November 10, 2022
By Mike Fletcher

The legacy of COP27 will require countries, companies and industry sectors to have comprehensive roadmaps for halving carbon emissions by 2030. Here's how event planners can play their part in a net zero future.

What is Sustainable Event Management?

Put simply, sustainable event management means making sustainability a central pillar of your events. This means ensuring that your events are planned in a way to reduce their carbon emissions and impact on the environment.

Since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, we’ve seen devastating floods in Pakistan, a record summer of high temperatures, plus wildfires across Europe. If the 27th United Nations conference on climate change has shown us anything, it's that we need more urgency to implement changes to limit the planet’s temperature rise to 1.5C and achieve global net zero by 2050.

Event organisers must play their part against this backdrop of an accelerated need to reverse humankind’s impact on the global climate. In an industry where carbon emissions associated with factors such as venue and hotel operations, long-haul travel and temporary builds, there is much we can do to contribute to this effort.

And yet, not nearly enough is being done on both the supply chain side and the client side.

According to a survey of Global Business Travel Association members, conducted in association with Cvent earlier this year, 55% of organisations have company-wide carbon emissions reduction targets in place, but only 23% have similar targets for business travel and only 9% have targets in place for reducing emissions associated with meetings and events.

If event planners are to help their clients or parent companies to advance the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of halving emissions by 2030 and reaching global net zero by 2050, this needs to change.

How to Plan a Sustainable Event Strategy

So how can event professionals organising conferences, meetings and events create a solid sustainability strategy to reduce carbon emissions?

1. Assess where you are now

Every strategy should start with an assessment of where you are now and what goals already exist across your company or department. 

To benchmark your organisation's maturity when it comes to sustainability, here are five key questions to consider: 

  1. What is your organisation trying to achieve?
  2. If your organisation has a sustainability mandate in place, does your meetings programme contribute to specific goals and targets?
  3. Does your team have sustainability KPIs and how are they being tracked?
  4. What data are you collecting that supports those KPIs?
  5. What data do you need to have to show progress?

Once you understand where meetings and events sit within your organisation’s sustainability journey, you can begin to pinpoint areas where climate-positive decisions will have the most impact.

2. Develop an actionable sustainability policy

Developing a clear sustainability policy will depend on a) how far your organisation is in its’ sustainability journey and b) your overall objectives.

Broadly speaking, your programme of events should have policies in place to:

  • Eliminate single-use plastics
  • Organise waste management and onsite recycling
  • Encourage public transport use or ride shares
  • Choose local/seasonal food, donate leftover foods and provide more sustainable catering
  • Opt for eco-friendly swag, prizes and giveaways

An example of a smarter decision-making policy is to use SME suppliers who are signed up to the UNFCCC Race to Zero or partner with those companies who have taken the Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge.

Signatories for both these commitment-based, UN-backed initiatives will be able to share with you their pathways for reaching a 50% cut in emissions by 2030. Prioritising partnerships with these companies will help you to build a more sustainable supply chain that can provide measurement, tracking and shared resources.

Other ideas to include in your sustainability policy are:

  1. Eliminating paper agendas, surveys and business cards from your events by using a mobile event app to engage with attendees. 
  2. Ensuring that RFPs are always sent to at least one venue with proven sustainability credentials. You can use the Cvent Supplier Network to easily source venues that are eco-certified, all at a click of a button.
  3. For in-person events, use digital lead capture tools to collect data, so that you no longer need to collect or give out business cards.
  4. Deliver a contactless, self-serve check-in and on-demand badging experience so that you don’t need to print name badges unnecessarily for attendees.

3. Work with stakeholders to deliver on your sustainability goals

The importance of sustainability means that it doesn’t just lie with one individual or team. Communicating and educating your stakeholders about the importance of sustainability is central to effecting change.

At the Cvent CONNECT Europe 2022 conference, Abena Fairweather, Managing Director at Legacy Events, said:

Using a centralised platform to manage your events allows you to share guidance with other stakeholders, set approval or smarter decision-making policies, and track both carbon offset purchases and spending with sustainable venues and suppliers.

4. Involve Attendees to Drive Change

Another vital aspect of creating a sustainability strategy is to use event attendee behaviour to drive action.

For example, capturing delegate arrival and departure dates and times can allow for organised group transportation. Or asking attendees to register for their meals can help you get a more accurate food and beverage estimate to avoid excess waste.

As event organisers, you have the power to influence how attendees engage with your event – whether that’s by introducing vegan courses to banqueting plans, providing virtual elements through web and mobile apps to reduce multi-day or long-haul travel, or just by being more transparent with your carbon measurement data.

Attendees need you to have these options in place so that they can justify their attendance to a low-carbon meeting during a time when more and more organisations will scrutinise business travel.

5. Use Measurement Tools to Track Sustainability Goals

Numerous carbon calculators aimed at event planners have been launched during the past year, including SAM, a free event sustainability carbon measurement tool. SAM has been built on an open API so that it can be fully integrated with other platforms and technology, such as Cvent’s Event Marketing & Management Platform.

Most carbon calculators will measure the carbon output on accommodation, food, travel, room usage and comms. SAM’s unique feature is that it talks to delegates through the app to track travel habits.

Other available resources include the TRACE platform and Proseed, both by isla, a non-profit organisation.

The TRACE platform helps planners measure and minimise carbon at live, hybrid and digital events by calculating carbon and waste footprints and by providing in-app reduction tips and guidance.

The data is compliant with carbon emissions (Scope 1), energy consumption (Scope 2) and supply chain management (Scope 3) reporting. Plus, planners can download detailed but easy-to-understand graphs and charts to embed into your event reports and debriefing documents.

During Cvent CONNECT Europe this year, Anna Abdelnoor, CEO and Co-Founder of Isla told delegates:

Proseed is templated guidance, designed to demystify the complexities of sustainable events by helping planners to understand what to ask their supply chain and what answers to expect.

It also provides actions to take to benchmark and reduce emissions – like how to measure energy usage, track travel footprint, limit food waste and build more eco-friendly sets.

Other organisations that can help with training to measure event emissions include Rest Connect. Three two-hour online workshops walk attendees through what to measure, how to collect data, how to turn data into emissions calculations and then, how to use these calculations to create longer-term sustainability and reduction objectives.

Make Sustainability a Core Part of Your Event Strategy

Sustainability is more than a buzzword; it’s a core part of any organisation’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and our impact on the planet. Attendees, sponsors and speakers alike increasingly expect the events they attende to have green initiatives built into them. If your company is just at the start of its sustainability journey, then start small – with one or two objectives to get you going.

Cvent’s event technology suite is set up to support efforts to build more sustainable events, through virtual, onsite and hybrid event solutions. Commit to change today by analysing your own events’ impact on the planet – the resources, shared knowledge and technology is available to make it happen.

Download our infographic detailing the results from the GBTA / Cvent survey of US, Canada and Europe-based corporate travel managers and event planners here.

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.
Subscribe to our newsletter