In 2018, only around one out of 10 business event professionals responding to a Convene survey said that they bake sustainability into their planning process from the start, making sustainability clauses part of their RFPs — and more than one-third said that they didn’t source or design their event with an environmental lens at all.
Has the pandemic pause on physical events — and studies that indicate that consumers are now expecting brands to behave in more eco-friendly ways — made planners more likely to prioritize sustainability?
That’s the question I asked Courtney Lohmann, CMP, last week, after she had finished presenting “The Strategy of Purpose: A Holistic CSR Approach.” The PCMA session was part of Destination Showcase, held on March 25, which capped the inaugural Business Events Industry Week at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor, Maryland.
Lohmann, the senior director of corporate social responsibility at event management firm PRA, acknowledged that “this is a hard moment to get [sustainability] done.” She said in-person events are coming back “fast and furious” but staffing shortages at venues, among suppliers, and the organizations putting on events themselves, make it more challenging to make sustainability a top priority.
If “nothing else,” Lohmann said she is happy to see that the pandemic has led to the return of QR codes, enabling event participants to download programs and materials rather than host organizations printing them out on paper.
And doing at least one thing that is environmentally friendly is better than nothing, she said. But as she stressed in her session, “If we let our current reality define our future reality, we’ll end up creating the same things over and over again.”
Lohmann presented a three-phase approach to creating sustainable events, using the design-thinking process:
Discover — identify sustainability initiatives
Design — incorporate throughout the event strategy
Activate — implement, advocate, and measure
She showed how to overlay eco-friendly initiatives when plotting moments on participants’ in-person event journey, from registration to departure. It’s important to get venues, CVBs, and DMCs in host destinations involved, she said, as they are experts in their markets. Ask them to recommend sustainable suppliers, local venues and restaurants that are giving back to the community, local gifting partners that offer a social/community impact component, and meaningful CSR or teambuilding activities.
Lohmann also said to look internally: Empower a CSR advocate on the event team who will look at everything through the lens of sustainability. And be sure to engage attendees, explaining why you are implementing certain initiatives and the positive impact they will have on the environment throughout your messaging, and inviting them to actively participate in making the event more sustainable in real-time and for future events in post-event surveys. “The more you engage your attendee,” Lohmann said, “the stronger your impact will be.”