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Events & Conferencing Opinion South Africa

8 best practices for greener events

Environmental sustainability is growing in importance to the overall success of an event and as the effects of the climate emergency become clearer, this will only increase.
Image supplied. Gary Koetser, CEO of Century City Conference Centre and Hotels gives 8 best practices for greener events
Image supplied. Gary Koetser, CEO of Century City Conference Centre and Hotels gives 8 best practices for greener events

This is something that the events industry shouldn’t compete on. Given the urgency of meeting sustainability standards, everyone should share their best practices and learn from one another.

March was already the hottest month in the Earth’s recorded history while the recent Dubai floods saw the Emirate receive more than a year’s worth of rain in hours.

If there’s to be any hope of changing the planet’s current trajectory, everyone has to play their part, including event planners. For a long-haul destination like South Africa. which is trying to attract international business tourists, that’s an especially large challenge.

A challenge that has to be met

But it’s a challenge that they’re going to have to meet.

Increasingly strict EU laws require all large and listed companies (of the kind that put on big events) to disclose any environmental risks associated with their activities.

South African companies aren’t immune from sustainability considerations either.

Laws like the one requiring all large buildings to display an energy performance certificate (EPC) by 2025 will sharpen corporate minds and help ensure they bring sustainability considerations to all of their activities.

8 best practices

Here are eight best practices for a greener event.

  1. Choose a venue that understands sustainability
  2. By selecting an event venue that understands, and is committed to, sustainability half the battle is already won. That commitment to sustainability must run like a thread through everything it does. Implementing a few simple initiatives and claiming excellent green credentials is not real sustainability, it’s greenwashing.

  3. Promote public transport
  4. The more time delegates spend in cars getting to and from your event, the less environmentally friendly it is. You can make things significantly more sustainable with a wide array of amenities (but particularly hotels and restaurants) are within walking distance of your event venue and ensure it is close to reliable public transport nodes.

  5. Eliminate single-use plastic wherever possible
  6. Left unchecked, big events can generate tonnes of single-use plastic. From name badge holders to bottled water, and brochure covers, each individual item seems innocuous. But when your event has hundreds or even thousands of attendees, it all adds up. Audit the areas you know traditionally come with a lot of single-use plastic and see if you can simply eliminate it. Do you, for example, really need a plastic name-badge holder, especially if the event lasts a single day? And where elimination isn’t possible, look for more sustainable alternatives.

  7. Cater environmentally
  8. It’s easy to forget that food systems are responsible for more than a quarter of global emissions. But by choosing the right catering options, event organisers can play their part in bringing down that number. Ideally, the event location team should be able to help here. It’s also important to ensure that food waste doesn’t end up in landfill.

  9. Go paperless
  10. On its own, paper is a pretty environmentally-friendly resource. The trouble is that much of the “paper” we associate with conferences - printed schedules, brochures, and research publications- is that it is not pure paper. Much of it has a plastic coating, making it all but impossible to recycle. It’s also almost unnecessary if all that information can be uploaded to a website.

  11. Use sustainable swag
  12. How many conferences have you attended where you’re given a welcome pack that includes what can only be described as cheap, branded tat? Rather than giving away pens that’ll only be used once and water bottles that leak the moment you fill them, you’re better off giving away fewer, but more useful things. If nothing else, you’ll reduce the rubbish in landfills because of your event.

  13. Recruit guests and exhibitors to your green agenda
  14. If you’ve found a venue serious about sustainability. You’ve taken all the steps you can to make the event sustainable. Your next step is to bring exhibitors and attendees on board. Explain why environmental sustainability is so important to the event and, for exhibitors especially, set simple standards that they can follow.

  15. Don’t compromise on quality
  16. No one should come out of an event saying it was great despite its environmental focus. Instead, an environmentally sustainable manner should add to the event experience. A good venue and site team will go a long way to helping you achieve this. If a venue or suppliers don’t show that same level of commitment, then they aren’t serious about sustainability. Even in a space like the canteen, staff should know how to separate the waste in their personal spaces. Then it becomes second nature.

Embrace the future now

Ultimately, we are all responsible for the collective future of the planet.. The events and hospitality sectors certainly aren’t immune from that. In fact, with their ability to connect people in profoundly influential ways, they may have an outsized role in driving sustainability-driven change.

About Gary Koetser

Gary Koetser is the CEO of Century City Conference Centre and Hotels, awarded a Silver for Positive Climate Impact at this year’s WTM Responsible Tourism Award.
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