Over the last few years, the term ‘sustainable events’ has been thrown about far and wide, with a lot of people assuming it just means environmentally-speaking. But sustainable event planning is much, much more than that. Find out all about the other aspects, and how you can implement them into your thinking, below.
What are sustainable events?
There are two main definitions to the word ‘sustainable’.
– Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level
– Able to be upheld or defended
In terms of the first meaning, this is more commonly what we mean when we talk about the environmental impact of events – conserving natural resources to maintain a balance.
When we look at the second meaning, however, it holds a number of other factors to consider. Ask yourself these key questions:
How many of your recent events were fully accessible to the broad spectrum of society? Were your choices made consciously to enable people with disabilities (seen and unseen) to feel fully welcome? This doesn’t just apply to in-person events either; virtual and hybrid events still require consideration of how accessible they are to delegates.
How inclusive were your recent events? Did you look to balance representation of a range of voices and faces in your speakers and delegates?
Did you consider the cultural or religious requirements of delegates? What about the time pressures of caregivers or working parents?
If you answered any of those with a sense of lacking, then that’s something to think about going forward.
Why sustainability in events matters
The benefits of sustainable events are not just about a box-ticking exercise to make you look good. They’re not just about one-off choices, either. They need to be a conscious change, from a serious desire to make a difference in the way we interact with each other and the planet.
A happy by-product is, however, the effect on your costs and business performance.
By making certain choices, you can not only save money but improve the quality of your event.
Think back to the middle of 2020 when traffic was at a standstill. Face-to-face switched to hands, face, space. Leveraging technology, the switch to virtual events was vital for businesses to continue operating as close to normality as possible – and, for many, to survive.
Fast-forward two years, and despite the return to offices for many, the realisation that flexible and hybrid working is highly effective for staff wellbeing (and, therefore, retention) has meant that virtual and hybrid events still hold a crucial place in businesses.
Anna Whitehouse, the journalist, broadcaster and author, partnered with Sir Robert McAlpine to deliver their ‘Flexonomics’ report in Nov. 2021. It revealed that, at the time, the economic contribution of flexible working was a staggering £37 billion. On top of that, it forecasted that with a 50% increase of flexible working rates, there could be a £55 billion result in net economic gain, as well as 51,200 newly created jobs.
As of April 2022, data gathered by CIPD in their report ‘An update on flexible and hybrid working practices’ showed that 51% of employees say they have flexible working arrangements. When it comes to the key benefits of shifting to increased homeworking or hybrid working, respondents point to: improved work–life balance (69%), improved employee satisfaction (48%), improved business flexibility and improved employee wellbeing (41%).
So, it’s crucial to provide events which open the door to all manner of working arrangements, without hindering engagement and impact.
By opting for a virtual or hybrid event, you can do just that.
The benefits of virtual and hybrid events
Virtual and hybrid events are flexible and accessible for a large audience. Take your event online, and you can span timezones. This means you can open it up to speakers and delegates from around the world, elevating representation from a range of voices and faces.
With the cost of living crisis meaning a tightening of budgets, online events are a way of recession-proofing your business. It’s easier to justify business expenses when you don’t have the added cost of catering, venue hire, a larger support staff, printing, suppliers, deliveries and so on.
And, of course, going virtual or hybrid means sustainable events from an environmental perspective too. You don’t have the same production of physical items, amount of transportation being used, or wastage of leftover items – all reducing your carbon footprint.
How to make an event sustainable
First off, sustainable events are planned long before you know who’s coming. In order to make an event truly sustainable, you need to factor aspects into your planning from the very start. That way, it opens up the event to a range of people who might otherwise be less likely to attend.
If potential delegates and speakers see resonating elements in place in the promotion of the event, it’ll be something that captures their attention and makes them want to be a part of it.
Think back to those questions at the start.
In terms of accessibility, how can you ensure people with seen and unseen disabilities feel provided for?
If it’s a face-to-face event, consider entrances and exits, ramps, provision and location of accessible lavatories, hearing loop systems, sign language interpreters, and the use of displays, sound and lighting in a way that is sensitive to sensory overload and vision or hearing impaired participants.
You could even provide a designated quiet room where the event is streamed. This could be somewhere that neurodivergent participants go to avoid sensory overload. Equally, this doesn’t have to only apply to people with disabilities. It could be somewhere that participants who are breastfeeding can go to express without missing any key information.
Accessibility for virtual and hybrid events also requires consideration. Is the software or hosting platform you’ve chosen easy to use and visually accessible? Is there the option to use captioning whilst your keynote speakers are presenting?
How can you ensure your events are inclusive?
As mentioned above, opening up a virtual or hybrid event across timezones means you can attract a much wider audience, so you’ll hear from a much wider range of perspectives. This is vital for boosting representation across sectors.
Consider your keynote speakers. Although you obviously don’t want to choose someone purely to pay lip-service to DEI, consciously including experts from a number of groups or backgrounds will again break down barriers and open up discussions to have more than one narrative being heard. The more people see a range of speakers, the more it will open doors and inspire ambitions, meaning we will benefit from a much richer society of varied experiences. Ultimately, this means a much stronger workforce of wider talent, and a boost to the economy.
How can you consider the cultural or religious requirements, or time pressures of delegates?
Often, in a Western workplace, the provision of food and drinks can be limited to dietary needs rather than cultural ones. Alongside the vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free options, add some halal and kosher choices, for example.
Think about the way you’re promoting the event. Is it highlighting free drinks or a ‘bubbly’ reception? Consider the fact that that may make it awkward or uncomfortable for people from certain cultural or religious backgrounds (or, indeed, just tee-totallers in general). Perhaps downplay that emphasis, and instead choose to focus on networking or personal development as the bigger bonus of that part of the event.
For an in-person event, can you provide a quiet space where participants who need to pray can break away for a short time?
Consider the timing of the event. If it’s straight after typical office hours, or during peak school run timings, or even later on at night, that could close it off to parents and people who are culturally expected to be at home during that time frame.
Of course, a virtual or hybrid event would get around a lot of those aspects in a way that would be inclusive to all members of your team, or a wide range of participants if open to the public.
Sustainable from the start
Overall, creating sustainable events is all in the planning. The more you consider what would be beneficial and welcoming to participants from varying backgrounds, the more you’re likely to have a successful, impactful, fully inclusive event.
That’s why The Events Hub always works to certain sustainable events standards, so as to advise on areas you may not have thought of. We’re firmly committed to the NetZero Carbon Events Initiative, so we suggest circular economies and waste reduction methods for all of our face-to-face events. And we regularly advocate virtual and hybrid events as a means to scale and grow your business or organisation.
All of this makes your event affordable, accessible, inclusive, sustainable – and, ultimately, futureproof.
Want to find out more about how we can help you plan the perfect sustainable event? Get in touch here.
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