Last year on October 30, 2020, Happily participated in the Countdown initiative with a TEDxHappily live broadcast. Our Happily TEDxHappily Countdown 2020 event was centered around our own Happily values of:
You can watch the full playback at tedxhappily.io.
Decisions around the food and drinks that an event is catered with can have a ripple effect on our communities, our environment and our globe. We are going to explore sustainable catering and summarize the main areas that make a menu better for the future of our planet.
We believe that understanding the basics of food sustainability will greatly assist in making more informed decisions when communicating with vendors, hiring catering companies and planning a menu. For an overview of what a sustainable event looks like, including transportation and sustainable event venues, you can also check out 10 Ways to Produce an Eco-Friendly Event.
In general, the term sustainability refers to a capability to maintain something at a certain rate or level. Most of the time, we use the term in reference to the balance between the environment, equity, and economy.
UN World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The goal of sustainable catering is, when possible, to:
Minimize environmental impacts eg. land degradation, loss of biodiversity, water pollution, climate change
Contribute to local economies and sustainable livelihoods of workers
Provide social benefits, eg. assisting people to make healthy and nutritious food choices
There is no judgement for buying strawberries in the middle of December or including meat on the menu, just education around the little and big ways that a menu has the power to be more sustainable.
While there is no universal definition of what constitutes ‘locally produced food’, the intention is to purchase goods that have been grown as close as possible to the place where it will be consumed.
The first benefit of going as local as possible is a reduction in carbon emissions. On average, produce that is transported over long distances will, of course, create more carbon emissions than food that is transported over a shorter distance.
By now we should all be familiar with the fact that high rates of carbon emissions are contributing to climate change. We are talking about a loss of biodiversity, extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, loss of coastal habitat and the spread of tropical diseases. All of this has serious and deadly effects on our society, economy, environment, and daily lives.
A good indicator to ensure that food is not travelling further than it needs to, is to favor produce that are in-season in your area. A local farmer’s market can be a great source of wealth for local and in-season produce.
By ‘in-season foods’ we mean vegetables and fruits that are grown naturally in a specific location at a particular time of the year. If you are buying a food that is not in-season for your part of the world, then it has travelled very far from another part of the country or globe to arrive at your local grocer. The transportation and storage of imported foods greatly contributes to a larger carbon footprint, as well as chemical usage to prolong shelf-life.
The second benefit of favoring local produce is that you are supporting your local farmers and economy - whether that be your community, your state or your country.
Image: A chart of the general growing seasons for fruit and vegetables in the US
Not all foods are grown equal. There are different methods of food production that will directly impact the environment in various degrees. Conventional farming can be connected with biodiversity loss, soil erosion, as well as other negative impacts on the environment.
The sustainable choice here is to favor food that has been produced by environmentally friendly production methods, for example, organic farming.
If a food product is certified with an organic label, then it means that it has been grown with organic agriculture or organic farming methods. Organic foods are either completely produced or involved production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. The goal of organic farming is to conserve soils, to enhance biodiversity, to reduce pollution and to minimize the input of agricultural chemicals.
In the US a product needs to be organically certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to trust that it is indeed an organic food. The USDA certification uses many detailed processes to examine how a food was planted, grown, raised, and handled, and can be applied to many various types of produce including vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy and meat.
Image: Here is a quick explainer on the official USDA Organic label via the USDA
The most resource intensive foods to produce are animal products. The reasons for this are complex and there are a number of factors that lead to animal products being so resource intensive. This includes the various necessary uses of land, farming, water, processing and transportation.
Here are some general examples of the resources that are needed to bring animal products to our grocery stores:
Large amounts of grain need to be grown to result in relatively small amounts of meat, milk and eggs Forests and land are often cleared for grain production or grazing land for animals, and less forest area results in less natural ways that excessive greenhouse gases can be absorbed Animal products are often transported over long distances in refrigerated conditions
Sustainability is all about making sure that we are not senselessly overusing the environmental resources that we have been given. The necessary huge amounts of water, farming and land used to produce beef make it the least sustainable animal product, as the graphs below will illustrate.
