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Candice Tulsieram (left) and Natalie Lowe, The Sustainable Events Forum

Making Meeting Sustainability Mainstream

“All we need now are 999,999 more Greta Thunbergs.”

MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.

Natalie Lowe, CMP

Owner, Celebrate Niagara 
Co-Founder, The Sustainable Events Forum

Candice Tulsieram, DES 

Owner, 360 Events 
Co-Founder, The Sustainable Events Forum

For providing tools for and educating meeting professionals on how they can save the planet one meeting at a time.

Why should planners get involved in systemic sustainability? “Because there are no meetings on a dead planet,” says Natalie Lowe, CMM, owner, Celebrate Niagara. Lowe, who grew up in a family steeped in the oil industry, had become increasingly alarmed by the industry’s inability to provide clear, actionable ways for meeting professionals to reduce their events’ impact on the environment. So, she started a course on sustainable events. Candice Tulsieram, DES, owner of 360 Events, signed up for it. 

Thus began a beautiful collaboration, with Tulsieram providing the yin to Lowe’s yang as they created a series of programs on sustainable events called The Sustainable Events Forum. While the two are very different in many ways, Lowe says it helps to think of their collaboration as a marriage based on shared values around climate change: “TSEF is like our child, and no matter what, you always want what’s best for your children.” 

What will that child look like when it grows up? “Our main goal has always been to make sustainability mainstream—it should be part of the conversation in the events industry. We see some progress, but we also see a lot of work to be done,” Tulsieram says.

In the 18 months since they began, they have hosted six events, including their “Earth Day for Event People” where destinations competed for the honor of being named “most sustainable.” They also launched a podcast, “Planners for the Planet,” which as of May already included 11 episodes.

The problem they are addressing is that sustainability in the events industry is still in what Lowe calls the “nice action, not right action” stage, where planners believe they can check the sustainability box by using reusable bags, bamboo utensils, and unbleached linen. “The reality is real carbon reduction involves a strict budget and making hard decisions—just like we do with our dollar budgets. It’s far more math and less Instagram than people think,” Lowe says. 

The duo built TSEF on four pillars that they credit for their success so far: education, inspiration, collaboration, and action—which includes providing easy-to-use tools planners can immediately use for their own programs.

And while they are gaining traction, “We need large numbers of people to take small steps in the right direction, then another step and another step,” Tulsieram says.  And by “right direction,” she means more than getting rid of plastic straws. “From a practical standpoint, we need to address transportation and food waste now, and move on to the other areas, such as energy, plastics, water, and food waste as soon as possible.” 

Change Management

“We always try to be positive and accept each person where they are on their sustainability journey,” Lowe says. “There is a lot of fear and shame in sustainability—fear of loss, fear of not doing enough, shame for your wasteful behavior, shame that you aren’t doing more. That’s a waste of energy. We don’t have the luxury of time to waste on fear and shame.” 

Role Models

When someone told Lowe that Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is tilting at windmills—“It’d take a million Gretas to make change happen.” She took it as a challenge. “What I heard was him telling me to go find 999,999 more Gretas.” Lowe and Tulsieram are convinced more than a few of them can be found in the meetings industry.

View the full list of 2021 Changemakers

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