Why Future Event Planning Will Include Sustainability by Design

This year, PCMA created a standalone full-time position for the first time: head of global sustainability, recently filled by Carolina Goradesky. Convene spoke with her about debunking sustainability misconceptions, and how to move from fear into action.

Author: Magdalina Atanassova       

4 women smiling

One of Carolina Goradesky’s first assignments as PCMA’s new head of sustainability was taking part in a sustainability session at PCMA EduCon 2023. Samantha Veneruso, director of learning programs at the American Geophysical Union (from left); Goradesky; and Lauren Parr, SVP, meetings and learning at AGU, were introduced by Joni Opperman, Hilton Worldwide Sales.

The climate-change struggles faced by indigenous communities around the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal wetland were impossible for Carolina Goradesky, who grew up in Brazil, to ignore. When she began her architecture studies in early 2000, ecology and environmentally friendly construction became important conversations she had with her peers, providing her with additional concrete examples of the realities — and need to mitigate the effects — of climate change.

Recognizing that the world of architecture was not the right place for her, between 2009 and 2011, Goradesky collaborated with several teams to design indoor and outdoor events in both Brazil and Belgium. The pull of the industry and the fact that she spent more time in Belgium led her to accept a full-time position with the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology, where she took on the role of a project manager and then congress manager. Since then, Belgium-based Goradesky has stayed within the events industry, intentionally seeking positions that made sustainability an integral part of her responsibilities, continuously upskilling and leading new initiatives. Most recently, she served as conference programmes manager for WindEurope. It was not by coincidence that she now heads up global sustainability for PCMA, she said — “it was a strategic decision.”

Proving the Value and Impact of Events

At the current point of climate change, one can argue that everything human beings do must be a strategic decision. For event planners operating in an industry that leaves a large environmental footprint, this is especially true. Goradesky believes that event professionals “need to change the vocabulary to change their understanding” of the problem and consequently the solutions that will resolve that problem.

“How do we prove the value — at the same time that we prove the impact — of events?” she asked. If planners are clear and transparent on the real value of their events, she said, sustainability will be woven into their fabric. Once in-person events were canceled during the pandemic, some questioned whether environmentally conscious delegates would eliminate in-person events from their calendars. But Goradesky said pivoting to virtual-only is not the answer for planners who understand the actual value of their meeting and its beneficial impact on society.

Sustainability by Design

“The biggest pivot to truly change the script on sustainability in the industry would be to adopt sustainability by design,” Goradesky said. This means that sustainability is ingrained from the start and well-integrated into procurement, budgeting, and partnerships. She thinks this is the only way for event planners to avoid sustainability actions being hindered by budget constraints or seen only as expenses when added later in the process or by relying too heavily on suppliers.

Scale is important for this concept to become a norm. That’s why Goradesky emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to sustainability in events that prioritizes global impact and systemic change — “the industry needs to rethink business models,” she said. She highlighted the recent white paper published by Strategic Alliance of the National Convention Bureaux of Europe (SANCBE) as well as Destination Canada’s roadmap as positive examples utilizing scale. Both initiatives are top-down mandates that aim to help venues, hotels, and event organizers consider sustainability from the start of planning.

Goradesky cautioned against oversimplifying sustainability efforts, such as creating more of the same (think familiar checklists), and suggested creating intentional programs that align with the specific goals of each organization. Making sustainability by design a global practice will be challenging, she said, and curiosity and open communication will be critical in making progress.

But she’s optimistic, encouraged by seeing “a lot of committed people in the world” working on the climate crisis. She sees a future where companies make sustainability part of their organizational fabric, creating a clear narrative and roadmap, and striking the right partnerships to deliver on those strategies. She emphasized the need to find the right platforms for dialogue and exchange and to tailor “sustainability efforts to different regions and countries,” she said, “rather than relying on the same approach everywhere.”

Goradesky has begun her new role at PCMA by working to understand the current state of the association and overall industry. Next on her agenda: Analyze the needs of each region in order to identify potential collaborators. She also aims to expand the platforms for exchanging ideas and will continue to explore how the events industry can adopt solutions from other sectors.

Magdalina Atanassova is digital media editor at Convene.

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