Why events are crucial to sustainability

By Kate Wheble, Vice President - Events, Roadshows & Hospitality, Barclays  


Public and corporate events are not known for their environmental conscience. As a US$1.5 trillion industry globally, the corporate event industry alone is a huge emitter of greenhouse gases and contributor to waste. But one thing we can also claim is a huge sphere of influence. Employing 26 million people either directly or indirectly, and engaging 1.5billion participants every year, the industry has a great opportunity to influence behaviour, reduce our environmental impact and role model change. Here are just some ideas, what other opportunities are there?


  1. Engage your guests: Whether you are running an event for 10 or 1000 people you have the opportunity to make your audience consider the impact their actions have on the environment. Ask them to bring their own water bottles, point out that food is locally sourced, clearly label recycling bins and ask guests to support your efforts to be green by disposing of their rubbish mindfully.


  1. Carefully plan your food and beverage orders: The FAO estimates that a third of the world’s food is wasted every year. The excess food we buy not only contributes to unnecessary deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions but it drives up food prices which has a disproportionate impact on those living in poverty. So pay attention to final dates for adjusting the expected numbers of attendees and make sure you factor in expected no-shows. If you think you are likely to have food left over speak to a local organisation such as ‘Food Rescue Singapore’ to see if they can find somewhere to send it.


  1. Plan ahead: So much of our emissions are cause by emissions of convenience. Often thinking ahead can allow you to choose more sustainable options. For example, if you have to source items from abroad plan ahead so that you can ship them rather than send them by air freight.


  1. Beware greenwashing: Plastic bags are bad for the environment, but many of the alternatives aren’t as green as you think – in fact they could be a lot worse. For example you’d have to use a paper bag forty times and a cotton tote bag more than five thousand times for it to have a lower environmental impact than a plastic one! And those oxo-biodegradable bags? They just disintegrate into smaller pieces of plastic. If you can’t avoid bags completely encourage people to bring their own or have them available only for those who ask. Similarly buying a sustainable gift and then wrapping it in layers of plastic, in a gift box and then putting it in a gift bag presents a rather mixed message.


  1. Talk to your suppliers: the venue, the stage designer, the audio-visual team, the food and beverage suppliers. Having a conversation about their environmental policies will not only help you choose less environmentally impactful solutions, it will help you choose more environmentally conscious suppliers and remind them that they need to take sustainability into account in their business decisions. Clients have the opportunity to cause a ripple effect if they choose to.


As an industry our influence is huge… we can be the change we want to see.