A vegan menu is the most extreme end for those seeking a catering menu that is as sustainable as possible. However, a sustainable choice is also simply to minimize the amount of animal products that we consume, and selecting ingredients accordingly. A hint; simply switching beef out for chicken or fish is a huge step towards sustainability.
If animal products are to be used in a catering menu, organic certified produce should be sought out. A certified organic product will ensure that the production methods were as environmentally-friendly as possible, and will also indicate high animal welfare standards.
Image: Food Footprints via Our World Data
Wherever food is made, served and consumed there is potential for large amounts of unnecessary wastage. This could come from the food preparation in the kitchen, the packaging of ingredients, the serving methods or excessive food amounts.
Here are some general ways to minimize food related waste at an event:
Video: Yalmaz Siddiqui, the Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at MGM Resorts International, spoke with us about food waste management at our TEDxHappily Countdown Summit
The degradation of marine habitats and overexploitation of marine resources have been a result of conventional fishing practices.
Of the world’s fish stocks, about 80% is considered fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. Sea turtles, marine mammals, sharks and seabirds populations have declined due to being incidentally caught by fishing vessels. Fishing gear can also have a physical impact on the denigration of the marine ecosystem.
When it comes to purchasing sustainable seafood the things that should be taken into account are the level of overfishing of that type of seafood or species, and environmental impacts of the methods that the brand or fishery caught the seafood.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international nonprofit organization whose standards assess the sustainability of fisheries that catch marine or freshwater organisms in the wild.
A MSC blue fish label on a seafood product means that the amount of seafood that was caught does not threaten the long-term health of the population, and any negative effects to the surrounding wildlife and ecosystem were minimized. Also that the seafood was sourced from the ocean, lakes, or rivers from wild and plentiful populations.
Image: The correct logos from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to indicate seasfood that meet their standards
If a product has a Fairtrade certification, it indicates that its production or the ingredients used have been measured against a mix of social, economic and environmental criteria.
The main goal is to support the ethical sustainable development of small producer organizations and prevent foreign exploitation of agricultural workers in lower-income countries. The global farming industry is the largest employer in the world and Fairtrade ensures a fair deal for the farmers and workers who provide the food, the ingredients and the materials that go into products we buy. This in turn prevents poverty, protects workers' rights, combats child labor / forced labor, promotes gender equality and fights climate change.
Common foods to look out for a Fairtrade certification is:
When it comes to producing an event and sustainable event management, there are so many things that can be done to lessen the carbon footprint and reduce the impact on the environment. Productions come in all shapes, sizes and budgets, so making whatever changes to combat the climate crisis that are possible for you is something to be commended and to be proud of.
Air travel is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and it is the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon emissions. Out of all the types of transportation, and all the components of an event, if guests, talent, and shipping are flying in to attend, the carbon footprint will increase by about 95%.
If a lot of the audience is interstate and/or international, there are a few simplified ways to decrease or eliminate air travel.
The first option is to go completely virtual. The second is to have a virtual component and go hybrid, allowing the audience to be a mix of onsite and online. The third is to have smaller and more localized events, instead of one major event.
Virtual events have a very small carbon footprint. At Happily we make them carbon neutral by measuring the carbon emissions of a Happily event and offsetting any emissions from computers or tech by planting the corresponding number of trees in our Happily Forest.
For more, check out these Happily Virtual Case Study.
Image: Graph adapted from this original article by Shawna McKinley.
Having drinking water readily available for attendees is important, especially for long, onsite summits.
Traditionally the most convenient way is to hand out plastic water bottles. Even though plastic water bottles are recyclable, the majority still end up in landfill. It will take about 1,000 years for them to break down, and not to mention the devastation it can have on marine life if found in the ocean.
Rethinking how attendees access water during the event can be a big step towards sustainability. We suggest having multiple water stations (no one likes to wait in a long line) with biodegradable cups, or use it as an opportunity to have some cool, branded bottles as swag that attendees can take home and reuse as well.
Wherever the event may be, make the recycling bins a point of pride.
