The State of Sustainability at Events in 2024

In 2024, sustainability in the events industry is taking center stage. From annual sales kickoffs to large-scale trade shows, the number of organizations making a concerted effort to track and reduce emissions, environmental impact, and contributions to climate change is growing—and for good reason!

Event stakeholders such as sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees now see sustainability as a global imperative. They are seeking eco-friendly events, prioritizing participation in greener experiences beyond recycling bins and locally sourced food, and instead taking more of an eco-tourism approach. States Ellen Carpenter Green, senior product designer, Headbox, in a recent article in micebook., “We’re hearing our clients talk about themes like supporting biodiversity and generating positive social impact through their events, as well as reducing carbon emissions.” Recent surveys by Hilton and Marriott support Green’s observation, reporting that 74% of travelers agree it’s essential to minimize their environmental footprint, and 77% want to visit environmentally friendly destinations that align with their values.

Fortunately, there are many ways for event organizers to meet these expectations in 2024. In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of going green and provide some best practices for planning events with a more regenerative and sustainable focus.

Sustainable Event Ideas

In 2024, a “green” event will minimize the event’s environmental impact and maximize social and economic benefits. At 6Connex, we advise our clients to plan their events around three “green” pillars:

  1. The environment: Reduce your event’s carbon footprint, including energy and water usage and waste production.
  2. The attendees: Educate and engage your audience on sustainability practices and their impact.
  3. The community: Increase diversity, inclusion, and accessibility and benefit the community where your event is hosted.

Beyond the environmental, social, and economic benefits, it’s essential to recognize that event planners will also discover financial and brand perks when all three pillars are accounted for. If stakeholder buy-in is an obstacle to hosting green events, the below points should help lessen resistance to change.

Increase Investments

Recent studies suggest a positive correlation between sustainability and profitability over the long term, particularly in corporate investment strategies. Take, for example, the millennial and Gen Z demographics, which wield significant buying power and care about climate change. Companies capable of demonstrating they’re environmentally conscious by hosting or participating in sustainable events will be more likely to attract these highly sought-after purchasing groups, and this kind of marketing and sales power can, in turn, attract investment dollars.

Save Costs

Conserving energy, reducing waste, and sourcing locally can save costs. Event organizers can access venue packages at lower prices by choosing venues that have improved their climate control, lighting, and appliances (and therefore enjoy lower utility costs). Likewise, by reusing materials such as exhibitor booths instead of purchasing new ones and relying on digital event solutions for ticketing and paper materials, event organizers save on print and production costs and eliminate waste removal fees. By selecting local vendors such as caterers, event organizers can reduce delivery fees and the time and charges associated with set-up and tear-down.   

Enhance Brand Reputation

Environmentally friendly events can improve brand reputation. By hosting and promoting a sustainable conference, event planners appeal to eco-conscious attendees, keynote speakers, exhibitors, and entertainers who want to be associated with progressive experiences. There’s often no better way to increase registration, potentially engage press interest, and create brand “lift” than through a well-attended event with an enticing agenda of thought leaders.

That brand “lift” can translate into additional event revenue. Consider that successful branding enables premium pricing. Event attendees associate a strong brand with high quality and are more likely to pay a premium to attend the event. Furthermore, a great sustainable conference brand will connect emotionally with attendees, fostering loyalty, driving repeat event attendance, and increasing attendee lifetime value.

sustainability ebook

Sustainable Event Planning

We recommend our clients incorporate the following best practices and sustainable event ideas to meet the growing demand for sustainable conferences and reap the benefits of hosting sustainable experiences.

The Environment

  • Travel is usually the largest culprit behind carbon emissions. To address travel-related emissions, apps such as PURPOSE NET ZERO can be an excellent place to start. The technology easily integrates with event registration software, calculates each attendee’s travel-related impact, and allows attendees to offset their emissions.
  • Consider pivoting to a hybrid or virtual event format, automatically increasing your event’s accessibility while decreasing travel-related emissions. Note that hosting a hybrid or virtual event will also reduce materials’ travel emissions. Equally important, when attendees are experiencing an event virtually, the event host increases event revenue without incurring additional expenses such as venue, catering, swag, and more, potentially unlocking additional budget for sustainability initiatives. Alternately, event organizers can get creative and host smaller, regional, eco-friendly events rather than large global ones to reduce and/or eliminate the need for attendees to travel.  
  • Look for LEED-certified event venues that regularly compost and recycle. Including sustainability in RFPs can take the guesswork out of the selection process, and event organizers can also network with others in the industry to share notes about venues’ approaches to sustainability to identify those with more advanced strategies quickly.  In addition, don’t overlook the venue location. To reduce carbon emissions, choose places easily accessible using public transportation from airports and train stations.
  • Place water stations throughout the event venue and encourage attendees to bring water bottles.
  • Catering can be a great way to usher in sustainable practices. For example, serving fish rather than beef can reduce CO2. Note that locally sourced food means it is within 250 miles of the event. Identify caterers who are within this radius—and who compost. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to caterers about what’s possible. For example, can the catering company deliver all the food on ceramic platters and return to retrieve them?
  • Digitize the event experience to reduce paper and materials and minimize event-related waste. For example, a mobile app such as Eventory by 6Connex can eliminate printed agendas, brochures, venue maps, and collateral. In addition, it also does away with in-person registration and ticketing, instead placing all badges, business cards, drink tickets, etc., on attendees’ smartphones.    
  • When sourcing materials such as exhibit booths and décor, event organizers need to consider travel distance and their composition. Flowers, for example, often come to the U.S. from countries in Europe and South America, so while it may seem like flowers are an organic alternative to plastic décor, consider the 4,000 airline miles they may have journeyed. Viewed through this lens, opting for locally sourced plants and flowers is much better.

