How to Build a Global Program for Sustainable Events
USGBC are the guardians of the LEED certification, which is respected worldwide as the best in class among sustainable building and structure oversight. To date, they are responsible for having certified over 100,000 projects across 176 countries. LEED is a system and set of guidelines that help people understand how to build and operate buildings and communities in a more sustainable way.
“Sustainability is ensuring the needs of today are being met, while also making sure you’re not compromising the needs of tomorrow. It’s trying to increase the good and decrease the negative consequences of your actions and inactions.”
In this conversation, Sarah and Ryanne discussed how the USGBC’s international conference and expo, Greenbuild, is measured for sustainability and adapted to suit countries around the world. Greenbuild uses its events as a way to reach the market, provide education, and connect people with one another. As Ryanne puts it: “Events bring people together to help solve global problems.” Climate change and economic and social sustainability are the global challenges that Greenbuild was developed to help address.
They now operate events in America, China, India, Europe, and Mexico, and have had to learn to adapt their conference to the needs of each market. They do this by enlisting teams of people in those regions who are intimately familiar with the cultural differences, definitions, expectations, and resources in the area so they can tailor the events accordingly.
As an event producer, you might not always have the benefit of staff on the ground in different regions who know everything there is to know about sustainability. But what you can do is put together a team of really trusted friends and colleagues to help you localize your event.
Ryanne credits a lot of Greenbuild’s success to having a core set of concepts on which their events are built - a kind of framework that can then be adapted as necessary for each market in which they plan and host events. And this method can be applied to any industry. Ryanne suggests:
"Relate it back to your core mission. If you're working for a healthcare organization, or an entertainment industry event, or a non-profit that fights hunger and homelessness - there's always some sort of social or environmental (or both) initiative that you can start thinking about. Just start there and then build on it.”
Here are Ryanne’s recommended basic concepts about sustainability that you can apply to the various aspects of your events.
Consider the lifecycle of a material or product before purchasing:
- Where did it come from/how was it made?
- What am I using it for?
- Is there an alternative?
- What will happen to it once I am done with it?
To help you understand how to source event materials safely, here is Ryanne’s list of preferred material content from best to worst:
- Domestically Sourced Recycled Content (ie. 100% post-consumer recycled paper, recycled plastic, etc.)
- Domestically Sourced Organic Material
- Domestically Sourced Virgin Material
- Internationally Sourced Recycled Material
- Internationally Sourced Organic Material (ie. 100% organic cotton from India for US show)
“There are a lot of things that go into the recycling stream that aren't recyclable.”
It may surprise you to hear that recycling isn’t necessarily the best solution to our waste woes. Ryanne advises to focus on the forgotten R: Reduce.
- Reduce first. Think, “do I need this, can we make it digital, can we redesign this process and eliminate the need for this material?”
- Then Reuse. Think, “do we have something in inventory we can reuse, can we design something that is evergreen (i.e.: lanyards with generic show logo, no dates)?”
- if you have to produce something new, make sure it is made in an environmentally and socially preferred way and can be recycled, reused, or donated.
- For more information on waste, visit the TRUE (Zero Waste) website
When it comes to knowing your impact, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. It can seem daunting to find ways that measure the impact of an event on a community, but for example: hiring local labor, businesses, or ordering supplies locally, puts dollars directly back into that area’s economy, and you can measure that. Pounds of leftover material that are donated to the community can be tracked. Get this information in writing, even in a contract if you can.
"You can reduce the amount of your printed program guide by a certain number of pages, and that's great, and you can say that. But what's the impact of that? What's the total number of pages you save, or the total number of trees you save, or the pounds of wood that you saved?”
Whatever you measure, don’t make up your own standards or definitions. Ryanne recommends that you follow credible sources’ guidelines like EPA, United Nations, USGBC, Green Seal, etc.
Remember, communication and stakeholder engagement in your sustainability mission is key. Be clear with everyone along the way about what your goals and needs are. Be sure to communicate it up your event supply chain, and all the way down to your end-users, attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, etc. for transparency and accountability.
For a quick summary of the inspiring scope of Greenbuild’s events, and a peek into their sustainability report, check out these Post-Show Reports from some of their events in various parts of the world last year.
- Mexico 2019
- Europe 2019
- GSCExIMPACT 2019
- Rocky Mountain Green
Whew! We learned so much in this fascinating conversation - this summary is just the tip of the iceberg!
Check out the video for more details from Ryanne and Sarah, and be sure to visit the USGBC and Greenbuild websites for more information.
Thanks again, Ryanne!