How to get sustainable events working for your corporate event marketing group

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Sustainable event efforts are nice and all, but how do you get them working for you, instead of feeling like they’re just a lot of extra work? Especially if you’re a big event marketing department with diverse activities that span different cities?

Intel Event Marketing has been exploring sustainable events since 2008, starting with their flagship Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. Since this time their efforts have expanded to include 51 events in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

How to get sustainable events working for your corporate event marketing groupLou Cozzo, Manager Executive Keynote Group at Intel, has been central to the effort from the outset, most recently launching an internal Intel Sustainable Event tool to help Intel event teams simplify and coordinate sustainable events. What has he learned in the process and how can it help improve what you’re doing with your own event marketing team?

Make it simple

Many event marketing efforts start with ambitious training, tools and manuals. Or as I like to call them: Death by Checklist. These are helpful, but can be overwhelming, especially if sustainability is tacked on as an extra responsibility for event leads who are already over-burdened.

“We learned very early on that a long list of complex sustainability expectations or a plan that has to be reinvented from scratch for each event was not going to work for our team,” says Cozzo.  “After several refinements, we’ve streamlined our program so it has three simple steps: assemble your team, document a plan, and report impacts using data. We coordinate the program through the online tool, which works well for distributed teams. But the idea of simplicity and basic steps can be integrated into any program or training, offline or online.”

Another important ingredient is setting a few clear priorities for action. You can be tempted to solve many problems, but sometimes you have to prioritize. In Intel’s case reducing solid waste and carbon emissions and capturing legacy benefits are tops on the list. Teams are invited act on these goals in ways that make sense for their event.

Simplicity can also be baked in by establishing standard sustainability processes with suppliers that are regularly used. For example, Intel has also worked with preferred vendor partners, such as shipping companies, to establish scheduling protocols for consolidation, as well as standard measurement steps.

Reward sustainable suppliers with your business

Most successful sustainable events demonstrate long-term partnerships between planners and suppliers who understand the shared business value sustainability can bring. Sustainability becomes much smoother for event marketers where these kinds of alliances can be struck.

“Intel’s suppliers are integral to our success, so we invite and reward prospective suppliers who advance sustainability goals through a points-based RFP process that gives weight to sustainability capabilities and intentions. We also include feedback in supplier evaluations,” Cozzo elaborates. In fact, the Taylor Group of Brampton, Ontario, Intel’s exhibit asset company has created a customized way to track the environmental and financial costs and benefits of reusing properties over the past 12 years as a result of Intel requests.

Add expectations to agency agreements

Many event marketers rely on external agencies to help realize their vision. Clearly setting sustainability expectations upfront ensures all partners know what is to be delivered in this area, rather than relying on last-minute goodwill of agencies who are pressured to act out-of-scope. Cozzo elaborates on how Intel has now started contracting with agencies for sustainable practices: “Having contracted agreements increases our success at getting consistent practices and reportable data. It’s also fairer to the agencies we work with.” To help facilitate collaboration, agencies are given access to Intel’s tool to share what they are doing to advance sustainability for events.

Promote internal knowledge-sharing

Starting a sustainability effort for an event department can be one thing. Maintaining it is quite another. Odds of long-term success are improved by identifying staff who are willing to help mentor their peers who might be new to making a green event plan. Other important steps include providing a central repository for information that is helpful to share.

“At Intel we’ve cultivated internal ambassadors who can help engage new users,” Cozzo explains. “They also have an internal place to go where they can get helpful resources. For example, we save green venue information so we have it available when we go back for other events. This means we don’t have to bother the venue with the same sustainability questions and can start earlier based on lessons saved by other Intel event leads.”

Motivate team members

While many people plan a green event for altruistic reasons, it sure is nice to get a pat on the back every once in a while for helping the planet out a little. Successful event marketing departments tap reward programs to provide on-going motivation and recognition for sustainability efforts. In Intel’s case, a GreenREWARDS program is used that acknowledges Intel staff and suppliers who contribute. “Green Event Teams earn points that are redeemed using existing employee recognition tools at Intel. Rewards will also include manager recognition,” explains Cozzo.

Measure and communicate impact

Measurement can be the toughest, but most critical part of an event marketing sustainability program. Feedback must be sufficient to evaluate progress against intended results, but not so onerous to cause frustration. Cozzo describes Intel’s experience: “Fun facts about the beneficial impact of certain steps has helped spark interest in what we’re doing. For example we know we’ve recycled and composted over 303 metric tons of materials from our events since we started. However, we still need to improve in getting footprint metrics that help us know our overall impact and how well we’re reducing it. We’re there with IDF, but not all of our other events. So that is a future goal.”

Integrate it with broader company efforts

Event marketing sustainability efforts that are not integrated with broader corporate reporting are a missed opportunity. So event marketers are encouraged to align with other departments – such as corporate citizenship and environmental health and safety – about what they are trying to achieve and how event efforts can contribute. “In Intel’s case, events have become a vehicle to affirm green energy purchasing and conflict minerals work the organization is doing on a larger scale,” states Cozzo. In fact, IDF 2014 integrated program content on Intel’s Conflict Minerals program, and has since 2009 has purchased 1.8 million kWh of Renewable Energy Credits to cover 100 per cent of venue energy for the event.

In the busy world of event marketing, it can be tough to find the room to create a sustainable event program for one event, never mind a system to guide a whole event marketing department. With an open mind to learn what works best for your team, and a process to review and refine, it is possible to institutionalize smarter event practices that work for you, your team, and the planet.

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