As event professionals, focusing on our future is essential. We learn from the past, observe in the present, and then design our upcoming events based on our experiences. What we have learned from the past, and continue to observe in the present, is that sustainable event design and social impact are essential considerations for the future of our industry, and for the industries and communities we serve.
Business events create environments for innovation, they act as an economic engine and provide 26 million meaningful jobs globally. As stewards of this industry, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are designing experiences that are sustainable, equitable, and impactful. The need for our industry to transform in this way has never been more urgent.
Over the past few years, our industry has shown great resilience and ability to adapt and this attitude is what is needed to continue our transformation. As individuals, we’ve needed to learn new ways of doing things, and we’ve needed to rely on each other and collaborate in an unprecedented way; now we need to continue this. To future-proof our industry and our careers we’ll need to address several key themes including circularity, social impact, workforce and well-being, and climate.
Circularity is a framework for how we approach the use of materials. Our industry has made good progress in recent years, with a greater focus on waste diversion and recycling of materials but, a circular approach goes further, and emphasizes three distinct areas:
- Eliminate: What can you do to prevent the creation of waste?
- Circulate: What materials can you donate, reuse or upcycle?
- Regenerate: How can you support regeneration, and help heal our planet?
As the industry that brings people together, we also need to consider our social impact on our workforce, our event participants and stakeholders, as well as the destinations that host us. As you plan your next events, I encourage you to ask yourself:
- How will my event change individual lives through education or opportunities?
- How can I have the greatest impact on the community that my event serves and the destination where it is held? Consider the opportunities for job creation, for community building, and for strengthening local economies.
- How will my event support industries and sectors, all of which now need the support of the power of human connections.
A third theme for each of you to consider is well-being of our workforce and our event participants. The past two and a half years have been some of the most difficult for our industry, and for our community. As event designers, we have the opportunity to create working environments and event experiences that support physical and mental health, and I encourage you to consider how we can support each other through kindness, empathy and the spirit of hospitality that is at the heart of what we do.
Closely related to this is the need to focus on creating welcoming, equitable, diverse and inclusive experiences. At the Events Industry Council (EIC), currently we are working on an Equity Acceleration Plan focused on four key areas: career pathways, leadership representation, organizational guidelines and event toolkits. Diversity, equity and inclusion affect all aspects of the event experience, from selecting diverse supply chains, speakers and marketing to the event experience itself. Consider the opportunities as well to make our events accessible for people with disabilities. Each of these considerations help us to create environments that help everyone to have a sense of belonging in our industry and in our events.
And, of course, we need to consider our climate impact. We know that the solutions to the climate emergency will require the high level of collaboration and idea exchange that happen best when we meet to find solutions together. At the same time, we know that events can create a significant amount of carbon emissions that contribute to the crisis. That is why we need to continue our focus on reducing our emissions as much as possible and then compensating for what can’t be avoided. Some of these actions will be within our direct influence, such as looking at our food choices and addressing food waste, and some of them will be more difficult, such as addressing travel related emissions. What is certain is that the demand from our stakeholders for us to address our impact will continue to intensify, and I’m excited to see us leverage our industry’s strengths in collaboration, innovation and creativity to address this challenge.
We often say that sustainability is a journey and not a destination. To support you on your journey, the EIC has developed several resources and programs, including:
- The Sustainable Event Professional Certificate course, available on-demand or as an in-person program. The 16-module course offers education on environmental, social and economic issues related to sustainable events and 12 CEs towards your CMP and/or CAE certification.
- The new EIC Foundations Certificate, which guides events industry organizations in setting up the essential policies and plans to launch their sustainability and social impact programs by providing guidance, templates, examples and coaching.
- The EIC Sustainable Event Standards, a collection of eight standards which act as a framework for collaboration for event organizers and supplier partners, provide a strong focus on guidance and metrics so that event professionals, at all stages of their sustainability journey, will have the support needed to implement and measure sustainable practices.
Mariela McIlwraith, CMP-Fellow, CMM, MBA, is chief sustainability officer, EIC Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact. The Events Industry Council has more than 30 member organizations involved in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry. The Events Industry Council’s vision is to be the global champion for event professionals and event industry excellence. It promotes high standards and professionalism in the events industry with the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) program and signature program initiatives.