Note, when it comes to décor, we encourage 6Connex clients to think outside of the box. For example, local artists or students can be invited to display their works, eliminating waste and supporting the local community.

  • Another way to reduce emissions is to practice circular design in exhibit production. A simple audit of event materials will uncover opportunities to recycle and keep materials in circulation. Choose lightweight, reusable, and modular designs when new materials are necessary. Renting from existing exhibit vendor inventory and avoiding customization also decreases waste.
  • Decrease freight by using lighter materials and consolidating shipments as much as possible. Ask logistics providers about their use of fuel-efficient equipment and EVs and select carriers accordingly.

The Attendees

  • Communicate and lean on marketing to promote your event’s sustainability initiatives and help attendees feel involved. For example, give attendees tips to reduce their impact, such as taking a shorter shower or turning off lights in the hotel room. Leverage event technology, which makes direct communication with the attendees pre-event, in-event, and post-event easy. Including these sustainability themes in in-app messages can personalize the event experience and help attendees see their impact and understand they are part of something larger than just attending an event. Event organizers can also create a “sustainability” tab on the event website to spotlight a sustainability policy, provide information, link to resources, and more.
  • Leverage event technology to gamify eco-friendly event activities and allow attendees to amplify an event’s sustainability messages through social media integrations. For example, reward attendees with prizes for using public transportation, carpooling, posting selfies with a reusable water bottle, eating vegetarian meals, etc. Ensure your prizes are eco-friendly, such as reusable water bottles or gift cards to companies like Patagonia that promote climate-first agendas.  

The Community

  •  Partner with local vendors, small-business owners, Black, Indigenous, people of color, women, people with disabilities, and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community. 
  • Model ecotourism practices by looking for ways to connect your event to the local community. For example, provide local experiences, such as inviting attendees to eat at local restaurants and visit stores that sell locally made goods. Then, encourage attendees to share these experiences on social media, return to visit, and introduce the location to others.
  • Incorporate local volunteerism into the event by inviting attendees to participate in a volunteer effort or community fundraising event. Another idea is to increase awareness of the local community by inviting a speaker to present on a local topic.  
  • Support social causes by donating excess food and clothing-related swag to local charities.  
  • Invite local organizations to exhibit in the exhibit hall or sponsor the event at a reduced or free rate.

If you’re unsure where to start and your budget allows, consider hiring a sustainability consultant. These professionals can review your event from end to end and identify opportunities that align with all three pillars to incorporate sustainable practices. They’ll account for your financial and personnel resources and propose doable and measurable solutions, allowing you to institutionalize green practices and establish a baseline from which to improve. 

Focus on Metrics

When it comes to sustainability, the adage, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” is accurate, and an essential first step to improving sustainability in 2024 is understanding your event’s most significant impacts on emissions and establishing baselines. This will give you a clear roadmap of where and what to address to improve sustainability.

Keep in mind, too, that as you track sustainability metrics such as water, energy, heat, fuel, waste, food and beverage consumption, staff and attendee travel, etc., over time, you can start to tell a real story that lends credence to your event brand’s reputation, increasing the appeal of your event to exhibitors, sponsors, speakers, and attendees. 

Another reason to start tracking those sustainability metrics? Event organizers may soon have no choice. Under the SEC Climate Disclosure rule, publicly owned companies in the U.S. could be required to disclose their business-related carbon emissions, potentially including events. Therefore, it’s wise to put measurement and reporting practices into place now.

At 6Connex, we advise our clients not just to calculate traditional metrics such as carbon emissions, water usage, and waste but also to account for community-related metrics such as the number of volunteers the event brought into the community or the amount of food donated after an event. In addition, it’s important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” regarding eco-friendly event metrics and goal setting. For example, event organizers hosting a golf tournament might prioritize water usage, whereas event organizers hosting a large-scale trade show might prioritize travel or waste. 

If the budget allows, technology solutions are available to help event organizers measure the impact of event activities. For example, Circular Unity’s impactALL solution is designed specifically for events and accounts for all measurement standards (international, U.S., imperial, etc.). However, a lack of funds shouldn’t hinder establishing your baselines. Event organizers can also go online and find free calculators.

Event Organizers are Playing Offense in 2024

In 2024, event organizers are more comfortable improving sustainability at events than ever. And the good news is, they have more tools than ever at their disposal to make a positive impact. From emissions calculators to event technology, thoughtful organizations use the latest innovations to meet the growing demand for environmentally-friendly events.

Contact one of our experts today to learn how 6Connex can help you improve sustainability at events.

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