By Raquel Santo
Every journey begins with one step.
The sad truth is that currently, sustainability is not a high priority within the event management space, according to a report shared by FirstLook Research, the NorthStar Meetings group. After reading this report, it is clear that meeting professionals have a long way to go to achieve sustainability best practices. At ETHOS Event Collective, we are responsible for disrupting the industry's beliefs around our power to make these changes.
Because of the impact we can make as an industry, we aim to inspire a domino effect of positive change once the industry begins to implement these practices. With that said, every step toward implementing sustainable practices within your events is a step in the right direction, no matter how small.
As a Destination Management Company (DMC), there is room within each aspect of the planning process to include more sustainable elements that fall within your brand and connect you with the communities you serve. So, consider implementing one of these adaptations within your next corporate event.
#1 Gifting experiences
Who doesn't love opening gifts? As we all know, our clients love to receive things when they arrive on site, but sadly, they are one of the most trash-producing aspects of the event because of the single-use materials. To add insult to injury, the clients cannot recycle the unnecessary plastic from that gift since they are at a hotel where that option isn't available.
The real question is, how can we make gifting experiences unique while still considering the environmental impact of the experience? The answer is that it starts with us. While you are brainstorming with your team, please encourage them to jot down sustainable gifting ideas that guests will be excited about but won't be floating around the ocean 100 years from now.
Some solutions that we thought of began from the arrival experience. Instead of custom-brand luggage tags, alternative options include cork luggage or compostable ones. In addition, instead of handing out plastic water bottles as refreshments for transfers, offer guests reusable water bottles; these are customizable! If you curate a package for them, skip the plastic, pack the snacks in reusable baggies, and pile it all into a reusable grocery bag.
Although it may seem tedious, we must remember that every piece of plastic produced will be here for years to come, so with these minor adjustments, we make substantial differences.
Activities are fun and light-hearted but are still an opportunity to incorporate a corporate social responsibility (CSR) element. In addition, it is a beautiful way to connect with your clients in the community where the event is. Each activity is unique and presents many opportunities to give back to numerous causes.
For example, when clients sign up for a snorkeling activity, you can donate $5 from each guest's participant to the conservation of sea turtles. In addition, if there is a scheduled yoga class on the beach, opt-in for your clients to upgrade for a few extra dollars to the cork yoga mats instead of the plastic ones. Once the event ends, they can donate the mats if they never plan to use them again. The give-back can be modified to remain relevant to the activity at hand. That way, an incentive trip originally intended for enjoyment becomes a force for good.
As you can see, there are levels of sustainability within the event and the activities; it just requires a bit of effort and planning. And all conservation efforts go hand in hand with sustainability. If we contribute to helping support additional causes or take an everyday activity, at the end of the tour, you can build kits to give back to the community you are working in.
Gone are the days when we could freely use disposable utensils and cups. At this point, event professionals should provide something other than this option. As a company standard, we should present clients with the upgrade to compostable bamboo disposables as the only available option for their events.
Alternatively, suggest working with suppliers for rental cups. Some companies will drop off aluminum cups, pick them up after the event, wash them, and reuse them to reduce one-time-use cup waste. Since many hotels will only provide plastic, these practices are becoming more commonly seen and supported. For example, one of the locations we work with in Savannah adopted a policy where metal cups are available to buy for events, and guests can take them home afterward.
As you can see, we must consider even the most minute details because of the abundance of these products we use.
As a destination management company, there is inevitably travel involved. To reduce the carbon emissions from travel, we can leverage the new wave of electric cars becoming available on the road. For instance, Tesla is now renting out vehicles you can use for transport instead of motor coaches and other not fuel-efficient cars in specific locations. Considering how many trips it takes to transport each person from the airport is enormous if we reduce gas emissions this way. But if you still need access to fully electric vehicles for your events, consider hybrids, as they are still a step in the right direction.
#5 Track the Events' Carbon Footprint
While there is much talk about what institutions are doing to be more sustainable, only a few keeps track of their impact. We must understand, track, define, and share our event's impacts to produce results. While that may seem impossible, we must never underestimate the power of technology. Some apps exist solely to track carbon footprint; utilizing this technology is essential to understand our impact better and encourage us to find new and unique ways to continue improving. In addition, sharing these results hold us and others within the industry accountable and encourage participation.
#6 Reduce Paper
QR codes come in handy for registration, reduce the use of paper, and assist in gathering info about your attendees. For example, have one of the check-in questions at each event inquire about where they are from and how far they traveled for your event. If you notice a localized region from most of them, this can influence where you adjust the location when hosting future events. Additionally, almost any other element that usually uses paper can turn into a QR code to be completely digital, such as completing waivers for activities, departure notices, and many more.
If your company still needs to start being sustainable, consider sharing this article with others within your organization to start the conversation. Remember, it begins with us, and the gradual progress of sustainability in meetings leads to a more sustainable future.