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Sustainability in Events

Author: Outsourced Events
Job Title: Marketing

As a certified WeConnect International Women-Owned business, Outsourced Events is already, in its own way, working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 – gender equality. But as an organisation, we don’t want to leave it there, we want to do more, be more ambitious, so we’re looking at more sustainable event delivery.

By creating more sustainable events we believe that this will effect;

  • Goal 3, and well-being – when designing and planning events, if organisers are conscious about the need for in person and design the event well or switch to virtual when face to face is not needed, it will reduce the travel burden on employees
  • Goal 12, responsible consumption and production – having sustainable merchandise and catering will work towards this goal
  • Goal 13, climate action – everything is planned with a view to reducing GHG (green house gas) emissions
  • Goal 17, partnership for the goals – if all parties, customers, event managers, suppliers delegates, work together, big things can happen in partnership

It’s important to note in this article, that not all events are created equal, there are so many different types of events, from the small intimate roundtable, to the team get together, from the virtual webinar to the hybrid product launch.

Below are some suggestions on how you might make your events more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Events Overseas

Aviation accounts for 2.1% of all CO2 emissions – interestingly, less than IT – but still a significant percentage, so if used, it should be a conscious choice and agendas should be designed to maximise the time that people are together face to face. It is also possible to make an informed decision on flights, Google has a great feature on its Google Flights offering which allows you to choose a flight based on its emissions.


Merchandise is a big area where both environmental, and even financial gains can be made. The first question to ask is, is it really necessary? There are two real purposes for merchandise at an event, 1) to drive people to a stand or exhibition and 2) to create brand association and memory connections long after the event is done.

Anyone who has ever worked at a big conference will know the allure of the swag on a stand and how seemingly rational individuals can get sucked into trying to bag it. Organisations should think very closely about the sustainability and usefulness of any merchandise given out. Remember the all important phrase in sustainability, reduce, reuse, recycle.

Think about useful items which are sustainably sourced or have a sustainable purpose, like reusable coffee cups, both useful and can be sustainable if made from a product like bamboo or reclaimed ocean plastic, reusable water bottles, ditto. Pens are a sure hit, cheap and cheerful and there are some great eco options out there, same with notebooks. There are other increasingly innovative options for merchandise that are sustainable. Outsourced Events can help you source there.

But to return to the question of “is it really necessary?” could something non tangible which still delivers value to drive people to the stand be used instead? Recently organisations have started looking at the use of charity donations for people having demos. This could be achieved along similar lines to the Tesco scheme, where people are given a chip once they have watched a demo, and get to vote for the charity of their choice. Or moving more into the tech space, using Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) as a reward mechanism for anyone coming to the stand to do a desired activity, then minting an NFT and allowing them to burn it to create value in the world in a way which suits them. Nothing tangible is created, no physical footprint, choice by the delegate.

Circular and Sustainable Catering

Although not easy you could analyse any catering requirements and look at where the food is coming from. Is it coming from a sustainable source? Is the fish line caught or net caught? Does the product contain sustainable palm oil? Look at using seasonal produce. Plan the menu so that any waste left over from the main meals can be repurposed into snacks for the coffee breaks, or if that’s not possible, ship it out to local food banks, soup kitchens etc to ensure that no food is wasted. A scheme that it might be possible to investigate for this purpose in the UK is called TooGoodToGo. At present, it only works with commercial restaurants, but it could be extended to hotels and conference venues.

Events With “Less of a Trace”

Extreme-E racing has a philosophy of taking its races to extreme environments around the world, and leaving them in a better state than they found them through environmental projects. They call it “race without a trace”, for example they planted 1m mangrove trees in Senegal and has partnered with an organisation which supports the protection of natural habitats for the conservation of turtles and other endangered species along the Red Sea Coast Line.

What does this have to do with events you might ask? What if you could do something on a much smaller scale with an event that you run? If you are running a cyber event, partner with a local charity providing cyber security education. If a cloud event, partner with a charity providing coding education. We are big believers in synergistic giving, tying giving to the purpose of an organisation or event, that way the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. In this instance, the effect is probably more social than environmental, but it could also help with the reliance on merchandise and have a by product of positive PR. As with any PR and sustainability message though, a word of caution about greenwashing is needed. Don’t overstate environmental and sustainable claims. Becoming a sustainable organisation is a journey, you don’t have to be at net zero by day one, be clear about where you are and what the ambition and plan is.

Ultimately, any event has a carbon footprint, even a hybrid one, using a camera for a virtual meeting uses more greenhouse gases through use of bandwidth than not using a camera. There are however choices that can be made to reduce their impact. And where those choices result in emissions, there is always the option of carbon off setting, though this should be a last resort after efforts have been made to reduce the impact, ecologi is one way of carbon off setting.  We all have a responsibility to help reduce climate change, there is no planet b.

To discuss anything mentioned in this article or if you any need assistance, get in contact today via info@outsourcedevents.com or give us a call on +44 (0)330 460 6007.


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