques used to create an environmentally friendly meeting.

Set Yourself Apart from the Competition

“The intangible value of experiences and connections within meetings and events is rising in priority across the globe.” – Jonathan Kaplan, vice president of global sales strategy, IHG (2019)

The improved environmental impact of your event by implementing sustainable alternatives can be one of those intangible values because the impact might not be visible to your attendees immediately. However, the attendees of today pay more and more attention to social consciousness and expect your contribution to a better carbon footprint. Don’t keep your measures to yourself but promote environmentally friendly methods to set your event apart from your competitors. Positioning yourself right can also attract new attendees who buy into the sustainable approach and make them return for future events.

Don’t be afraid of losing attendees by thinking you cannot deliver a zero-waste event, and therefore not even trying to implement sustainable actions at all. Your customers won’t punish you if your carbon footprint doesn’t equal zero, but they want to know you’re doing your best to contribute your share. If you cannot go all-in the first time, be transparent about it. Share the reason why you cannot meet a particular need of theirs and they will appreciate your honesty. Seeing that you are working to reduce waste or do simple things like not over-printing shows your effort of being responsible and will be rewarded by a positive brand awareness.

Organizing your events more sustainably will also decrease the risk for financial penalties or criticism and unwanted questions.

Increase Your Event Reach

As mentioned above, a sustainable approach to your event planning can attract new participants who care about environmentally friendly activities. Furthermore, some sustainable measures can increase the reach even further: by offering streaming of your event someone who really wanted to attend but couldn’t make it due to travel distance or cost can now purchase a virtual ticket. Alternatives like these hybrid events (combination of ‘live’ in-person event with a ‘virtual’ online component) increase the ease and convenience for your attendees.

Adapting to technologies by offering mobile apps for your conference also help participants get more efficient outcomes and make the most use of their attendance. And keeping your customers happy rewards you with their loyalty and repeat attendance.

Save Money of Your Event Budget

Now, I’m sure that many event organizers are still assuming that making their meeting more sustainable automatically means an increase in cost. And with the tight event budgets many of us have to work on, why take on another financial burden that doesn’t seem to be necessary for the core event purpose?

While there are some measures that will impact overall costs if you opt to pay off your carbon footprint, there are some actions that can actually save you money. Yes, there are practices that are not only eco-friendly but also eco-efficient, e. g. planning food and beverages according to real attendance while at the same time reducing waste, or designing branding materials that can be reused.

Positioning your conference as environmentally friendly can also attract new sponsors and provide unique ideas to activate sponsors that weren’t interested in your event before. Who wouldn’t love that extra money?!

Make Your First Step Towards Greener Event Planning

Given the above, making your event planning ‘greener’ doesn’t look as scary or difficult anymore, does it? And your meeting won’t lose any of its sparkle by becoming environmentally friendly. Using recycled paper, vegetable dyes or living plants and biodegradable balloons is not as hard as you might imagine. And if these actions don’t appeal to you, look at other areas:

  • Travel/transportation

  • Venue

  • Food and beverages

  • Menus

  • Printed materials

  • Waste

  • Green energy

  • Florals

  • Packaging

  • Swag …

Analyze your event and come up with first actions. Something as simple as going paperless, using biodegradable cups or eco-friendly transportation will already lessen the negative impact of your event on the environment.

However, keep in mind that an eco-friendly approach of event planning isn’t a one-time thing you can tick of today and are done for the rest of the planning phase. It takes conscious effort and doesn’t come naturally to everyone involved. Find yourself some buddies in crime that help you stay on track and spread the word about your goals. These should preferably not be too senior because this may mean that things don’t get done, but also not include only too junior colleagues since they might not have enough influence to encourage other stakeholders to get involved.

Also, don’t try to be perfect and include all sustainable measures you can identify at once. Take tiny steps, focus on one area at a time and improve over the years. Any action helps. And you will need energy to stay patient and not lose sight of the overall event experience as well. Your core meeting message should remain the focus and only be complemented by the positive awareness of your sustainability efforts.

Ufff, this has been a long one and I hope you aren’t discouraged to get on board of this trend. To take a shortcut I will help you on your way to eco-friendly event planning, and share useful tips and ideas to improve your meeting or event with the next posts.

And if you don’t want to wait, think about ways you can immediately start to implement first changes. Share them in the comments below. Become part of the decision-makers that impact the world for decades to come.

All the best

Kristin Sammann

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