December 02, 2019
By Mike Fletcher

A call for event organisers to align their sustainability initiatives to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals isn’t just good for the planet, it may also ensure the future of the industry.

In September 2019, heads of state and global Governments gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to review progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The challenge was clear. If all 17 SDGs are to be realised in the next ten years, it will take more than inter-governmentally-agreed political declarations. It will require voluntary commitments to accelerate progress by countries, cities, industries and global citizens in order to help transform our world and improve people’s lives and prosperity.


Global industry associations and representatives have responded by submitting over 140 accelerated action plans to date, detailing ‘big ideas’ to meet individual SDGs, which include climate action, zero hunger, quality education, gender equality and the protection of life below water, to name just five of the 17.

Building positive sustainable commitments

The events industry’s accelerated action plan was submitted to the United Nations by Positive Impact Events, a non-for-profit organisation which has been providing education and collaboration opportunities to create a more sustainable events industry since 2004.

The basis for the plan is to build upon the 7,000 commitments already collected from 58 countries in response to a global survey, asking planners to select the SDGs that are most relevant to their events, and then commit to action which will help realise those goals over the coming decade.


Positive Impact Events, Managing Director Fiona Pelham says:

“By next September, our goal is for 100,000 event professionals to have taken the survey. Not only will this provide positive sustainability commitments, it will also help to collate the data required to report back to the United Nations, ensuring that the events industry has a key voice in the ongoing conversation.

“Only by aligning current progress to improve event sustainability with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and speaking about sustainability in terms of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, can we ensure that events form part of the global political agenda. Failure to reposition how we talk about, measure and report on sustainability could leave our industry vulnerable and left out of the conversation on how to improve our planet.”

Driving accelerated actionable plans through events

Fiona’s impassioned argument, reiterated during her education session at this year’s Cvent Connect, is that positive action happens when people meet face-to-face and therefore events are vital forums to help sustainable global development in all its forms.

Every event already contributes to a multitude of SDGs, but unless these contributions are recorded, tracked and reported, the consequences of them going unnoticed could result in the stagnation or decline of the industry as a whole.


Fiona explains: “If your event has a donation programme, you are already contributing to SDG1 (no poverty); if you donate waste food to local charities, you’re contributing to SDG2 (zero hunger); if your meetings agenda includes elements of wellbeing, you’re contributing to SDG3 (good health); and if your conference programme has a policy for ensuring speaker diversity, you’re already contributing to SDG5 (gender equality).

“Event planners can easily equate existing activity and commit to accelerated action on each and every one of the SDGs. But unless it is actioned using the language of corporate business, who report annually against the UN goals, stakeholders and policy makers won’t give events the value they deserve.”

Incorporating sustainability best practices through ISO 20121

Alongside making individual sustainability commitments by completing the survey, hosted at, other elements built into the events industry’s accelerated action plan, include using events as a primary vehicle to meet the requirements of SDG4 (quality education), plus ensuring increased adoption of the ISO certification 20121, which allows for a consistent standard of reporting and measurement of event sustainability objectives. According to Fiona:

“A dedicated ISO certification for the events industry was awarded in 2012 but the take-up has been poor. We’re exceptionally fortunate to have this globally recognised standard in place. It’s something that events companies can achieve through self-assessment in order to have their sustainable commitments taken more seriously on the world stage.”

“The time for action is now,” concludes Fiona. “A recognised standard of measurement and how we’re working towards individual SDGs needs to be embedded into the language of every single event. The world is working together to achieve the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. We need to play our part.”

To take the sustainability commitment survey, visit

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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