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Bridging the Gap: Why All Event Planners Should Embrace Sustainability

June 20, 2019
By Carol Porter, CMP, CMM, Event Planner at Sustainable Meetings

This article was originally published by MPI (Meeting Professionals International).

There is a gap between knowing and implementing sustainability as a business strategy. According to an article written by Professor Kurt Haanes of IMD.org, "90 percent of executives find sustainability to be important, only 60 percent of companies incorporate sustainability in their strategy and merely 25 percent have sustainability incorporated in their business model. However, 62 percent of executives consider a sustainability strategy necessary to be competitive today and another 22 percent think it will be in the future."

In other words, executives know it is important and are recognizing the need to act on sustainability. There is an opportunity to show companies how they can bridge this gap in an area they participate in every day: meetings and events.

The increase in demand for businesses to be transparent with their sustainability practices and the increase in sense of urgency for companies to decrease their carbon footprint gave rise to this issue. In response to this demand, event planners have an opportunity to implement sustainable practices in meetings, decreasing carbon footprints, increasing customer loyalty and possibly decreasing costs.

In 2016, 1.9 million meetings were held in the U.S., generating US$845 billion in economic impact. This data, compiled by the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, includes any gathering of 10 or more participants for a minimum of four hours in a contracted venue. Clearly, the meetings sector is a key industry in the U.S. economy; however, it comes at a cost, as the industry also earned the not-so-sought-after title of second-most-wasteful sector in the country, thanks largely to the environmental footprint of air travel, AV equipment, food waste, plastic containers and more.

Meet Green researched and compiled information about the footprint of events. A typical event attendee will produce just over four pounds of waste per day, of which more than half is landfill waste. An attendee will produce more than 389 pounds of CO2E emissions per day. At the conclusion of an event, over 40 percent of items that are thrown out go directly to a landfill. During a typical five-day conference, 2,500 attendees will use 62,500 plates, 87,500 napkins, 75,000 cups or glasses and 90,000 cans or bottles. However, with green practices it is easy to implement processes to decrease landfill waste, carbon emissions, water and energy usage.

These numbers are staggering, but there is hope. Our industry knows there’s a problem, and we’re doing something about it. Green practices are frequently a topic discussed at events and in industry publications, from venue certifications for energy efficiencies to sourcing sustainable food and reducing food waste to hotels aligning with UN sustainability goals. The frequency of the topic and the initiatives venues, vendors and planners are implementing show that this is not a trend, but rather a progression, and is something companies and planners need to adapt to remain competitive and relevant. Furthermore, it is inevitable that companies are going to have meetings, so it is in their best interest to apply sustainability practices.

A common misconception is that small meetings don’t have a large impact on the environment. However, sustainability is easily scalable since it is measured per person. One event can make a difference. Using the example above, for a typical five-day meeting for only 100 attendees, they will consume 2,500 plates, 3,500 napkins, 3,000 cups or glasses and 3,600 cans or bottles. No matter the size, events have a profound and lasting impact on our environment.

What sort of impact can planners have with their meetings, and how easy is it to identify areas to apply green practices? Let’s review a company that plans small meetings.

Continue reading by visiting the May 2019 edition of MPI’s Meeting Professional Digital newsletter.