An IMEX 2019 session on aligning the meetings industry with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals drew an enthusiastic response from audience members eager to share best practices from their own events. Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, director of industry advancement for the Events Industry Council, and Guy Bigwood, managing director of the Global Destinations Sustainability Index and former president of the Green Meeting Industry Council, hosted the session on how meeting planners can support the 17 SDGs.
While many planners are already actively working to end food waste at events, which aligns with Goal 2 (zero hunger), and venues are working on Goals 6 and 7 (reducing water waste and using clean and renewable energy), some of the industry examples showed that the events and hospitality industries are devoting a lot of creativity to sustainable development.
Below are some of the coolest suggestions and examples from the event.
Recycle, Reduce, Reuse
A hotel in Sweden decided to use unique recycled clothing for its uniforms. The uniforms were so popular one employee wore hers to a Christmas Party.
The Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, hosted a huge flooring show and were left with thousands of carpet samples. Rather than send them to a landfill, local artist Chad Farnes used them to create a mural of Utah’s first female state senator, Martha “Mattie” Hughes Cannon.
Many audience members were reusing lanyards from previous shows or had their own personally branded ones. Even something this easy can limit the amount of plastic and nylon that gets sent to landfills.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint
There are many organizations that offer the tools to calculate your event’s carbon footprint and credits to reduce it, including the U.N.’s Carbon Offset Platform and Montreal-based Planetair, which has produced a guide for festival and event organizers on carbon neutral events. One credit purchased from Planetair offsets one ton of CO2 in the atmosphere through investment in the environment and additional credits can be purchased in support of community and educational programs.
Use Your Intellectual Capital
An audience member said, “We are bringing these brilliant minds from all over the world to a city for two or three days but if nothing permeates the wall of the conference center there is no lasting impact. Bring in high school students for mentoring events and invite them to question-and-answer sessions with your scientists or CEOS.”
Gallus Events has been organizing Homeless Hackathons at its events, where participants brainstorm ideas to combat homelessness.
An event in Amsterdam required multiple sets and themed spaces so the organizers went to a refugee camp and hired architects and engineers from Syria to design, build, and decorate them. They found most of the materials at local scrapyards and used a lot of cardboard to reduce waste.
High-Tech Vs Old School
Bigwood suggested using programs like Interprefy for online instantaneous translation rather than spending money to fly interpreters to your event, which could save enough money to increase the number of languages offered. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the latest technology, see if you can partner with other meeting professionals to buy joint licenses.
Sometimes, rather than looking for the latest sustainable technology, it’s better for your attendees and the community to go back to basics. In New Orleans, conference groups often skip shuttle busses for destinations that are 15 or 20 minutes away. Instead, they have attendees walk and hire local musicians to recreate a jazz funeral and accompanying them all the way. Could you do a walking shuttle in your next destination?
Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Rather than make token efforts, put metrics in place to measure diversity and inclusion in your panels and educational sessions, and then create a policy to ensure you meet goals on representation.
An anecdote from the audience said that gender nonconforming conference-goers often use the Starbucks app so that they know where there are safe restrooms in each town. Introduce at least one gender-neutral bathroom at your event. It’s the easiest way to literally make everyone comfortable!
Keep to the Code
Don’t Forget to FLOSS
When it comes to F&B, the keywords to remember are: Fairtrade, local, organic, seasonal, and smart. “Smart” can include asking about the menus planned for events before and after yours at the venue, so you can share purchasing or labor with another group, or partnering with local organizations for donating food.