A guide for event marketers on ESG, what it means for the events industry in 2022 (and beyond), and how to incorporate sustainability initiatives into your events.
- A Quick Guide to ESG for event marketers
- Why should ESG initiatives be a priority for event brands today?
- The importance of sustainability in the events industry
- One pitfall to avoid
- 6 ways to make a difference
- 3 examples of brands making a difference today
Far from just a buzzword on the posters of every climate-conscious organisation, sustainability is becoming an increasingly crucial focus for corporations of all sizes. Caring about the environment isn’t just cool — it’s essential. With climate change being a very real concern for the consumers of today, we’re seeing a shift in the events industry towards more sustainable practices, both in terms of the companies running the events, as well as the technology and resources used to power them.
More importantly—sustainability isn’t just about the environment. Social and corporate governance factors play a critical role in operating a truly sustainable corporation (and event).
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how sustainability impacts the events industry, what we might expect to see in the future, and how event managers can incorporate sustainability into their event planning. Beyond recycling, that is (because c’mon - we can do better than that).
A quick guide to ESG for event marketers
ESG refers to the three pillars when measuring the sustainability of an investment: Environmental, Social, and Governance. ESG exists to help organisations find a balance between environmental factors, social interests, transparency, and economic results.
Broken down, here’s how this applies to events:
Environmental - minimising the impact of events (in-person, hybrid, and virtual) on the environment. This covers things like greener products and services, use of renewable energy, and reducing carbon emissions. Don’t just think about minimising harm, but also find opportunities to do good.
Social - how events impact workplace culture and society on a broader scale. This covers factors like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workforce and the event’s stakeholders, safety and security of products and data, as well as adequate training, support, and wellbeing (source: IACC, 2020). Ye olde work-life balance fits in nicely here - make sure your team gets it!
Governance - decision making, reporting and logistics for events, as well as ethics and transparency with stakeholders about activities taking place. This includes factors such as accurate reporting on finance, operations and strategy, leadership accountability, as well as diversity in leadership and transparency about remuneration and bonus structures. Put simply, if you’re claiming to be ethical, but your leadership team receives giant bonuses while paying entry-level staff lower than minimum wage — it’s not going to bode well for your public image.
Why should ESG initiatives be a priority for event brands today?
Being kind to the environment falls firmly in the ‘bare minimum’ category for corporations these days, and the event industry is no exception. When a 3 day 1000 person event can generate as much as 5670kg of waste—3480kg of which goes directly to landfill (source: University of London)—there’s increased demand for companies to be held accountable for the negative impacts of running their events.
Not only that, but as COVID restrictions ease across the world, we’ll return to a state where the emphasis is once again on events with a face-to-face element, but with the benefit of greater infrastructure to support (and experience in delivering) hybrid and virtual events.
After 2+ years of virtual and hybrid events only, combined with economical strain on local businesses (did your favourite coffee shops and restaurants survive the pandemic?), the sudden return to in-person events will be quite a shock to the system. And by system, we mean people are going nuts over their newfound freedom, and it shows. In-person event tickets—particularly for entertainment—are thriving (source: The Drum, 2022).
This means ESG is as important a concern as ever, and we once again need to consider the impact of our activities, how we operate from a governance perspective and how we conduct events in general.
Think you’re exempt because you only run virtual events? Think again.
Virtual events aren’t immune to the need for ESG initiatives and virtual doesn’t mean “zero impact” - it’s still important for virtual events to incorporate sustainable practices, adequate consideration for health and safety, and responsible use of technology. It’s no longer just about awareness, now it’s about awareness and action for all companies and event types.
The importance of sustainability in the events industry
From an economic perspective, events are hugely beneficial. They bolster local communities, provide tourism opportunities, and increase social interaction at scale. They also put strain on the very communities they help, environmentally speaking. Bringing a large group of people together in a small space for a short period of time is always going to bring challenges, namely increased use of transport, energy demands, disposable products, as well as increased demand on local businesses for food and drink consumption.
As we fall deeper into the climate crisis (alongside the “great resignation”, where COVID-19 saw employees leaving their workplaces en masse), the onus is on corporations to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability. More importantly, showing you’re doing the right thing builds trust, fosters a sense of collective responsibility, and (as more companies adopt these initiatives) helps establish a new standard for all future events, industry-wide. The larger the company, the bigger the influence—and we’re in a position now to use that influence for good.
