Driving Sustainability: Navigating the Environmental Impact of Events and Exhibitions

April 9, 2024

Heather Griffin

Heather Griffin is Vice President of Marketing at Impact XM, a global experiential marketing agency, where she leads all marketing strategy and efforts on behalf of the company to strengthen their market position and achieve desired business goals. She has more than 16 years of experience in B2B and B2C marketing, project management and design.

As events continue to be a hub of excitement and collaboration for many, it’s important to be aware of the impact they present. Understanding the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced and how much waste is being expelled during an event is just one of the steps in creating a more sustainable path going forward. 

Sustainability is more than environmental action, it has four pillars. Environment is one focus area and the other three focus on Human, Social and Economic improvement. 

While attendees can try their best to be cognizant of these and refrain from wasting what they don’t consume – staff and organizers can play vital, larger and more efficacious roles. This leaves one question. How can event professionals practice sustainability in a way that creates a cleaner, healthier and more inclusive future? 

To begin, it’s important to understand your company’s sustainability goal(s). Once this is identified, below are seven action areas that every business should consider meeting and exceed determined goals: 

1. Conservation: Power and Natural Resources

To combat climate change and its impact, exhibit and event managers can explore various ways to reduce energy use. For instance, consider venues and equipment that utilize renewable energy or are energy efficient. 

2. Innovation: Industry Infrastructure, Materials and Logistics

Whether you or your partners are producing the exhibit booth or assets for an event, it is important that the team has a strong sustainability-minded foundation or infrastructure. Having sustainable production practices will set a course for fulfilling key sustainability goals. For example, simple changes to day-to-day operations may include consolidating packaging and shipments, as well as the use of sustainable lighting and cleaning products. These steps ensure that future events are more sustainable and keep environmental objectives top-of-mind. 

3. Waste Reduction: Production to Consumption

From food waste to waste generated from production, we’re a pretty wasteful industry. A great way to help reduce waste is to partner with local organizations like food banks or creative reuse centers that help find a second life for some of the waste we create. Offering attendees purposeful swag is a good way to assure items are not thrown away. 

4. Sustainable Cities and Communities: Transportation, Climate and Emissions

If you have the opportunity to choose or influence where an event is held, exploring sustainable cities and communities is a good place to start. Cities with public transportation or that are close to regional audiences are fantastic options for reducing the amount of GHG emissions produced. Event organizers should also enquire and understand what the venue is doing to be more sustainable across all the four pillars.

5. Health, Wellness, and Equality: Accessibility and DEI

As pioneers of some of the most epic events around the globe, it’s important to recognize the responsibility of creating and promoting opportunities for attendees and staff. This can be done by choosing facilities that offer fair wages, employ a diverse staff and support gender equality. You can also create healthy engagements and experiences within your space/event to allow for mental breaks and physical activities.

6. Partners and Platform: Collaborative Efforts for Innovation

Partner, partner, partner! Unity creates change, and without that we can only push the needle so far. As event professionals, we must first make sure all stakeholders are aligned, opt to support organizations (if possible, locally) and choose vendors that are making change in their communities with a natural affinity with your vision and mission.

7. Purpose and Commitment: Address Human, Social, Economic and Environmental Issues

Promoting sustainability will be a new part of your job description. Therefore, you must encourage partners, stakeholders, employees and event attendees to act on sustainable initiatives alongside the leadership you initiate. To drive and empower your efforts, clearly communicate your vision and plans, and invite all who are part of your community to join in your efforts to consistently implement sustainability.

Remember, the tips above are only part of a bigger plan. To help curate impactful change – there must be some collaboration and unified effort between event professionals. Be sure to share your progress and be an advocate of positive change. Continuous improvement efforts will lead us to a safer, healthier and more inclusive world. Let it be your company’s sustainability efforts that leave the biggest impact.


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