Analysis Opinions

More sustainable meetings

CWT Meetings & Events’ Nelson Khoo says lasting change requires greater collaboration. 

Holding meetings and attending events is an essential part of business. Good things happen when people get together.

Still, meetings and events have a broad impact on the environment — through waste, energy use and the carbon generated by travel. This is especially so in Asia Pacific, where rapid economic growth over the last couple of decades has come at the expense of the environment.

According to the UN Environment Program, plastic production in the region has boomed over the last decade, while waste management lags behind. And the expanding business events industry has, unfortunately, contributed to the problem.

The good news is that our industry has definitely become more aware of this issue. Today, around 20 per cent of the meeting and event RFPs we receive include environmental sustainability, compared with less than five per cent five years ago. At the same time, venues are also looking at ways to become greener, such as eliminating plastic water bottles and cups from their meeting rooms.

While it’s encouraging to see event planners, venues and other players in the industry trying to take positive action, efforts so far have largely been piecemeal. For example, a planner might say “no” to plastic straws, and then order thousands of disposable plastic glow-sticks. Or they may invest in an app for the event, but still print paper agendas and feedback questionnaires.

Similarly, while hotels are removing plastic water bottles from their meeting and event spaces, these same bottles find their way into the guest rooms.

Of course, every little bit helps — but real, lasting change requires us to take an end-to-end look at the environmental impact of each event, and then collaborate as an industry to minimise that impact every step of the way.

There are many aspects to factor in: Which destination will minimise the distance that delegates need to travel? Can the meeting and dinner venues be closer together, preferably within walking distance? Can you use more energy-efficient AV equipment? Are the ingredients for your F&B locally sourced? What if you have live food stations instead of a buffet to minimise wastage? Do door gifts need to be wrapped? Or do you even need them at all? A donation to a worthy cause made in each participant’s name can fulfil the same purpose while leading to positive environmental and social impact, for example.

Perhaps what’s holding companies back from taking a more complete approach is a lack of understanding. Despite their positive intentions, planners may not know what options are available to them, or where they should begin. This is where organisations, like ours, which manage tens of thousands of meetings and events each year, need to step up and advise our clients on what’s out there and what the best practices are.

For example, one of the biggest misconceptions is that going green increases costs. While certain eco-friendly options are indeed more expensive, this isn’t always the case. For instance, live food stations or grab-and-go meals can work just as well as a buffet and are in fact a cheaper alternative.

Another idea is to include recycling stations at the event, allowing delegates to recycle event collateral such as lanyards and plastic holders. You can then re-use them for future events. Just a little careful planning can make events a lot more sustainable without blowing the budget.