Make them clearly labeled for people to understand what they can put into it, with a rubbish bin right next to it for everything else. Have them easily accessible and brightly colored so they are not difficult to spot.
Decreasing the amount of paper that is handed out to attendees or used by staff is a good step in reducing the carbon footprint of the event. Plus, converting to tech can create a better experience for attendees and a more streamlined process for staff.
Building a custom event app or microsite can create a place where attendees can access all the event resources and information that they could need; eg. schedules, registering, downloadable PDFs, venue map, COVID-19 safety protocols, menus - whatever is appropriate.
The best thing about going digital is that it can serve every and all functions that you need it to. Whatever would normally be printed as a handout, or information pack, can be digitized and conveniently at the attendees' fingertips. Optimizing the use of QR codes will also contribute to the user experience.
For more, check out this Happily Case Study.
Travel in general is the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon footprint, and the less cars and the more carpooling, the better.
By clearly communicating any public routes that will take attendees to and from the venue, you will get them to consider public transport as a good and reliable transport option.
Image: Comparing NYC commuters Co2 emissions every year, compared to CLIP, a bike pedal assist via clip/bike.com
If public transport isn’t available or the venue is a little out of the way, then consider offering a shuttle service.
If you can, go green with the vehicle. Electric cars and vehicles have zero harmful CO2 tailpipe emissions compared to regular gasoline-powered vehicles, which produce environmentally harmful CO2 emissions
The same goes for hybrid, as they are still better than gasoline-powered vehicles, and technology advancements have also made diesel a clean, green option for high-powered engines.
Think of it as a way to not only to get less cars on the road, but also to create a stress-free and more accessible experience for attendees.
If the event is catered, there are so many ways to ensure sustainability. Many catering companies are environmentally conscious and will do most of the sustainable work for you, if you find the right vendor.
At Happily we have a list of Sustainable Vendors throughout the country that include catering, and also other areas such as printing and fabrication. Just let us know and we’d happily connect you with some.
Some attributes of a sustainable catering vendor include:
Image: The Carbon Footprint of the Food Supply Chain via Visual Capitalist
Where ever there is an opportunity to ditch single use plastics, use plant based recyclables and find an alternative to non-biodegradable materials, then take it.
Ask suppliers and vendors about the materials they use and how sustainable their products are. Usually suppliers and vendors will proudly display their eco-friendliness so it shouldn’t be difficult to find the right one for you.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to sustainable materials used to create them:
Venues come in all shapes and sizes and will depend on the needs of the event, like, if it is a massive multi-day summit, or a smaller workshop scenario.
Here are some things to take into consideration or ask of a venue:
Proudly explain and promote the elements that are sustainable and eco-friendly, and how it is contributing to the fight against climate change.
It will elevate the esteem of your event, and also advocate the importance of climate action in general, and encourage others to follow your lead.
Hopin is a virtual venue that has multiple interactive areas focused on connection and engagement. Their free show and podcast ‘Back of House LIVE’, co-hosted by Anthony Kennada and Lauren Sommers, is an events industry talk show that includes interviews with thought leaders from the events world. Happily was honored to have our Founder and CEO as the first guest!
When Sarah and Colin’s wedding was abruptly cancelled due to COVID 19 in early 2020, the pivot to a virtual wedding was quick and mighty. Sarah describes how she fully embraced the challenge to create a truly unique experience and wondrous cyber wedding celebration unlike anything you would have thought possible. Plus, she explains how their story came to headline the Daily Mail in the UK, and why the experience helped her discover the power and potential of virtual events.
The creative process and the wonderful experience that I had with the cyber wedding helped me to commit to virtual and continue to rethink experiences in an online format.
Sarah Shewey, Founder and CEO, Happily
It’s great to be able to schedule people on different time zones, so we get assets and project direction on the west coast, it moves over to the east coast, moves over to Asia, moves over to Europe, and then you have a final pre-record edit that is ready the next morning.
