Meeting the UN's target of Net Zero emissions by 2050 requires drastic changes in the way we deliver events. Fortunately, the industry is moving towards greener solutions, but it's key that eventprofs understand how to set and measure targets for events.
In 2022, isla, the sustainability body for the events industry, released a tool called TRACE, which helps eventprofs to record and represent the data around event emissions. We spoke to them to discuss how eventprofs can set, measure, and report on their sustainable objectives to help move the industry in the right direction.
Below they've shared guidance on everything from initial target-setting, to adjusting your goals, as well as resources to help planners at any stage of their sustainability journey.
What are sustainable objectives and why are they important?
Sustainable objectives are targets that organisations set to measure and reduce their emissions, from capping energy and water use to a certain level, to cutting down on single-use materials. Once a business has these objectives in place, it becomes easier to quantify reductions of emissions and waste, and helps hold organisations to their commitments.
Setting actionable sustainable objectives
Whether you're planning in-house events, or delivering events for external clients, setting sustainable objectives before an event is key. If you're working on a client's event, they'll likely have areas they want to address, but as an event professional, each event is a key time to provide guidance on what contributes the biggest impact to their events.
Before deciding on the objectives to set for an upcoming event, you'll need to understand the full range of the environmental impacts, from the emissions caused by transportation, to event waste. It's unlikely that you'll have the time, manpower, or budget to address every core area at once so it's usually more valuable to select one or two key areas to focus on, and aim to make a significant effort to reduce those.
It's valuable to have specific targets that are based on tangible figures, as having a concrete goal makes it easier to understand exactly what needs to be done. Let’s say your client wanted to reduce menu emissions at their upcoming conference by 20% compared to last year’s event. You would firstly look at the menu from the previous conference and calculate the emissions of these options. From this data, you would be able to extrapolate how much you would need to reduce the overall volume of meat in your ingredient sourcing, for instance.
For a detailed insight on understanding what contributes to your footprint, check out our blog on understanding your event impact streams. If you're using carbon measurement platforms such as TRACE you can make a more accurate assessment of the magnitude of each impact to decide where to focus your effort to reduce your footprint.
Communicating your objectives and getting your team on board
Before mapping out a sustainability plan, you should look to get your team onboard to help shape your objectives. This helps to make sure that everyone is on board with your targets from the beginning of the project - from design to delivery, right through to debrief. If team members have input in the initial goal setting, they'll be more likely to push for the targets to be met. It’s also helpful for someone to take the lead in coordinating and communicating your objectives internally through regular meetings to exchange challenges, ideas, and solutions.
Have an outline in place of the targets that you're looking to set, and give your team the opportunity to feed back on the proposed targets. Identify which team member(s) will take ownership of the sustainability commitments, and create a schedule to keep the team updated on the progress.
Planning an event around your objectives
Once you've set out your goals and commitments, you’ll need to plan how you’re going to put these into action for each event you run. Whichever areas you've chosen to target, you'll need to consider whether your objectives are actionable within your current means, or whether you may require additional resources (time/budget/expertise) to make them happen. This will help to shape your pitches and conversations with external stakeholders.
Once your objective is established, you'll need to explore methods of achieving it. isla provides plenty of useful resources to help event planners identify and action methods, including a guide to sustainable print options. Below is an example of objectives and several methods to help towards the goal.
- Reduce the amount of build materials going to landfill by 20%
- Reduce the emissions from build materials by 20%
- Procure suppliers who can deliver recycled/reused set materials.
- Prioritise suppliers closer to the venue in order to reduce transport emissions.
- Design modular set components which can be dismantled and reused.
- Create sustainable procurement guidelines with minimum emissions and waste standards - distribute internally and to external stakeholders.
- Calculate the total production emissions of your set build materials in order to compare future set build emissions against these.
- Research alternative, lower emissions materials to ones you typically use.
Getting your venue and suppliers on board with your goals
A large proportion of an event's environmental footprint comes from the supply chain, making it essential that your suppliers are aligned with your efforts to reduce your impact. isla strongly recommends discussing these objectives with your clients and suppliers before you start a project to ensure suppliers can measure up to your commitments. The easiest way to do this is to ensure that your sustainable objectives are set out in your RFP, and that you have a sustainability policy that's shared with all suppliers.
Create your own sustainability policy and event plans using Policy & Planning templates, created by isla for event planning. Together these plans can form the basis of your first sustainability policy, which should be available and communicated publicly for full transparency.
