Getting Partner Buy-in for More Sustainable Events

Going green should never be an afterthought, so don't wait until you're on-site to work with your venue and vendors to implement best practices. 

Reducing food waste is key to managing an event's carbon footprint.
Reducing food waste is key to managing an event's carbon footprint. Photo Credit: Вячеслав Косько for Adobe Stock

Watch and Learn
A growing number of meeting professionals are working with experts and one another to craft sustainability policies and action plans. In our webinar, Effective Strategies for Sustainable Events, we shared practical advice and best practices, while looking at what’s been put in place and what action we must take now to design more sustainable events and create a more sustainable industry.

Going green has been a buzzword in the events industry for years. And while integrating sustainable solutions into events hasn't always been a priority, brand leaders finally are recognizing its importance. Organizations are making bold social impact pledges about responsible consumption and production models, clean-water initiatives, and actively fighting world hunger.

For event professionals, delivering sustainable practices, like sourcing and waste-reduction, should be as important as having great food and beverage. Moving from promises to action starts with all of us — clients holding event agencies responsible and event agencies holding supplier partners accountable. Developing strong action plans with supplier partners is critical for ensuring high-level goals are met throughout the planning process.

Encourage Sustainable Operations

Sustainability should never be an afterthought. Yet there are so many details to manage, and it's nearly impossible to integrate sustainable practices once on-site. Incorporate green initiatives early in the event design, and establish ways to measure and report the impact of your efforts — such as carbon offsets, the amount of food donated and value of donations/fees paid to local organizations — against key business imperatives.

From destination selection and menu planning to giveaways and give-backs, each aspect of an event can be considered through a sustainability lens. Planners can start by understanding how different partners can help.

B Corporations

Choose suppliers that have aligned values, such as those with benefit corporation status. B Corps are for-profit companies that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. If you're looking for suppliers of logoed apparel, selecting a B Corp can help is a step toward ensuring the products are made ethically.

Social Impact Organizations or Nongovernmental Organizations

Working with trusted organizations to produce giveback activities can ensure your positive intentions don't have unintended "voluntourism" drawbacks [SUCH AS WHAT?]. Guidestar searches for U.S.-based nonprofit organizations by location. ITA Group has woven social-impact stories through domestic and international events. Partnering with a school in Tanzania, an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and a homeless shelter in Dallas engaged attendees and made a positive impact on the communities visited. 

Venue and Transportation

An event agency or destination management company can vet partners based on brand goals, document your sustainability plan, and remind frontline staff of the contractual commitment when finalizing orders and preparing services. They also can ensure you receive timely, accurate reporting from airlines and transportation partners about carbon use.

Reducing Food Waste

One practical step toward a more sustainable event experience involves reducing and recovering food waste. Vendors might already have a waste-diversion program in place, but often need client support to set it in motion. Recovering unused meals and leftovers helps alleviate local food insecurity through intermediary organizations, like the Food Rescue Hero Network, that work with shelters and community fridges where people in need can access event extras. 

Encourage Supplier Accountability

Asking the right questions at the right time creates accountability from the beginning of the planning process through the event's execution. Start broadly with, "How might we partner with you to implement the sustainability-management systems we want to use in our supply chains?"

Then get specific. For instance, when negotiating a catering contract, you could approach the topic by asking:

  • What plant-based meal options are available?
  • Are there any local producers we can work with to source food? Are any of those producers certified organic?
  • What are your overage percentages?
  • Do you use containers that are compostable or reusable?
  • What food-rescue processes and partnerships do you have in place already?

If your organization is serious about setting and achieving sustainability goals, it's essential to have partners you can rely on, not only for planning, but also for follow-through on tracking and reporting.

Erica Lalk is the manager of event strategy for ITA Group.