Sarah Shewey, Founder and CEO, Happily
For anyone who did events before [the pandemic] you remember it was always ‘how do we keep our community together throughout the year’ and it was like ‘maybe a Facebook group?’ We all laugh now because of course we are just going to be doing lots of virtual events…
Sarah Shewey, Founder and CEO, Happily
Plus, he introduces us to his startup, CLIP, a revolutionary device that will be a must-have for the urban commuter and anyone wondering how they can help the environment in their daily life.
Image: CLIP Co-founders Somnath Ray and Clément de Alcala
Having grown up in India, Som understands just how bad air pollution and urban congestion can get. When he found himself living in New York City he decided to start using biking as his primary mode of transport. Biking is awesome for a daily commute. It is way better for the environment than cars and they do wonders for easing traffic congestion. However, biking every day is not always easy. It can get real physically taxing and motivations can wax and wan, so that is where the pedal assist of an electric bike makes all the difference.
As a concept, the pedal assist of e-bikes makes the biking experience easier, quicker and ensures you don’t arrive at your destination all puffed and sweaty. However, e-bikes are not accessible to most people; they are expensive, they are heavy and their value means they often get stolen. Also, as Som points out, most of us already have a bike; personalized, wonderful bikes with diverse designs that reflect us. This is where CLIP comes in.
CLIP is a clean mobility startup that is creating a portable e-motor device to easily attach to any bike, instantly turning it into an e-bike. Founded in 2018 by Som Ray and Clément de Alcala, they want to democratize access to the benefits of an e-bike, and build an option much more low-cost, user-friendly and accessible. Plus, empower urban commuters and city dwellers to take on biking and significantly slash our impact on climate change.
Image: CLIP prototype on urban bike
We care deeply about the future of our planet, and that is why we use technology to create unique and fun events that are carbon zero. Our core values as a company, include representing diverse voices, reinvesting in local and forgotten communities, and reducing waste. For the moment let’s focus on the latter, although you can find more on the others here.
Image: Graph adapted from this original article by Shawna McKinley.
When we say we’re committed to combating climate change, we mean it. After each Happily event, we calculate the carbon emitted from the desktops of talent, tech, team, and guests. Then we take a percentage from our profits to plant trees in the Happily Forest, which is located in Tanzania and stewarded by our reforestation partner, Forest Nation.
By fully embracing a virtual-first program, you can reduce emissions by 90% or more. Virtual events are a format that everyone is increasingly more comfortable with, and businesses now understand the lasting benefits of them, even beyond the pandemic. They can be easily scaled, they can fit any budget, a wider audience can be connected with, there is greater opportunity for accessibility, and they often mean less time commitment for attendees and speakers. All this allows a business to justify virtual events being held more often, enabling a thriving calendar of virtual summits, virtual galas and virtual gatherings.
On average, virtual events reduce 97% of carbon emissions compared to an in-person event. This is largely due to a lack of travel of people and goods to and from a city and/or venue. All that movement would usually account for 90% of an event's carbon emissions.
Local clustering of events can reduce emissions by 75% or more. An example of this would be, instead of a single major in-person event in which participants would fly to from all over the country, have several smaller events in relevant cities, collectively reducing the amount of travel required for attendees.
Other than a forest fire, air travel emits the most carbon emissions per hour than anything else. Incredibly, 1% of global frequent fliers are responsible for more than half of those emissions. Of course, we do not wish to vilify air travel, nor should anyone be shamed into flying less. However, decreasing a need for air travel is a very real way to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your event, as over 90% of an event's carbon emissions come from flights.
The benefits of community for a business is something that is understood and utilized more each year. Actively building, nurturing and guiding a community in line with your business goals means that you can consolidate in person tentpole events down to one time a year.
The power of community for businesses is a wonderfully immersive topic. So rather than go into all of it here, we are going to guide you to some recent Happily Live interviews with experts in this field. For more on the benefits of community for your business, you must check out this chat with David Spinks. And this conversation with Gina Bianchini is essential for learning how to build a community online for your business.
Happily is powered by the largest, most diverse network of tech-savvy, environmentally conscious event specialists. We bring tech, talent, and team together for custom, carbon-zero virtual events. Contact us for a chat and together we can produce an eco-friendly virtual event!