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How to adopt a data-driven sustainable meetings & events strategy

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How to adopt a data-driven sustainable meetings & events strategy

By Jennifer Danuff, Marketing and Communications Manager

Meetings and events professionals across the globe have become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their events and as you begin planning events for 2023 and beyond, making sustainable changes is no longer an option, but a priority.

To help you incorporate sustainable strategies into your meetings and events program, we have developed the industry’s first ISO certified Meetings & Events Carbon Emissions Calculator powered by our GATE4 methodology. The Carbon Emissions Calculator can help you during the early event planning stage by accurately measuring an event’s potential environmental impact. Beyond simply measuring the emissions impact of traditional elements such as venue, destination and travel, the calculator also accounts for environmental impact across a multitude of non-emissions related elements – like plastic and food waste, and even video conferencing. The goal is to shift the focus away from relying only on looking at emissions figures and towards taking a data-driven, holistic approach to building sustainable meetings & events.

As you begin to factor sustainability into your meetings and events strategy, there are three areas to prioritize:

1. CO2 emissions

Transportation is typically responsible for the largest amount of CO2 emissions during events. This has the industry rethinking event transportation and how we can reduce overall impact through travel. One change we have seen is how hybrid events (a combination of virtual and in-person attendees) have become more common, providing the perfect mix of in-person communication and networking between attendees while maintaining a lower impact on the environment. Ultimately, behavioral changes will make the most impact in reducing CO2 emissions. To actively reduce your events’ CO2 emissions you can:

  • Seek out venues with green certifications: The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and APEX/ASTM are examples of certifications that consider building design, recycling programs, waste management, food composting, cleaning procedures, and more.
  • Think local: Consider your attendees’ proximity to the meeting or event location. Choosing a location that is close to a majority of attendees can reduce travel-related emissions.
  • Stay central: Take a look at the venue’s location within a city, as well. Choosing a convention center that’s closer to a main airport or train station where attendees will likely arrive will help reduce your overall footprint.
  • Promote green transportation: For attendees that need to travel, promote taking the train (which can be up to 20x more carbon efficient than taking the plane) or choosing sustainable aircraft if flying is their only option.

2. Food and waste

Data from the United Nations Environment Programme shows that food waste contributes up to 10 percent of global emissions. When we throw away uneaten food, we also waste the land, water, labor, energy, and other factors that went into the process of getting that food from field to plate. Avoid considering how to offset the impact of food waste, and instead, develop strategies to reduce food waste in the first place. This means redesigning how you plan and serve food and beverage in the early planning stages. Reduce food waste at your next event by creating a strategy to:

  • Rethink portion sizes: Carefully plan portions per participant to avoid creating food waste and plan the way food is served to avoid creating leftovers that can’t be donated.
  • Incorporate seasonal foods: Build menus that source ingredients locally from sustainable vendors and suppliers.
  • Planning for leftovers: Understand the rules and guidelines for food donations at local nonprofits.
  • Incorporate vegetarian meals: Did you know that emissions from plant-based foods are 10-50 times less than livestock? Even shifting just one of your event meals to a vegetarian menu can make a huge difference.

3. Paper and plastic

While reducing paper usage is important, the reason for reducing plastic is two-fold: Plastic production requires oil, contributing to increased emissions. Second, no plastic can be recycled properly — it can take more than 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. In the events industry, many items are made from plastic, from name badges to water bottles and pens, and we must make great strides to find sustainable alternatives. A few strategies to reduce paper and plastic usage are to:

  • Choose recycled alternatives: Distribute items made of recycled, sustainable materials and eliminate sing-use plastics such as straws and cutlery.
  • Go digital: The easiest way to reduce paper use is to turn to digital alternatives wherever possible. For instance, you can replace printed badges with QR codes scannable from attendees’ phones that they can use to check into sessions or skip pricey printed signage and use digital signage available through your venue.
  • Communicate your initiatives: Rather than forcing green initiatives, give people options — such as going paperless vs. getting a printed agenda and explain why you’re providing this choice and what good they’re doing for the planet by choosing the sustainable option.

By focusing on the primary areas of concern like reducing CO2 emissions, paper and plastic usage, and food waste, we have the potential to drastically scale back our impact and create beneficial changes for ourselves, our industry, and the environment. As you start bringing sustainability initiatives into your program take advantage of tools, like Advito’s Meetings & Events Carbon Emissions Calculator, to help you make data-driven, strategic decisions. While we can’t undo the impact we’ve already made on the environment, we can focus on changing the kind of footprint we leave going forward.

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