Event sustainability is here – how you can take the green leap

The race to net zero in the event industry is on. If there was any doubt, even the 2024 Olympics in Paris have set an ambitious goal of becoming the greenest games ever. As organisations of all sizes come under increasing pressure to meet their internal environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, a commitment to carbon-neutral events is fast becoming non-negotiable.

“This shift represents a major challenge for the events industry, which must step up its efforts to ensure that sustainability principles are firmly embedded in all aspects of event planning and execution,” says Simone Seiler, General Manager of FCM Meetings and Events.

“Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate travel brands have already committed to helping their clients incorporate their sustainability goals into their business travel programs, so when it came to hosting our own event, Illuminate 2022, we knew we had to take significant steps to minimise our carbon footprint. It's a win-win for delegates, for our eco-centric goals, and for aligning with the event's motto: Bigger, Better, Stronger," says Seiler.

Tackling the impact of air travel and carbon emissions

According to Net0.com, transportation accounts for 29% of emissions generated by events and conferences, which makes flying to events a significant factor.

"Illuminate is a hybrid event, which already reduces its environmental impact, but we wanted to do more," says Seiler. "That led us to select Etihad Airways as our sustainability partner for Illuminate 2022. Etihad Airways was named the 2022 Environmental Airline of the Year by Airline Ratings. The carrier is leading a strategic global sustainability program to tackle aviation decarbonisation, which includes the development of sustainable aviation fuels, research and testing of innovative technologies to ensure its aircraft are as fuel efficient as possible. The goal is to achieve net zero by 2050."

Their sustainability initiatives have resulted in a tangible difference in the CO2 emissions of an Etihad flight compared to the average emissions of other airlines serving the same or similar routes.

Etihad recently launched its Corporate Conscious Choices sustainability program, designed specifically for organisations committed to reducing emissions and operating sustainably. The program includes rewards and incentives designed to proactively support pro-environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives and employee behaviour. The program has applications for the events industry, which provide benefits across three core sustainability pillars: SAF Investment, Green Surcharges and Etihad Guest Miles.

Four ways to plan a greener event

The partnership with Etihad Airways is a clear example of how partnering with like-minded suppliers can help you reduce the carbon footprint of an event.

Events and conferences generate significant greenhouse gas emissions – and large amounts of waste. There are, however, practical and simple steps you can take to make your event more sustainable.

Seiler has the following advice:

1. Support carbon offset programs

You’ll have heard the call to reduce, reuse and offset, and carbon offsetting is becoming increasingly important in the events industry.   

"We are thrilled that FCTG has paid to offset the carbon impact of our event through EcoAustralia, which works to reduce global emissions and restore native vegetation in Australia," says Seiler. “It is just one of South Pole’s accredited carbon offsetting projects, and a brilliant way organisations can take immediate action to address their greenhouse emissions.”

2. Make your events plastic-free

If containers are unavoidable, opt for recyclable materials and look for reusable or biodegradable cups or packaging. This saves resources and reduces the burden on recycling systems.

"Illuminate 2022 has eliminated the use of any plastic items at the event, including water bottles, takeaway coffee cups, cutlery or food and beverage packaging. We’ll also provide refill stations for water bottles and encourage guests to bring their own bottles, and our name tags and lanyards are also recyclable," Seiler says.

3. Implement sustainable printing policies

You can help reduce environmental waste by choosing to showcase your brand on recyclable material instead of paper – or, better yet, by going digital. “We encourage our sponsors and brands to follow our lead by using digital options to provide information and collateral at Illuminate," says Seiler.

4. Make it easy to recycle

Don't just provide recyclable bins at your event; make sure they are well labelled and placed in the right areas. "You need to get buy-in and participation from delegates. We’re doing so by proactively promoting our goal of minimising the event's carbon footprint – and asking our guests to help us do just that," concludes Seiler.

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