United in Green: A Joint Approach to Sustainable Events

It likely comes as no surprise to read that as event professionals, we could and should be doing more to improve the sustainability of our events and do our part in tackling the climate crisis, but it can be hard to know where to start.

One opportunity is for planners and suppliers to collaborate as partners. Recently, TSEF Advisory Board Members Hannah Pattison, Event Manager, Mackenzie Investments, and Matthew Blackburn, Account Manager of National Convention Sales at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa, had a conversation about what a collaborative, sustainable event planning process can look like when planners and venues work together.

Matt: Hannah, what is the most important thing to you when making initial contact with a venue? Is a venue’s commitment to sustainability important?

Hannah: For me, and I suspect for many event planners, location, availability, and cost are still deal breakers when selecting venues, but I expect sustainability to become more important in decision-making before long. In the meantime, my hope is that venues and partners will embrace my event sustainability plan as an opportunity to try something new and bring ideas and suggestions to the table on how to support us in reaching our goals.

Matt: what are you seeing from your clients when it comes to initiating conversations around event sustainability?

Matt: It’s comforting to see that some clients are starting to ask questions during the venue sourcing process, but not all. Here is a great place to start: I’d like to see more sustainability-specific criteria in RFPs. If suppliers can demonstrate to their organization’s financial decision-makers that they are losing sales to greener venues, they will have no choice but to revisit their sustainability efforts. Let us advocate on your behalf; it all starts with the RFP.

(there are some sample RFP questions here to get you started!)

Matt: What are some ways venues can support your event sustainability goals?

Hannah: At Mackenzie Investments, we have started measuring the carbon emissions of our events to create a baseline for further reductions year over year. To do this, we need help gathering data from venues, including how much waste is generated across the various waste streams at our events, how much food is recovered and donated, and where menu items are grown or produced. I recognize that these are still relatively new requests for most venues, but as I have been known to say often over the last year in conversations with suppliers: “I may be the first to ask [about sustainability, measurement, etc.], but I certainly won’t be the last, so let’s figure this out together.”

Hannah: We are all still learning, and the aim is progress over perfection, but tackling an event’s sustainability can be overwhelming for busy event planners. What can venues do to help?

Matt: If the venue has a robust sustainability plan and you have decided to do business with us, use that plan in your conference marketing initiatives to amplify the fact that you have made a green choice. In my experience, the Shaw Centre sales team and event planners are also a reliable resource. We can help make recommendations on small decisions that can make a big impact, whether it’s eliminating single-use food and beverage items or making more sustainable menu choices.

As the old saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We can make a bigger impact when we work together as partners to tackle the sustainability of our events. If you are a planner or supplier looking to become more literate in sustainability and learn practical ways to make an impact, consider taking a course. There are a few out there, including TSEF Planners for the Planet.

To learn more about TSEF, Matt or Hannah, check out the feeds below