A Sea Change for Event Sustainability

Five years ago, a majority of planners weren’t particularly interested in sustainability efforts at special events at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Lately, there’s been a big shift.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Monterey Bay Aquarium shares a customized sustainability report with clients who have events at the venue. Individual reports are based on the exact number of people in attendance.

John Abrahamson has worked for five years as vice president of sales for Monterey Bay Aquarium, where integrating sustainability into corporate and educational programs is part of his job. At first, “it was a battle,” he told Convene. “I would find three-quarters of the event planners didn’t care about sustainable efforts and events. It’s not that they were against it. They just didn’t care all that much.” But recently, there has been a — pardon the pun — sea change, Abrahamson added. “I think people are extremely appreciative of all of the efforts that we put in.”

As part of a campaign to rid the aquarium of single-use plastic, virtually all plastic packaging has been eliminated from the café and catering services, as well as the plastic cellophane that once came with linen deliveries. The venue’s catering operations sources eight main agricultural products within 90 miles of Monterey and purchases locally produced wine and beer. More recently, tables without linens have become the default choice for special events, and rechargeable candles have replaced wax candles.


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The Monterey Bay Aquarium became a certified carbon-neutral organization in 2017, offsetting its direct and indirect carbon emissions, including the commutes of staff members and volunteers. It also offsets the emissions generated by the travel and hotel stays made by event participants, Abrahamson said.

After every event, organizers receive a sustainability report, which calculates the amount of reduced emissions and waste based on the exact number of attendees, measuring the positive impact of the venue’s responsible sourcing, waste reduction, and composting and recycling programs. The report is intended not only as a record for organizers’ CSR efforts, Abrahamson said, “but we hope they take a copy of that for the next venue and say, ‘Hey, do you all have something like this?’”

John Abrahamson outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

‘I think people are extremely appreciative of all of the [sustainability] efforts that we put in,” said John Abrahamson, vice president of sales for Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.