On the eve of the annual global event reminding the world of the importance of protecting our fragile planet, Canada-based The Sustainable Events Forum (TSEF) hosted an online celebration, the 4th Annual Earth Day for Event People, on April 21. The purpose was to express gratitude for the planet and the community while aligning with TSEF’s four pillars: education, inspiration, collaboration, and action. Organized by a team of volunteers, the Earth Day for Event People celebration was designed to spark change by taking a light-hearted rather than heavy-handed approach to sustainability.
To kick off the celebration, TSEF cofounder Natalie Lowe joked about event professionals always being early, hence the pre-Earth Day timing. The 4th Annual Earth Day was a blend of environmental humor (check out this video from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that was played during the event) and practical tips from industry leaders.
Jamie Kaminski, a Zero Waste Canada lead policy advisor, shared how to “think upstream” to preserve materials or donate buffet food. “Don’t just compost it. If humans can eat it, get it out there,” he said. Melissa Radu, director of social and environmental sustainability at Explore Edmonton, challenged event planners to choose the right vendors and adopt a holistic procurement philosophy, with questions such as, “What can we reuse or rethink?” and “What happens to materials after use?”
Such ideas helped participants create sustainability pledges and attendees were further incentivized by the organizers to share theirs in the lively chat for the chance to win the book, The Bold Ones: Innovate and Disrupt to Become Truly Indispensable, by Shawn Kanungo. The winning pledge, chosen by the online moderator, Hannah Pattison, was written by Corinne Lopez, who aspires to build a tiny, off-the-grid home in Guam.
Participants were encouraged to keep posting their ideas in the chat: Emcee Mike Arsenault discussed with Lowe throughout the event how one bold action can inspire others — even in texts. The pledges included Debbie van der Beek’s wish to keep the money that would be invested in giveaways and reinvest it towards offsetting instead. Marie Zimmerman at Hillside Festival pledged to keep her event carbon neutral, and Shawna McKinley wrote, “I pledge to contact my MP about sustainable aviation strategies and taking stronger action.”
The industry has made considerable strides since the first edition of Earth Day for Event People, Lowe said. But more work is needed. Claire Osborne, a U.K.-based sustainability specialist coach, urged industry peers to transform fear and uncertainty over climate change into creativity, empathy, and curiosity. She encouraged them to have empathy for themselves first, and then with those who need to hear repeated messages to be motivated to act with more of a sustainable mindset. Osborne — who spoke via a pre-recorded video since she was attending an environmental protest in London on the day of the event — reminded audience members to use their skills and celebrate Earth Day with gratitude instead of using empty corporate slogans.
Virtually participating in an Earth Day event that chose celebration as a focus was invigorating rather than depressing. Judging from the chat, the lively approach organizers took left everyone feeling inspired — grateful for what we have and what we already are doing so that we are able to enroll others to join us to do more.
Magdalina Atanassova is digital media editor at Convene.