Redefining Event Success in the Age of Environmental Awareness

October 23, 2017

Ryan Green

Ryan Green has worked in the events industry for the past seven years, specializing in event sustainability, including work as a GMIC chapter president and as a project manager for an APEX/ASTM certified venue. His mission is to help planners reduce their impacts by implementing metrics-based reduction strategies modeled after corporate sustainability programs.

Meetings and events (MICE) are a part of everyday life around the world and are vital to how we conduct business in the 21st century.

The Convention Industry Council (CIC) defines an event as a gathering of 50 or more people for more than four hours. According to the CIC, there were over 1.8 million events in the U.S. in 2012 alone, including more than 10,000 trade shows.

In the recent CVent Industry Benchmarking Report, event planners stated that the top three challenges of managing an event were budgeting, ROI and event promotions. Planners also stated that the top two ways to measure ROI were overall attendance and attendee satisfaction.

While events are hosted for a variety of reasons, the focus for many planners often turns to increasing attendance, resulting in the original event’s objectives being overshadowed.

In the name of higher attendance, planners will host events in exotic locations, provide amazing tours and throw lavish parties in an attempt to create an amazing event experience that drives traffic.

Exhibitors then continue this mentality by building eye-catching structures, using vibrant graphics, having celebrity appearances and anything else that will drive traffic to a booth.

When events go "green," initiatives typically come in two forms: experience-based programs like reusable water bottles, wellness elements, organic foods, CSR activities, 5K runs and recycling programs, or for the serious green planners, an operational guide like ISO 20121 or the APEX/ASTM standards.

While all of these initiatives are important and raise awareness, going green is rarely considered part of an event's core success and initiatives are thought of as "added features" that usually add more work to the operations team and more cost to the budget.

While these options and program choices are beneficial, this system explains why only a fraction of events actually go "green."

The industry has gotten so wrapped up in the "experience" that we have completely lost track of what we should be doing. Event planning is listed as the fifth most stressful job in the country, planners are concerned about budgets and ROIs, only a fraction of events go "green," there is no clear definition of success and we are producing mountains of waste and unknown amounts of CO2 emissions – all in the pursuit of the "experience."

The days of the free-for-all where planners can design anything with no sense of impact needs to end. Rather than designing events to "wow" attendees and outshine competitors, planners should design events to showcase products, facilitate commerce and share information.

The "anything goes" mentality needs to be replaced with responsibility, a sense of efficiency, a sense of success and a way to measure the environmental impacts of an event compared to the achievement of your goals – in essence, to redefine the definition of ROI for your event.

Sustainability should make a planner’s life easier, not harder, and planners need to apply sustainable practices similar to the corporate world where the focus is on the efficient use of materials, optimizing spaces and identifying cost-saving opportunities.

We need to understand the efficiency of our designs, understand and optimize supply chains, minimize waste generation, isolate each event space and lastly, isolate planners’ decisions from exhibitors so we can identify who is truly responsible for environmental impacts.

Event planners have a responsibility to facilitate events in a way that protects our environment while promoting business. Once we end the "experience" based mindset, stop treating “green” as an add-on, isolate planners' decisions, track everything and redefine success based on the objectives of the event, then we will have the needed framework to host truly “sustainable” events for decades to come.

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