There is a lot of talk about brands taking stands in today’s marketing world where doing the right thing has become vital to an organization’s reputation and customer base. In the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, statistics show that 65% of consumers now buy on belief or buy from brands having similar morals, values, and beliefs on social issues and politics. This is up 13% from 2017.

Likewise, companies like to showcase their brand by leading and participating in events, which begs the question, what do your gatherings say about your business?

Participants are examining social and environmental issues related to every aspect of events—from the diversity of the speakers, to the healthiness of the food, to whether the location requires heavy-emitting transportation. Recently, CES, the leading business technology show, came under fire for not having a single woman deliver any of the keynote addresses. After significant pressure, the 2019 show provided a well-balanced speaker line up.

Considering these factors, your organization’s event could either be a marketing opportunity or a public image nightmare.

Your Role

Whether you serve on the sustainability or marketing team, your role in bringing the organization’s vision and image to the event stage is vital. Asking a series of questions in the early stages of designing the experience is an important first step. These questions may help you get started:

  • Does your organization have a sustainability mission, value statement or policy?
  • Think about your last event, what do you remember about the sustainable initiatives?
  • Do both the forward-facing and behind the scenes sustainability initiatives line up with your social and environmental commitments?
  • What gaps exist? Are there things you could be doing but are not?
  • What opportunities are not being realized? Are there steps you are taking that are not being communicated?
  • How transparent are you with your community about your event sustainability journey (good and bad)?
  • How do you involve attendees in the process? Do you share choices you’ve made on their behalf and encourage their involvement?
  • How do you systemize practices so that attendees feel confident no matter where they attend one of your meetings, that certain things are in place? (mass transit, healthy food, venue recycling, giving back to the community, etc.)
  • If pictures of your event showed up online, would you be proud or chagrined from sustainability and social perspectives?

Real World Examples

If your organization’s mission is to work with business to create a just and sustainable world like BSR, Business for Social Responsibility, you know your event better walk the talk. When BSR convenes more than 800 senior level executives from around the world to work on solutions to our most complex sustainability challenges, the experience must be sustainable as well. Each aspect of the event from signage on 100% post-consumer recycled content substrate to no disposable service ware to healthy, local food choices and attention to detail is needed. BSR requires their conference link closely with the global initiatives outlines by the UN SDGs. The full report offers more insight into conscious effort taken.

Oracle, leading pioneers in sustainable events, produces events around the world in areas where sustainability does not immediately come to mind. Their commitment to greening their events doesn’t waiver especially in this example from Oracle OpenWorld Latin America held in Brazil. In 2018, attendees generated 83% less waste per person than in 2010. All carbon emissions associated with energy generation were offset through the funding of a clean energy project in central Brazil.

Where To Start

Many organizations start with a sustainable event policy which aligns with the overall mission. Components of the sustainable event policy should include:

  • Vision Statement
  • Principles
  • Important Issues
  • Commitment and Scope
  • Objectives (key performance indicators)
  • Reporting (intention on how things will get reported)

Resource: Sustainable Event Policy Template

Truer today than ever before, “Events are windows to a company’s soul.” There will be winners and losers as the world shifts to radical transparency and holds companies accountable for being good corporate citizens. The risk to your brand is high and can be mitigated by developing a “look good, feel good” image with simple decisions. The choice is yours.