Sustainability Engagement: Carrot Or Stick?

I was lucky enough to be invited to guest speak at an event sustainability day held for final year students at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was a fantastic platform to engage with students and industry professionals in discussions about the importance of sustainability in events, and included a variety of speakers offering various angles and expert opinions.

I really enjoyed Prof. Xavier Font of Surrey University, who discussed sustainability from a marketing perspective, suggesting that a more humorous, honest and trustworthy approach will normalise the topic in customers. He warned that there are a number of dangers in over-communicating your efforts, recommending that businesses should avoid moralising the topic and be aware of the level of assertiveness in their approach (as forceful communication is deemed less effective). Andrew Walker also shared some fantastic practical examples from his personal sustainability journey as a 14-year member of MPI. He highlighted his on-going efforts to integrate sustainable practices into their event planning process; MPI’s 2013 World Education Congress in Las Vegas was highlighted as a case study, which saw 1,500 attendees take part in a unique project to build, piece-by-piece, an estimated 250 prosthetic hands. These were then distributed to victims of land-mines across the globe, reinforcing the event’s tagline – When We Meet We Change The World.

Other speakers included Dominque Wallace (a freelance event manager), Pete Bradshaw (Ethihad Stadium) and Teresa Moore (A Greener Festival). Folk singer Max Wheatley also demonstrated his musical talents by summarising each speaker’s key points through witty, improvised song.

For my own presentation, I focused on my learnings and experiences of sustainability as a recent graduate. I discussed the business benefits that derive from sustainable practices and summarised the key findings of my final year dissertation project, which investigated engagement in the corporate event sector. Having interviewed a number of directors and staff from well-known UK event agencies, my results revealed that while most respondents acknowledged the perceived benefits, there is an apparent lack of significant strategic engagement. To reinforce this notion, I also shared the findings reported at this year’s Sustainable Events Summit. New research commissioned by Positive Impact revealed that only 18% of respondents publish their sustainability reports and, while most acknowledge that sustainable practice is vital, the majority are failing to implement this in the delivery of their events.

Does the industry therefore need stricter, imposed regulation? It was argued at the summit that regulation could stifle creativity and innovation in events. It was also suggested that for a genuine behavioural change we need to be doing more from an education perspective and encouraging and recognising the champions who are driving more long-term, favourable impact. Less stick, more carrot!

I have found blogs to be a fantastic platform to communicate sustainability stories online and recommend that both individuals and organisations share their efforts, however small, to educate and encourage stronger sustainability engagement in events.

Attending the sustainability day as a guest speaker provided an opportunity to interact with budding event professionals and network with industry experts. I also felt a great sense of familiarity in returning to a lecture theatre, however this time with the shoe on the other foot.

I will now pass over my monthly blog to an old university friend and colleague at Ashfield Meetings & Events, Lauren Beadle, who will continue to share her event experiences with you in the new year.