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Going “Green” in the events industry

Going “Green” is hardly a new concept for event planners, and there are countless blog posts and articles that feature key steps that event planners can take to make their events a little lighter on the planet. The World PCO Alliance is represented by some of the most influential industry leaders around the world, so it’s no surprise that many of them are at the helm of this trend. We spoke to three in particular—JPdL International from Canada, The Conference Company from South Africa, and Ireland-based Keynote PCO—to learn more about what they are doing to make their events more “green.”

As Alan Mikhail, Business Manager of JPdL International, says, “Going green at JPdL is not just about helping our clients make their events more sustainable. What we do, as a company, day in and day out, is just as impactful.” The Montreal-based company has adopted a range of eco-friendly steps, including installing recycling bins at every desk, composting leftovers from lunches and snacks, and buying milk in reusable containers.
In addition to creating a lasting effect on the environment, JPdL’s eco-friendly initiatives have also instilled in employees a keen awareness of the environment, and one that they adopt into every meeting they organize. One in particular was the 2018 ICLEI World Congress, which took place in Montreal. The conference brought together representatives of local governments to discuss sustainability, so it’s no surprise that there was much emphasis on incorporating green initiatives in the planning.

Says Alan, “We trained a key staff member on BNQ (Bureau de normalisation du Québec) standards so as to ensure that stakeholders were given proper guidelines and direction for a sustainable event.”
The emphasis on “green” was applied across all suppliers, who were asked to submit their green initiatives plans for approval. JPdL made sure the chosen venue carried an environmental certification (BOMA BESTMD and ASTM-APEX), and that air conditioning and lighting were used more modestly. Much work was done in food and beverage, including opting for water stations and re-usable bottles in lieu of 1,000 plastic water bottles per day, and providing an entirely vegetarian menu from locally sourced products.

Alliance president and founder of Dublin-based Keynote PCO, Noel Mitchell, has also worked with clients with a keener appreciation of sustainability, and he has successfully passed on this awareness to key suppliers such as The Convention Centre Dublin. One example is the 20th INQUA World Congress on the Quaternary, which asked that Keynote provide as sustainable a conference environment as possible. Noel, in turn, approached The Convention Centre to see how the two parties could work together to accomplish this goal. The result was the elimination of single-use water bottles (replaced by reusable ones), and a fully compostable catering solution. Cutlery, packaging, coffee cups and food containers were all fully compostable, and all food was Halal and fully traceable.
This activity has now been expanded to an industry-wide initiative in which the Dublin Tourist Board is pulling together all venues and suppliers to look at sustainable measures and accreditation to push Ireland forward as a more environmentally-friendly destination.

When it comes to liaising with suppliers, Noel says that many of them are open to integrating sustainability into their products and services. “I think that venues and suppliers are willing to cooperate, as in many cases they also need to develop sustainable solutions. They just need the push from us.”
What tips can PCOs use to broach the subject with suppliers? Because many suppliers will not necessarily take the initiative and come up with greener solutions, PCOs must be proactive in giving concrete examples of how a supplier’s services can be more environmentally friendly. Suppliers also appreciate commercial arguments that make the case stronger for going green. An important thing to keep in mind, according to Noel, is to not just focus on the short term. While a supplier might be ready to implement a “quick fix” for a particular event, a PCO should also be cultivating a relationship where the supplier is compelled to think of longer-term solutions. Says Noel, “PCOs need to regularly make the double argument.”

South Africa’s The Conference Company has built its own successful relationships with environmentally-minded suppliers, including Uzwelo Bags, which turns recycled banners and waste materials into attractive delegate bags. The company also makes it a point of employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We very much enjoy working with them,” says The Conference Company’s CEO Nina Freysen-Pretorius, “as they are passionate about the environment while also providing work for previously unemployed women who are the sole breadwinners, and re-using products that would otherwise end up in landfills.”

The South African PCO is also actively engaged in green initiatives for several events, including the 8th World Conference on Ecological Restoration, which just took place in September. The conference had introduced a number of interventions to counter the effect of carbon emissions of the delegates attending the conference as well as the management of resources during the conference. One such measure was selecting the Century City Conference Centre and Hotel in Cape Town. The venue offers a number of environmentally responsible features, including using recycled water in toilets, training all staff on water-saving, and a rooftop solar energy system. The Conference Company, in turn, ensured that they were as climate neutral as possible.

For those doubting the “real” impact that an event can have on the environment, consider the results of the composting and recycling initiative by the 2018 ICLEI World Congress (organized by JPdL International): 390 kilograms of recyclable materials—24% of all materials generated—were recuperated, as were 1,206 kilograms of compostable materials—a whopping 73% of all materials generated. In the end, the Conference earned a level 3 as per the Bureau de normalisation du Québec’s norms for sustainable events, and was nominated to be one of the Vivats 2018 sustainable events, alongside the 2018 Zero Waste Festival.

In addition to the obvious environmental benefits that PCOs can provide with green events, Marie-Josée Talarico, Director of JPdL International, also underlines the opportunities this can bring. “From a company perspective, actively integrating green initiatives builds our reputation as an organization committed to local sustainability of communities worldwide,” she says. “We’re being invited to advise on some extremely interesting projects and to share in some very exciting new ideas.”

For Nina of The Conference Company, the message should be clear for PCOs: “All events should be green in the future,” she says. “It should not be an initiative but rather a mandated expectation and norm that we all follow around the world. Small changes and reduced impact on our environment start with our actions.”