Megan Gell
Jun 7, 2019

Sustainable events: Reducing emissions in the long run

Events can use huge amounts of energy and leave a considerable carbon footprint. So what is the industry doing to offset that?

Venues such as Marina Bay Sands have wide-reaching sustainability practices
Venues such as Marina Bay Sands have wide-reaching sustainability practices

The promise of ISO 20121 in the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics was vast. But there haven’t been many champion events since and few have taken on the task of becoming ISO 20121 certified. There was a perception of it being too complex, but the standard provides helpful guidelines whether you’re looking to certify your event or not.

When MCI Group’s sustainability head Guy Bigwood resigned over the course of last year, it led to the Group rethinking its entire approach to sustainability. Group internal communications director Erica Fawer has taken over the sustainability mantle at MCI, along with group health and safety director Emmanuel Andre.

“We saw that we needed to change our strategy. It was always based on consulting and convincing clients to take sustainability on board into their events, but we felt that we were still waiting for our clients to ask us to integrate sustainability,” says Fawer.

“We decided to be much more systematic – we are integrating sustainability as best as we can within the scope of the project without impacting the budget or the wow effect of the event. We’re no longer ‘selling’ sustainability, we’re proactively integrating it into our ways of working.”

Venue stars

This approach of doing what you can, where you can is a good model for organisers too. Asia-Pacific is lucky to have some of the most highly regarded sustainable venues in the world. From Marina Bay Sands to the hundreds of EarthCheck-certified hotels, there are options in every city ready to help event organisers cut down on event emissions.

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), for example, achieved ISO 20121 certification in 2015. This means that sustainability is fully incorporated into the entire event management cycle from bookings to waste management. Its latest effort is a ‘Think Before Plastic ‘campaign.

HKCEC capitalises on its high footfall by promoting sustainable practices

Monica Lee-Müller, managing director of HKCEC management firm HML, says: “All of us – venue operators, event organisers, exhibitors, buyers, visitors, event attendees, dining guests – have a responsibility towards our environment. HML is striving to be at the forefront of a greener event industry, and one way we are doing this is by encouraging [people] to think before using disposable plastic items.”

So far the centre has eliminated plastic straws and plastic water bottles, instead providing free filtered water fountains throughout the venue. It estimates it will cut the use of 1.6 million pieces of plastic cutlery within 12 months, and has used eat-in meal discounts to reduce the number of plastic-stored takeaway meals eaten by contractors by almost 50% - some 6,394 meals since November 2018.  

Talk – and listen

Events shouldn’t be afraid to foreground their sustainable commitments, in fact, integrating sustainability into your communications and elements of your programme, can often inspire event partners, suppliers and participants to make more sustainable choices.

Getting the word out, or even just getting the conversation started, can really impact emissions reductions long after everyone goes home. To get the conversation going, Fawer recommends using something innovative to draw people in, and building from that. She also expects the conversation is likely going to get easier. “Everybody is getting ready for the millennials, there’s a new generation coming with new expectations. Potentially they will challenge us a bit more.” 

Event in focus: Sibos 2018

For Sibos 2018, MCI was the partner agency for ground logistics – transportation, temporary staffing and the social programme.

ICC Sydney does a lot around sustainability, and its practices were shared with all exhibitors, partners and agencies working on the conference. Exhibitors were invited to donate leftover materials to a local charity or community group, while 855kg of unused food was collected by OzHarvest – the equivalent of 2,564 meals for families. The use of glass water pitchers meant 15,200 water bottles were saved, and organic waste produced 1,120 tonnes of fertiliser.

As ICC Sydney is well-located and most of the hotels were within walking distance, we were able to drastically reduce the amount of transportation to and from the conference and delegates also benefitted from a free ferry transfer instead of using coaches.

Sibos organiser, SWIFT, asks all its partners to integrate sustainability into their practices too. For MCI Australia, this included using local caterers known for their farm-to-table food ethos; offering authentic Australian entertainment options using Australia’s rich indigenous heritage; and that all gifts were sourced locally and showcased local artists. Décor was also sourced locally and all flower arrangements used local, seasonal flowers and plants.

To offset the CO2 footprint generated by delegates travelling to Sydney, Sibos partnered with WeForest on a tree planting campaign to develop forests, often described as the most effective way to cool our planet. As a result, 130,000 trees will be planted, 156 hectares of forest restored and 30 KT CO2 captured over a 20-year period.

By Erica Fawer, group internal communications director and sustainability lead, MCI Group


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