The UN Sustainable Development Goals have been ushered into the events industry by influential corporations. They are taking the lead as these goals integrate directly with their organizations’ overall sustainability initiatives. The SDGs offer an opportunity to drive policy and report in an aggregate manner. Event organizers have a critical role in achieving these goals and reporting on progress.
Eric Wallinger, Director of Sustainability at MeetGreen, was recently interviewed about how we are implementing the SDGs and why this is an exciting time in our industry.
Do your teams presently factor the UN Sustainable Development Goals into their event planning?
All MeetGreen events factor the SDGs into our planning process. One of the core questions we ask early on is, “What are we doing to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals?” In this way we are getting immediate feedback, or a means of checking ourselves against guideposts, just like an event standard. By incorporating the SDGs into the planning process, you can help ensure the work you are doing will have maximum impact, as you are engaging in this work with many others around a shared goal. Through the SDGs, you can take the initiatives you are implementing locally and link them to a global movement. This is a very effective means of bringing order to all the great individual work being done and helping it flow in a broad but unified direction.
When planning events, do you target alignment with all 17 SDGs or a subset?
There are no firm rules here, however at MeetGreen we generally advocate targeting a smaller, more authentic, subset than all 17. It is certainly possible to link to all SDGs with activities at a single event, but a more discerning eye frequently reveals that some linkages are bit of a stretch. Just as it is difficult to be “all things to all people”, the same holds true for SDGs and events. In order to preserve the integrity and impact of the SDGs we highly recommend quality over quantity. A good initial target for your event could be somewhere between 4 and 8.
What are some SDGs that naturally lend themselves more easily to events?
This may largely depend on the details and unique initiatives at your event. We have found that SDG 2 Zero Hunger, SDG 4 Quality Education, SDG 7 Affordable & Clean Energy, and SDG 13 Climate Action work particularly well in event settings. However, the list can certainly go on, SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, and, SDG 17 Partnerships for The Goals are a few others with strong event synergy. One of my favorite dimensions of the SDGs is that they lend themselves so well to interpretation. Because linking or aligning to a subset of the SDGs requires some communication, thought, and creativity on your team’s end, it can be more energizing and participatory than checking “yes” or “no” on a green events checklist.
What are some of the key performance indicators you track to support your SDG alignment?
In our leading-edge sustainable meetings, we often have access to a more advanced data-set such as kilowatt hours of renewable energy sourced, amount of carbon offset, etc. making things a little easier on this front, but most events large or small, can track pounds of food donated, estimated weight of materials donated, or hotel room amenities donated with minimal effort. Key performance indicators like these can be added to a basic spreadsheet to track continuous improvement over time, across an event portfolio, or even calculating your event’s legacy at a destination.
Do you communicate about SDGs during events?
The degree to which we do varies upon the unique details of each event and client preferences. For some events we discuss SDGs primarily during post-event reporting in our case studies or sustainable event reports but our first preference is to make them visible to attendees during the event itself. Fortunately, all our clients have expressed a strong desire to communicate support for the SDGs onsite. Some recent areas we have helped make SDGs visible to attendees are walk-in slides, digital signage in high volume areas, sustainability activations, and even on social media. Presently the sky is the limit for fresh ideas on how to communicate about the SDGs.
One of the reasons there has been such an enthusiastic uptake of these global goals is that they are something everyone in an organization can communicate about and make a difference. After all, don’t we all want a better future for our family and our planet?