8 Tips for Sustainable Events

A lot of people talk about sustainable events these days – but few actually know what that really means. Sustainable events are more than just “green”. Here are 8 tips on how to organize your trade fair or congress sustainably.

(updated 13 July 2018)

When talking about sustainable events, a lot of people immediately start thinking of paper coffee cups or reusable aisle carpeting. Those may be good ideas, but sustainability in the events business can go way beyond that.

What Does Sustainability Actually Mean?

The UN world commission for environment and development submitted a report already back in 1987 that was adopted by many national parliaments, including the German Bundestag. Sustainability consists of 3 pillars:

  • Ecological Sustainability – what is understood by “Green Meetings”
  • Economic Sustainability – meaning that something can be maintained. It doesn’t help to design an ecological congress that burns money!
  • Social Sustainability – this covers topics such as equality, prevention from exploitation and child labor.

If you look at these three pillars, it’s pretty clear just how wide a scope sustainability as a topic actually has, as well as how important it is to the long-term success of trade fair and congress organizers! 

So, roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work! But how exactly?

8 Tips: How Can Trade Fair and Congresses Actively Organize Sustainable Events?

Tip 1: It Starts with the Management System: Plan – Do – Check – Act (PDCA)

When engineers and specialists think about sustainability, they look at it from diverse perspectives. Particularly when it needs to fulfill an ISO norm standard at the end! Since 2012, the ISO norm 20121 has been in place, covering a management system for sustainable events. 

This ISO norm considers the three pillars mentioned before (ecological, economic, social). It is of course no coincidence that it was introduced alongside the London 2012 Olympics!

The norm doesn’t consider the events themselves, rather targets which management structures event organizers use to organize their sustainable events. On you can find several checklists and roadmaps on how the PDCA principle is put into practice. 

Tip 2: Visit Sustainability Events at MICE Events

All large trade fairs and congresses for the events industry have put sustainability on their agenda and have integrated educational offers into their program. 

  • IMEX offers on each fair day seminars, workshops and presentations on the topic of sustainable events. They also published a Sustainable Exhibiting-guide for their exhibitors.
  • Also at the IBTM events, Sustainability / Corporate Social Responsibility is a core topic.
  • The International Congress and Convention Association ICCA not only includes educational events on sustainability in their ICCA congress program. Dubai World Trade Center, host of the 2018 ICCA Congress, particularly sets out to reduce food waste, among other initiatives.

Tip 3: Network with Other Event Organizers and Exchange Experiences

Such events are not only there for education, if not almost more importantly, you’ll meet likeminded participants that concern themselves with the topic of sustainability. Optimum networking possibilities for exchanging experiences! Use matchmaking offers, to set up meetings ahead of the event and don’t leave networking up to chance. 

A good source to meet likeminded people are of course social networks. Follow for example the Twitter hashtag #SustainabilityTips for useful tips on how to reduce waste in your every day event life. 

Tip 4: Use Online Resources on Sustainable Events

There are really helpful online sources with concrete recommendations how to organize your events more sustainably, offering tips that can be implemented immediately without hitting the budget too hard. 

Some of the most important include: 

Tip 5: Do Good and Talk About It!

Even if your initiatives for sustainable events don’t directly sell tickets for your trade fairs and congresses, talk about it and inform your stakeholders what you are doing and why you are doing it. 

Submit your initiatives for industry awards (e.g. for the UFI’s Sustainable Development Award). Present your measures and best practices at industry events. Set up a special area on your website where sustainability initiatives are presented – like e.g. UBM EMEA, award winner of the UFI Sustainable Development Award 2015.

Tip 6: Don’t Take It Too Seriously. Be Playful

Sustainability can swiftly lead to a bad conscience. Events naturally lead to an environmental influence, simply due to the fact that your participants physically have to come/travel to a specific location. 

Don’t package the topic too seriously, rather try to give the initiatives a ‘light touch’. An example of this are the technology offers by companies like Pavegen. Special flooring tiles create electricity when trade fair visitors walk on them! A great idea for providing charging points for mobile phones with power! 

Another nice idea: At the 2016 ICCA congress in Malaysia, delegates were able to adopt an Orang Utan, and, thus, contribute to the sustainable development of the region. This project was presented beforehand using a hand puppet:

Tip 7: Offset Your Participant’s CO2 Emissions

Even when organizing your event as ecologically as possible, events still create emissions. Diverse service providers offer online calculators for CO2 emissions and then let you invest in climate projects to offset the emitted CO2 levels, for example, by replenishing the rainforest. 

The costs per participant depend on whether it is an international event or not, how many exhibitors you have, how many participants etc. As a rule of thumb, costs per participant are somewhere between 0,75 cents and 3,50 EUR. You can find online service providers here: 

Tip 8: Train Staff on Sustainability

Institutions such as the German Convention Bureau or Meeting Professionals International (MPI) offers special courses to train your staff to become a Sustainability Coach (GCB), as well as award a Sustainable Meeting Professional Certificate (SMPC). Use such educational offers to get your staff up to speed. 

Bottom Line

Sustainability is becoming more and more important in connection with events. It starts with the first step – trust yourself to take the first step in making your trade fairs and congresses more sustainable!