17 Actions Event Organizers Can Take to Support the UN Sustainable Development Goals

October 21, 2020

Lindsay Arell

Lindsay Arell is the founder and principal of Honeycomb Strategies, a sustainability consulting firm specializing in the events, venue and hospitality industry.

From the clearing of skies in polluted areas of the world as we moved into COVID-19 lockdown, to some of the worst wildfires in the West and tropical storms in the southern and eastern United States, to societal unrest, it has become painfully clear how our actions (and inaction) are affecting our climate and humanity. While it’s all a bit overwhelming, there are actions that we in the events industry can take to contribute to meaningful change for the environment and communities.

Developed in 2015 by the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people can enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. These 17 SDGs include social, economic and environmental sustainability considerations that can be applied by governments, corporations, non-profits and even events.

To help de-mystify this framework, here are some simple actions event organizers can take to help implement long-lasting, meaningful change.

Support the SDGs with the following practices:

SDG 1 and 2: No Poverty and Zero Hunger

  • Offer volunteer programs to attendees and staff that benefit the local community.
  • Work with your caterer to donate food post-event.
  • Offer an onsite hygiene kit assembly to be donated to a community in need. For example, the 2020 PCMA Convening Leaders conference attendees assembled 2,400 personal care kits at Moscone Convention Center for Compass Family Services in San Francisco.

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being

  • Make vegan and vegetarian options and whole foods available at all food functions.
  • Offer Fun Run options and yoga during the event.
  • Provide wellness stations on the show floor.

SDG 4: Quality Education

  • Ensure session topics include diverse speakers on a variety of issues.

SDG 5: Gender Equality

  • Ensure speaker panels are gender balanced for sessions, including keynotes.
  • Provide networking opportunities for LGBTQ participants.
  • Offer nursing mom pods on-site.

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

  • Partner with organizations like Cupanion to provide clean drinking water to people in need.
  • Request your meeting venue use Green Seal-certified and EPA-approved cleaners.

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

  • Request venue partners offset event energy use by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Get a sponsor to support these efforts financially.
  • Choose venues that use renewable energy, such as Moscone Center, which uses on-site solar to supply approximately 10 percent of its total power consumed. Hilton Hotels also has aggressive carbon reduction goals and clean energy targets.

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

  • Prioritize local vendors in your procurement process, including food and beverage and giveaway items.

SDG 9: Industry, Infrastructure and Innovation

  • Hold your next event at a LEED or WELL-certified building.
  • Incorporate virtual elements into your event and provide financial discounts and tech support to communities where access to technology may be limited.

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

  • Offer scholarships and funds to students and emerging businesses to help with attendance or exhibiting costs.
  • Ensure all sessions are closed-captioned to accommodate hearing impaired and non-English speaking attendees.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • Donate leftover conference materials to the local community and non-profits.

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

  • Place recycling and compost bins throughout event.
  • Eliminate Foamcore signage and Styrofoam from the show floor.
  • Reduce paper consumption via online registration and smartphone mobile apps that provide all event information including schedule, maps, speaker details, attendee contacts and speaker handouts.

SDG 13: Climate Action

  • Conduct a baseline carbon impact of the meeting venue, hotels and attendee travel.
  • Chose a meeting venue within walking distance of the hotel room block.
  • Offer attendees the option to offset their carbon footprint.

SDG 14: Life Below Water

  • Request all seafood served follow the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch recommendation for sustainable seafood.
  • Eliminate straws and single use plastics from bars and meal functions.

SDG 15: Life on Land

  • Partner with organizations such as Arbor Day Foundation or American Forests that will accept small donations from attendees in exchange for planting trees on behalf of the event as a legacy project.
  • Prioritize reusable cups and serviceware for all meal functions (even post-COVID).

SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

  • Require staff attend human trafficking trainings annually, such as the one provided by the Freedom Network.

SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals

  • Partner with vendors to implement sustainable practices with requests for sustainability metrics and pre-event planning. It takes all of us working together to accomplish impactful and lasting change!

We recognize there is a long road ahead before we can get back to meeting together in-person and that we face challenges never imagined just 12 months ago. But let’s not miss this opportunity to rethink, redesign and reimagine our events in ways that truly do build back better. 


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Partner Voices
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