It feels like we’re at a crossroads in how we think about sustainability and the events industry.
The last few years have seen a big conversation across the international events scene. How / should we make events more sustainable? What are the solutions? What incentives are needed? What are the challenges and opportunities? Where do we even begin?
Knowledge programmes routinely feature best practice in this area. And there is an endless thirst for knowledge from all parts of the industry about how to tackle this increasingly urgent issue.
But, ironically, it’s taken a global pandemic to really put sustainability on the map in a way that might otherwise have required five or ten years to sink into all our minds.
Why do I say this?
Well, firstly, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a very real existential threat to the industry. Some events businesses may never recover. Some people are seeking new careers. And some are using this very focussed opportunity to ask what a future events industry could and should look like. This quite rightly includes questions about the resilience and sustainability of future events.
Secondly, if COVID-19 is just one example of the kinds of global disruption we can expect over the coming decades as the effects of climate change start to bite, what should be the events industry’s response? Global air travel, food waste and pollution are just some of the by-products of events that are now at the forefront of many people’s thoughts. How do we fast-track solutions to our industry that make us leaders on these issues?
Thirdly, the pandemic has accelerated our future-gazing into thinking about how events can be both safe and sustainable. We are now faced with a short window of opportunity to embed sustainability into event planning, as we begin to rebuild meetings and events for the short to medium term.
As usual, event planners, destinations and venues are already responding positively. Event professionals are nothing if not enthusiastic and positive about their industry. And conversations on sustainability are already high on the agenda.
In one recent online survey of #eventprofs, for example, 92% said that sustainability would either be a “big factor” or “kept in mind” in their event planning for the next two years.
And there are big themes arising from the last few months that can be considered on this topic.
Online events have come into their own under lockdown in all parts of the world. Some events may never go back to being in person. Many will certainly now expand their online content and reach even if the old saying “you can’t beat meeting in person for an experience” holds true. It feels like we’ve taken a big step in the online direction.
Even before the pandemic, there was beginning to be a large focus on the purpose, legacy or “Why?” of a meeting or event. Can we continue to justify flying people all over the world if there is no clear, beneficial outcome to bringing people together? It’s surely no bad thing to concentrate our minds on how each and every meeting and event will in some way, shape or form contribute to making the world a better place.
Healthy, Safe and Sustainable
The short-term focus of getting events back up and running again will certainly focus on social distancing, hygiene measures and safety. But sustainability can and should be front and centre as well. There are already compostable face masks on the market, for example. Safety and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive. But it will take willingness and awareness on all sides of event planning to make it work.
There are also both challenges and opportunities facing us over the next few months when it comes to keeping sustainability high on the events agenda.
It will be far too easy for bad habits to “snap back” into place once lockdown restrictions are eased in all countries. We are already seeing pollution levels from car fumes not just return to pre-pandemic levels but in some cases a higher level. Economic pressures to rebuild businesses, to return to traditional economic growth and to concentrate on the P for Profit and not the Ps for People and Planet, will be considerable. It’s understandable. But it’s not in our best interests if we lose this opportunity to put sustainability at the heart of rebuilding our own industry.
The opportunities for this will come from conversations, collaborations and harnessing the collective experience we’ve all shared as a result of the pandemic. We’ve nearly all re-discovered our appreciation and love of Nature, for example. How can we keep hold of its benefits in our event planning?
There is pioneering work in thinking about events and the circular economy. How do we make sure that work translates into day-to-day planning at the micro-level? Thanks to initiatives like Positive Impact, there are amazing opportunities to give the events industry a voice at the level of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. How do we get more people engaged? How do we give young people the voice they deserve in creating the sustainable events industry of the future? A future that will be their’s to own, direct and manage.
And finally, how do we all continue to take action in the face of the potentially overwhelming consequences of climate change?
For the sake of the planet, as well as the sake of our own industry, we need to take the right path at the crossroads in front of us. And use the COVID-19 pandemic as the kickstart to a transformation of our industry thanks to our combined creative and passionate talents as #eventprofs. It’s what we’ve always been good at!
For #eventprofs wishing to talk further about these issues, please join our Facebook Group – #eventprofs for change. The group provides Inspiration, Collaboration and Transformation for anyone looking to get engaged in sustainability and the events industry.
You may also be interested in…
- Working towards a more sustainable events industry; Tips and tricks for exhibitors
- In-Person vs Virtual Events: No Contest
Find more content like this on our virtual resource hub, IBTM Connect.