Getting attendees, exhibitors, and stakeholders on board with your targets
You can propose a hundred different measures to reduce your environmental impact, but if attendees and exhibitors aren't aware of them, they won't implement them. This is where good communications come in, and these can be just as important as any physical emissions or waste mitigation methods. Looking to cut down on transport emissions? Minimise Ubers from the airport by communicating the best public transport options to them when they receive their e-tickets, and again via social media. Even better, eliminate travel altogether by providing hybrid solutions so they can choose to attend the event from the comfort of their own home.
isla also recommends promoting the benefits of these mitigation measures, rather than just the measures themselves. Most stakeholders won’t already have a solid idea of the emissions savings of, for instance, a plant-based vs red-meat menu option, so might be resistant to changing the menu. When you propose these alternatives, run the numbers through a carbon calculator to demonstrate the concrete savings. This will help to justify more sustainable decisions from the data available, and will likely lead to higher uptake, as event staff and attendees have a representation of what they're working towards.
Communicate your objectives and the impacts your methods will have, before, during and after each event through a combination of digital and on-site means, making sure to thank other stakeholders for their positive contributions.
Measuring your event against your sustainable objectives
Post-event, you'll need to compare the impact to the goals you'd set for your event or organisation. Sustainable objectives can be measured across a certain time period, or be event-specific, so you'll need to know the footprint of the past event you're comparing your current event to, or that of of the time frame that forms your comparison (most commonly a year, or month).
You may already have access to a lot of the information you need to make accurate calculations, but for the time being, stakeholders may not be immediately forthcoming with data around their supply chains. isla suggests building data submission into your procurement process and contracts with suppliers. If, for example, you wanted to measure crew transport emissions across a whole event, make this a requirement for them of working on the project. This will save you time in the long run, rather than scrambling to collect data from suppliers post-event.
Include data submission as a condition when procuring suppliers, and ensure suppliers have detailed instructions on the data points they need to provide. Use a carbon calculator to add up the emissions of the event or time period in question, and that which you're comparing it to.
Using post-event data to shape your objectives going forward
Post-event data can be used as a baseline from which to set future goals, via year-on-year comparisons, or by comparing repeat events against one another. The data you get from each event should be used to inform your next steps. If you performed much better than expected, it could be time to recalibrate that target upwards in line with what you have found achievable. Likewise, it won't do you any favours to set targets that you consistently and significantly fall short of.
Bear in mind that not all change needs to be instantaneous. Perhaps you want to completely phase out red meat from your menus but you don’t think this would be feasible in the short-to-medium term due to cultural resistance. In that case, set a target to remove these options over time - again giving you the flexibility to phase this out in tiered stages. In this case, make sure you set specific targets for how much you'll have to reduce your red meat use by each year to stay on track for your larger goal.
You'll also want to use any past successes to encourage buy-in from future stakeholders, so ensure that the data is clear and presentable. TRACE presents your data in engaging formats using dashboards, charts and graphs that make it easy for any stakeholder to understand the impacts and help celebrate your mutual successes. The platform will also analyse your data and make recommendations on which areas you could achieve reductions in.
Use the takeaways from your event to adjust your objectives for future events. Track your progress over the events you run over a set time period and you'll be able to see where you've made big leaps, and where you could make improvements. Don't be scared to shout about these - your efforts could inspire others to start on their own sustainability journey!
When you know more, you do more. Check out these additional resources to help shape your understanding of the context and case for setting sustainable objectives, and how to achieve them.
The Pledge, Net Zero Carbon Events - Net Zero Carbon Pledge for the Events Industry
Circular Economy, Ellen McCarthy Fund - What is a circular economy?
The 17 Goals, United Nations - Sustainable Development Goals
An Event Planners Guide to Sustainable Print, by isla - Better Buying Print Guide
Templates and Frameworks
The Universal Framework for Sustainable Event Deliveries, by isla - proseed.events
Create your own sustainability policy and event plans - proseed Policy & Planning templates
The new carbon measurement platform, by isla - trace.yourevents
isla is a non-profit sustainability body founded by event professionals and industry leaders focusing on a sustainable future for events. They work with agencies, brands, organisers and suppliers and help provide practical advice and guidance drawing on expertise from across the sector. Their aim? To create a powerful network and give eventprofs the confidence to facilitate change.
If you're looking for more advice and practical guidance on making your events more sustainable, check out our Sustainability Hub. You can also check out our takeaways from Reset Connect workshops on measuring your event impact, and our top recommendations for sustainable event venues to set you up for success.
Check out more sustainability content on our Sustainability HubVisit Sustainability Hub
Jessamy channels her passion for sustainability and cultural events into shining a spotlight on innovation and inspiration in the events world, and heading up Hire Space's sustainability committee.