The time is ripe for event profs to take charge on sustainability

Planners have been cautious about rocking the boat on sustainability, but changing attitudes among clients is turning the talk into action.

More people and organisations are now looking to create strategic action to implement changes around sustainability.
More people and organisations are now looking to create strategic action to implement changes around sustainability. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Thirawatana

The Events Industry Council (EIC) held a recent webinar themed around ‘Building ambition, action, and collaboration for sustainable and socially impactful events’.

The webinar featured Meghan Green, chair of EIC Sustainability and Social Impact Committee and Global Events at SAP; Glenn J. Hansen, executive strategic advisor at BPA Worldwide; Mariela McIlwraith, executive consultant at the EIC Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact; Derrick Johnson, events director at Virtual; and Gayle Murphy, CEO of Global Green Events, which provides training and tools for sustainable events.

Murphy said there has been a large push in recent months in the events industry to deal with strategy and policy around sustainability, as well as a focus on planning.

“People and organisations, whether they're individual event producers, or they're working as a collective are really looking to create strategic action to implement changes,” she said.

“Before it was an idea, sustainability was a hot topic, what I'm noticing is a big shift - lots of people are now asking for strategy and policy support for help because they know that carbon footprinting has become very prevalent in terms of its importance.

Murphy noted, "This is happening internationally, not just at DMC or organising level but on a national scale.”

Murphy added that sustainability is filtering down the supply chain, to the point where planners are choosing to work with venues and locations where they can create sustainable touchpoints with their stakeholders in terms of events and exhibitions.

SAP’s Green said those in the industry were being asked to upskill in ‘ways we never had before’.

“It's a lot of guesswork - what do our customers want, what do our attendees want?,” she said. “We are having a much more collaborative moment with our vendors and suppliers right now. We're looking for their expertise. We're wanting to speak at a very strategic level, it’s time right now to break the chain of legacy habits. We’ve been afraid our attendees will be up in arms if we change something.

"It feels like we have a moment and permission from our customers to try new things," added Green.

Virtual’s Johnson said it was important to challenge the status quo and ‘unlearn everything we have held as fact’.

“The biggest trend that I'm seeing is being able to step back and reevaluate, to be open to the idea of variance and to be different,” he said. “The pandemic really opened all of the industry up to this idea that we can learn and connect in different ways. As long as we're challenging our beliefs from the past and looking at things with a new and empathetic lens, that's where transformation truly happens.”