Short and Long-Term Strategies Are Key to Greening Events
Events are mirrors of the organizations and industries they serve, reflecting their values and priorities. Therefore, it’s no surprise that green initiatives have flooded the events industry as more and more companies include sustainability goals and practices in their missions. And just as sustainable practices can be good for business, reducing costs and potentially raising customer loyalty, for example, they can also be great for events for many of the same reasons.
Britt Zarling, vice president of corporate communications at Fiserv, notes that the company’s corporate values apply to all areas of its operations, including events.
“‘Do the right thing’ is one of our Fiserv values and it applies to every aspect of our work and defines our approach to corporate social responsibility,” Zarling explained.
She continued, “As we support the communities where our people and clients live, work and play, we focus on making an impact in the areas of financial intelligence, health and wellness, education, and environmental stewardship – including our efforts to host a sustainable conference.”
Because the topic is so broad, event planners need to take a holistic view of their events to establish short-term and long-term sustainability goals. In the short-term, planners often focus on low-hanging fruit, making simple operational and logistical changes that reduce their environmental footprint.
To start, Robin Gold, head of production at the XD Agency, recommends planners identify places where they can cut and places where technology can replace traditional materials.
“The three big things we promote to our clients like Fiserv, are eliminating scenic and instead using large wide-screen design as the backdrop for most shows; eliminating paper and instead focusing on meeting and event apps, and reducing the use of electricity by transitioning from projection to LED as well as using more energy-efficient lighting instruments,” she explained.
Zarling mentioned that efforts to avoid waste and reduce the company’s use of plastic at events has become a significant part of its event production plan.
“Our meeting app reduces our use of printed materials, we use large format projection instead of scenic to avoid waste, we provide water coolers throughout the property and reusable water bottles in order to reduce plastic, and we use LED and other energy-efficient technologies,” she said.
GES Senior Director of Account Management, Kris Truscott, says the effort to identify green opportunities in event production is ongoing.
“All year round, the GES team researches and tests sustainable products, and every year we find new products that we utilize at IMEX and other events,” Truscott said. “We also collaborate with facilities to have a true full-circle partnership on sustainability.”
He continued, “As an example, the majority of the graphics products that we use for IMEX are sustainable. Outside of graphics, we utilize recyclable carpet, trash bins and work with IMEX on recycling badges and literature from the show.”
Partnering with venues and other outside vendors can make the job of reaching sustainability goals more manageable. Mark Mulligan, director of operations at IMEX Group, says that having support from its partners like GES helps achieve goals and focus on long-term change.
“In the past three years we have eliminated vinyl banners, moved to recyclable carpet and added dedicated paper wastebaskets to the standard show package, all with the aim of reducing waste going to landfill,” he explained. “At every turn, GES has succeeded in sourcing sustainable alternatives in pursuit of our common goal and we look forward to continuing this journey together.”
Gold says changing the mindset when planning events is easy.
“We just need to adapt our events the same way the world is changing – everything is driven by technology and smartphones and everything is getting increasingly energy efficient,” she said. “We use that same thinking for our events.”
While over the long term, companies might decide to produce a zero-waste event or take on other ambitious sustainability goals that match their organizational values, achieving short-term objectives is what will help move the needle right now – and changes in production can be easy to implement. Working independently or with partners, planners can use small steps to make big strides in reducing the environmental footprint of their events.