As much as it does play a part, it’s not really about image and building trust with your communities. It’s about making actual change, actual progress, and leaving a positive legacy behind - not just paying lip service to keep up appearances.
One pitfall to avoid
There’s a rising discontent that so often the discussions around sustainability focus squarely on the consumer and the role they can play in climate change. The reality is, companies are causing exponentially more damage to the environment (and on a far more widespread scale) than households who perhaps don’t recycle as thoroughly as they should — and people know it.
The impetus is therefore on corporations to lead the change, and those companies who do the work to make real changes are seen in a far more favourable light, both socially and economically. At the end of the day though it’s not about image, it’s about impact — and given the state of the world, we need all the impact we can get.
6 ways to make a difference
1. Work with like-minded ESG partners - who you partner with for venues and vendors matters, choose ones whose values align with the event host. This goes deeper than simply finding out whether they recycle, and more into their broader ethos and activities to not only offset their impact, but also to leave a positive impact. Example: partnering with firms like Goodr, whose mission is to combat food waste.
2. Be intentional and make sustainability a part of your process - planning is everything, and if you incorporate it from the start, it will become a natural priority and much easier to continue throughout and for future events.
3. Treat it like a priority, not an afterthought - if you fake your efforts, it will show, and you’ll come across as performative which can ruin your brand reputation (as well as doing absolutely nothing to address the actual issues at hand).
4. Plan for all stages of the event - pre, during and post. Think about travel, transport and accommodation, your speakers, staffing requirements, supporting events (post-conference parties) and where they’re held (e.g. are they within walking distance?), and use of local vendors, donating unused food, etc.
5. Seek B Corp Certification - long term, this achievement shows you’re committed to a certain standard of environmental and social impact.
6. Adopt a variety of initiatives to address sustainability from various angles - from carbon offsetting, to supplying seasonal, fair trade produce, and encouraging public transport use - it’s worth investigating every element of your event to see where environmental harm can be minimised and take active steps to offset any harm that couldn’t be prevented.
From a social perspective, work with a diverse panel of speakers and stakeholders, ensure your event addresses basic accessibility requirements, and ensure supply chain management meets sustainability standards (across sectors like fair trade and labour rights).
From a governance perspective, provide accurate event reporting on financial performance and operations, implement adequate risk and performance management, and consider making pay for speakers public to ensure equity across the board.
3 examples of brands making a difference today
Wimbledon (source: link)
As well as being a signatory to the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework (use of LED lighting, reducing resources used and increasing recycling), they’re aiming to reduce emissions to ‘net zero’, alongside contributing to a ‘net gain’ in biodiversity by 2030. Their website explains in-detail exactly what they’re doing now to achieve these goals, and what they will do in the future to ensure they stay on track. They also mention using their influence to “inspire wider action” — a brilliant example of sustainable events done right.
What they’re doing right: showing a detailed breakdown of their goals, current initiatives in place, and clear steps to achieve their goals by their set targets.
MAPFRE Annual General Meeting (source: link)
From a more corporate events angle, global insurance firm MAPFRE analysed and offset the emissions from their last 2 general meetings. They also included sustainability initiatives such as segregated waste management options, meeting translation into sign language, and created a specific communications channel to address sustainability conversations with key stakeholders.
What they’re doing right: third-party body AENOR was brought in to ensure their compliance with ISO 20121 standards for sustainable events, and they detailed a thorough breakdown of all their activities with references to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) detailed in their roadmap.
Burning Man Festival (source: link)
With an emphasis on “leaving no trace”, this immersive event hosted annually in Black Rock Desert consistently pushes the boundaries of what’s possible for events to achieve. Somewhat unusually, their sustainability work is both decentralised and open-source, meaning anyone can contribute to it, and their activities are rich and varied, with a variety of approaches (from resource sharing by camps, to a worldwide virtual hub for the Burning Man community to discuss sustainability initiatives) to ensure their 10 year roadmap is successful.
What they’re doing right: there are a number of teams helping drive their work, including Black Rock City, Northern Nevada, Research & Development, and Community - each of which spans a broad range of activities and sub-groups dedicated to their goals.
Where to from here?
Every brand, no matter their size, can incorporate ESG initiatives into their events - it’s all about planning. Involving stakeholders at every level will make it easier to broaden the impact of these activities by making sustainability a shared responsibility (and more fun in the process).
We’re here to help you market and get more attendees for your sustainable events, and make it easier to share your sustainability efforts with the people who matter. Get in touch with Gleanin, the community marketing platform, to find out how we can help you sell out your next event.