How to Plan a Sustainable Event

Visit Britain in partnership with ISLA and Destination Sustainability Movement, have published a guide to planning sustainable events.

We thought it may be a good idea to publish this guide on our website so that anyone interested has access.  HotelRes has access to some examples of plans and can help you with each stage.  Please make sure you talk to us at the initial stages of planning if you have particular sustainability goals.  We can ensure that we find a venue/suppliers that will help you achieve your goals.

Step 1

Define what sustainability looks like in context with the event.

They suggest that the best ambitions will look at how to reduce and mitigate carbon emissions in the first instance.  As well as how to reduce food and general waste.

The smartest approach to this is to identify the big impact areas of your event.  All events have some element of food, production, travel and transport, and energy use.

A dinner will have a larger food element. An exhibition may have a larger production and material use. An international event will have higher volumes of guests travelling a long way.

  • Define what your overarching ambition is – carbon reduction, waste reduction or both?
  • Identify your big impact areas across food, production, travel, and energy.
  • Align and agree this with the key stakeholders.

Step 2

Understand your areas of control and influence.

There is nothing more frustating than having a great idea but no way of realising this.  Understand what you can directly control and what you can have a strong influence on.

  • Assess your control and influence, focusing first on your big impact areas.
  • Identify priorities – what needs a longer lead time or budget sign off and may need a bit of work to get over the line.
  • Align and agree your priorities with your team and communicate this to key stakeholders.

Step 3

Set your objectives.

Your objectives should be quantifiable, so that you can plan and report against them.

For example you could use:

  • 50% of all menu items will be plant based.
  • We will eliminate 100% of PVC-based production and graphic materials.
  • We will measure and offset at least 80% of our event transport.
  • We will measure total energy use for the event and offset this.

When setting your objectives you can chose a venue that has accreditation in place which demonstrates responsible and considered operations or infrastructure.  Marks and certifications include BREAM Good or Excellent, LEED Gold and/or Green Tourism certification.

It is good to consider your stakeholders (inc delegates) when setting your objectives.  What would be important to them.  An engaged audience will make it easier to plan and deliver againast your objectives.  For example Gen-Z or Millienials will not bat an eyelid at plant-led catering.

  • Set your key event objectives, focusing particularly on your big impact.
  • Set smaller, supplementary objectives across the other areas of your event.
  • Align and agree your objectives with your key stakeholders and communicate this out to wider teams.

Step 4

Develop your method without using the word “plan”.

Getting started is always hardest, and when we think about event sustainability, we often feel like we’re looking at a big blank page, forcing us to think tactically, instead of stategically.

You have:

  • An overarching goal.
  • You know what areas you are focusing on.
  • You have clear objectives to work towards.

You need to think about who’s responsible, what resources might be needed (people, budget, time) and how you track progress against your objectives.

It is important to remember that all your stakeholders – suppliers and audience are just as responsible as your direct team. Sharing responsibility is the smartest way to successful sustainable event planning.

  • Indentify key team members to be responsible for managing an objective.
  • Indentify key stakeholders whose support will be required to achieve objectives.
  • Align and agree responsibilities with teams and key stakeholders and start planning!

Step 5

Report and reflect.

As with all event planning, things change.  Whether it’s another off-shoot event that one of your stakeholders has just added in, contentent and speaker changes, selected hotels running out of room availability to new requests for environmental design elements.  Event planners are masters at juggling, adapting and finding solutions.

But when plans change the sustainability ambitions shouldn’t. Sustainability must remain a priority on the agenda if we’re to drive the global changes we need.

One of the key things about planning a sustainable event is about reporting and reflecting on the outcomes so we can take these learnings forward.  The key thing is to report on our progress against our objectives – what worked, what didn’t and why. Whether this is a formal report or an event debrief isn’t important, as long as the learnings are captured, understood and taken forward in future events.

  • Review the progress you made towards your objectives.
  • Reflect on what your success and challenges were (failure isn’t always bad!).
  • Outline your learnings from this experience and what you can take forward as you plan your next event.

Thank you to to the team at Visit Britain, ISLA and Destination Sustainability Movement for this very handy guide.