Why sustainable event management is essential to success in today’s meetings and conference industry

Making events sustainable has become essential for success in today’s meetings and conference industry. Sustainability grows increasingly more important as an evaluation criterion for meeting planners, and venues are often asked about their implementation of specific green initiatives as part of a bid. Venues are finding that initiating sustainable practices is as good for the bottom line as it is for the planet.

In fact, a survey by the Natural Marketing Institute reported that 58 percent of U.S. consumers consider a company’s impact on the environment when making purchase decisions, and are more likely to do business with those that follow sustainable practices.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

One way in which the events industry is beginning to take responsibility is by adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

There are 17 goals in total, which consider issues ranging from clean energy to gender equality and education to responsible consumption. The goals provide a clear view of what is required universally to make an impact, and can be used as a guiding light to the meetings and events industry as to what to strive towards.

IACC member venue Sigtunahöjden in Sweden have implemented the goals across the company to ensure they are always aiming high when it comes to sustainability. They regard contributing to a sustainable planet ‘more of a necessity than a choice’ and that ‘together we will succeed in creating the smallest possible impact but the largest possible imprint for the future’. One of the ways in which Sigtunahöjden have made the implementation of the SDGs more manageable is to decide upon their primary and secondary goals. Their primary goals consist of Decent work and economic growth, Life on land and Partnerships for the goals, and their secondary goals are Reduced inequalities, Sustainable consumption and production, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and Peace, justice and strong institutions. To read more about how Sigtunahöjden are putting these goals into action, click here.

How IACC are setting sustainability standards

With the help of the SDGs, the meetings and conference industry grew leaps and bounds in 2019, moving towards creating not just sustainable, but carbon neutral events. Here at IACC, in the last year we have strived for excellence in sustainable practices – and the hard work paid off. In October we achieved Gold status for the Events Industry Council’s Sustainable Events Standards while at the Europe Knowledge Festival in Brussels. 

IACC’s CEO, Mark Cooper says: ”For 6 months, a volunteer team comprising of the conference venue staff, industry consultants and suppliers, were led by IACC’s Green Star Manager Kate Bacon. I am thrilled for all involved to see IACC attain Gold status and more importantly for all of our attendees to experience a sustainable conference!”

We also had the pleasure of speaking at the UN conference in Madrid on behalf of the global events and meetings industry. The session was titled ‘Bringing People Together for Climate: The Role of the Events Industry’ and involved an opening session by Mariela McIllwraith of the Events Industry Council, followed by words from IACC’s Mark Cooper as well as Yalmaz Siddiqui from MGM. It was an honour to present at such an event and stand behind the UN’s message that it is #TimeForAction against climate change.

Implementing eco-friendly initiatives

In addition to doing what’s right for the environment, venues that initiate sustainability programs gain three-fold benefits: environmental, social and economic.

Environmental benefits range from reducing the venue’s carbon footprint to creating a better work environment to improving the air and water quality of the property and the surrounding community.

Social benefits include better employee health and well-being; improved image in the local community; becoming a positive contributor to the sustainability of the planet; and improving the quality of life for future generations. Another benefit is attracting high-quality employees and increased employee retention, particularly among those under 40. 

Economic benefits are increased productivity; cost savings in energy, water and supplies; attracting new business and building greater customer loyalty (planners are searching for venues that have certifications or sustainable programs); improved risk management and safety and the opportunity to collaborate with other innovative companies.

Image courtesy of Sigtunahöjden

Sustainable doesn’t mean boring

Sustainable practices are more accessible than ever. “The focus on sustainability is growing and the market is changing. This makes it a lot easier to obtain green products and resources today than just a few years ago,” said Lotta Boman, CEO, Sigtunahöjden Konferens and Hotell AB, Stockholm.

“Being sustainable is not boring,” she added. “It can enrich the delegate experience, and motivate the team and give them all a sense of pride. We can see that people choose us because of our sustainable profile.”

There are many ways in which a venue’s sustainability can enhance its uniqueness, sense of character and social responsibility. James Parkinson of De Vere shared how the group’s environmental initiatives have led to many interesting projects that excite guests and engage with the local community. James says: ‘Our Estate Management team champion biodiversity and conservation and is led by Justin Turner, who has previous experience from roles at the RHS and Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. We have invasive species management, carbon offsetting and tree planting programmes. And with properties featuring kitchen and herb gardens, bug hotels, bee keeping and even an arboretum, it’s a responsibility that’s close to our hearts and an opportunity to engage local schools to learn about biodiversity.’

De Vere Cotswold Water Park

How to create a more sustainable venue

Some other green steps IACC encourages include:

  • Replace traditional flip charts using paper, with electronic flip charts.
  • Use recyclable or reusable signage and name tags for conference groups.
  • Replace bottled water with refillable bottles or containers that are refilled on-site.
  • Use biodegradable/recyclable containers or install bulk dispensers for soaps, shampoos and creams in bathrooms.
  • Install reduced water flow faucets and toilets.
  • Use energy efficient washers and dryers to reduce water usage, fill to recommended capacity and wash in the coolest temperature possible.
  • Incorporate water-saving landscaping by planting drought-resistant plants, trees, shrubs and/or native landscaping to keep watering to a minimum.
  • Ask suppliers to source products with little or no packaging, purchase in bulk to reduce packaging or to take back packaging for recycling or reuse. 
  • Replace hazardous materials, pesticides and herbicides with more environmentally friendly products and solutions.
  • Inspect all doors and windows for proper seals and maintain properly to prevent heating and cooling loss. Undergo energy audits with a plan to implement recommendations and reduce carbon footprint.
  • Use alternative energy sources when possible (solar, wind, geo-thermal, or hydro) and consider hybrid, bio-fuel or electric vehicle options when purchasing company vehicles. 
  • Implement a “No Idle Policy” that requires all vehicle operators, delivery trucks, shuttles, etc. to turn off their engines prior to leaving their vehicles.
  • Purchase food and beverage supplies locally wherever feasible to avoid long-distance transportation, and source local produce in season with menu selections that take advantage of local growing seasons. Serve fish from sustainable fishing lists.
  • Avoid using disposable food and beverage service wares whenever possible, and use corn or potato-based compostable plates, cups and cutlery when reusable isn’t possible.
  • Reduce the impact of your cleaning chemicals by only using products that are naturally sourced and produced from plant, microbial and enzymes, manufactured as locally as possible, biodegradable and phosphate free, and packaged in recycled plastic.
  • Develop carbon offsetting programmes such as tree planting, kitchen and herb gardens, bug hotels or bee keeping.

Using environmentally friendly landscaping like gravel and native plants reduces water usage – Highgate House in Northamptonshire, UK.

A final word from Mariela McIllwraith

To close off, we’ll finish with a few words from Mariela McIllwraith of the Events Industry Council on how you can take your next steps in making a more sustainable meetings and events industry.


‘Throughout history, when society has faced challenges, we’ve turned to the power of events to find solutions, foster collaboration and ensure accountability. As an industry, we can contribute to a sustainable future by first applying event design excellence to ensure that when we meet, we do change the world. We also need to apply responsible practices in how we deliver our events, to manage our impact on the environment, and improve our social impact on our event stakeholders and the communities where we meet. The new EIC Centre for Sustainable Events http://www.eventscouncil.org/cse has online resources to help you get started with this, including standards, webinars, a certificate programme, research and guidance.’

Interested in becoming a IACC venue and attaining the IACC Green Star sustainability certification? Join IACC or find out more about Green Star certification.


IACC Green Star Certification IACC Green Star Certification

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