The Game of Sustainable Event Planning

Author: Jasmine Zhu       


Attendees participating in the “Redesigning Event Management for Sustainability” session during the Sustainable Brands 2018 conference.

Picture this — several groups of meeting planners, all scrambling to arrange a deck of cards into piles as the clock ticks down. It may sound like a game show about planning events, but is instead a practical exercise for simplifying group decision making.

Yalmaz Siddiqui, vice president of sustainability at MGM Resorts introduced the exercise — a prototype card game developed by MGM Resorts — at the “Redesigning Event Management for Sustainability” session in Vancouver Convention Centre during the Sustainable Brands 2018 conference, an event which has a mission focusing on embedding social and environmental purpose into meetings.

During the session, attendees were divided into groups of three and handed a deck of cards and a rubber band. Their challenge? To decide which cards in four categories —venue/space, food and beverage, décor and signage, and outreach/education — were necessary for an event they might plan in the future. Attendees stacked the cards into three piles — “Yes,”  “No,” and “Maybe.”  After they had gone through the first card-sorting exercise, they turned to the cards in the “Maybe” pile for further deliberation before sending them on to the “Yes” or “No” stacks.

The cards also included codes for potential cost impact, which attendees also factored in during the exercise. For example, supporting charities with onsite or offsite volunteer activities (which fell under the outreach/education umbrella) had a marker that identified that as incurring a potentially higher cost. The other three markers included a likely no-cost impact; potentially lower costs; costs may go up/down; and potentially higher costs. The cost impact codes were used by attendees to keep their hypothetical events within budgets they’d usually had for similar events they’ve planned in the past.

For some of the groups, cards also were eliminated based on what they knew about their clients’ priorities. But narrowing down the “Yes” pile proved tricky for others, whose rubber-banded “Yes” pile soon exceeded half the deck.

After about 25 minutes, the groups came together and shared their findings while Siddiqui jotted down notes for future tweaks to the deck.

The ‘Aha’ Moment

Participants noted that the AV category was missing from the deck, along with a few other meeting elements. But the card game had the desired effect of sparking discussion— players debated the sustainability pros and cons of using porcelain dishes versus compostable plates. “It depends on breakage,” Siddiqui said, “but if china is used [at least] 50 times it’s more sustainable [than compostable plates].”

The exercise wasn’t perfect — but what experiment is? Watching the card game inspire attendees to brainstorm and engage in spirited debate, was enough to make me declare it a winner.

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