Events are going greener – but not for the sake of the environment alone. Consumer expectations of good corporate citizenship are an even more powerful driver; according to Nielsen, an overwhelming 81% of respondents from around the globe strongly believe that companies should help improve the environment.
Where companies and brands go, the events industry must follow. But as well as offering a smaller environmental impact, green events can also be better at satisfying participants and activating brands, companies and products.
Potential advantages beyond the environment
Plenty of scope certainly exists for going greener and cleaner. According to MeetGreen, a typical conference attendee generates almost two kilos of waste per day, of which 60% usually ends up in landfill. Just being seen to reduce that depressing figure alone will create positive, noble associations.
Even better, participants may find that the green event experience is more meaningful, worthy and memorable than a non-green one. Planners can amplify the effect by using an event’s green aspirations to open a door to a whole ecosystem of potential new partners – suppliers, stakeholders and sponsors. All will be eager to contribute ideas and expertise whilst meeting their own CSR objectives. This in turn can increase the potential of greater investment from clients.
Shrinking carbon footprints with technology
Mega event advances: Benefitting from having the largest planning budget and backing from prominent sponsors, mega events are frequently occasions for rolling out green technologies before a global audience. One example is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which aim to achieve carbon neutrality using plenty of green tech. Electronics at Games venues, athletes’ villages and media centres are to be powered with 100% renewable energy, spotlighting government initiatives to install solar panels countrywide. Toyota, a Worldwide Partner, is to contribute a fleet of autonomous electric vehicles to serve athletes.
Another upcoming mega event, Expo 2020 Dubai, plans to use solar-powered steel ‘trees’ to literally draw water from thin air. This eco-friendly water supply will be used for irrigating the park surrounding the Sustainability Pavilion.
Green tech for smaller events: Though very few ‘mainstream’ business events can come close to matching an Olympics or World Expo budget, planners can still use technology in new ways to give them impressive green credentials. For example, guests can be encouraged to use car- and taxi-sharing apps to go to and from the event; and rather than flying keynote guests in, videoconferencing technology can enable them to make an emissions-free virtual appearance instead.
Social media and apps create opportunities for ‘cleaner’ events, enabling materials traditionally on paper to be replaced with digital versions and sent to each invited guest. The venue itself can also feature a ‘newsfeed wall’ of social media updates. It’s an eco-friendly way to get attendees informed, spark their engagement and discussion.
Mobilising stakeholder participation
Mega event, mega participation: For the Tokyo Olympics, the city’s population is getting into the habit of collecting waste materials and depositing them at special recycling bins in more than 2,000 local supermarkets. Citizens are also being asked to donate e-waste or engage in marine clean-ups. Some of the recycled plastics will be used to make Olympic podiums.
Mobilisation on a smaller scale: Incentive programmes can be an effective way to bring the ‘participant’ effect to smaller events. One example is Accor’s scheme of rewarding points to guests who choose ‘green’ hotel services such as ‘light housekeeping’. Similar schemes can be designed to bring event attendees into the green cause while helping the organizer to cut waste and use of resources. A points system with monetary incentives can be especially motivating, even if the funds are ultimately donated to a charity or good cause.
Using eco-friendly materials
Mega events’ creative green features: Creative thinking can put an event’s green features exactly where they will make an impression. At the Tokyo Olympics, the concept of ‘e-waste’ will be spotlighted by awarding athletes with approximately 5,000 medals crafted from metals salvaged from recycled electronic devices which would normally be dumped in landfills.
At Expo 2017 Astana, the Pakistan Pavilion took a fascinatingly different approach to sustainability: rather than high tech, it used traditional technique to make approximately 90% of its construction renewable, recyclable and sustainable. An old Pakistani technique of using textiles and camel skin for the pavilion’s façade created a cool interior. The pavilion’s eco-friendliness helped it win an Honourable Mention for ‘Elements and Details’ at the Expo 2017 Award.
Green options for smaller events: Downscaling the same concept can be as easy as finding alternatives to plastic and paper tableware. Biotrem, for example, makes tableware out of pure wheat bran. A ton of bran can produce up to 10,000 plates or bowls, which can fully biodegrade in as little as 30 days.
Another option is to select a green venue – preferably one that has gained a recognised certification or rating, or has clearly implemented eco-friendly practices. Planners should also work closely with local suppliers, as they can often suggest effective, cost-efficient material solutions that can be sourced in the community.
Consumer demand is making companies greener, and the impact on mega events can already be seen in spectacular innovations. They may indeed be too ‘mega’ for more everyday events, but the root ideas can inspire green creativity on a smaller but no less effective scale.
The bottom line is that green events reflect well on everybody: burnishing the corporate citizenship of clients and the creative capabilities of the planner, and adding an extra-satisfying layer of meaning to the attendee’s event experience.
Read more from Gregory Crandall on how businesses are looking to the green market for lucrative new pastures of opportunity.
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