Sustainable event management

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Sustainable event management (also known as event greening) is the process used to produce an event with particular concern for environmental, economic and social issues. Sustainability in event management incorporates socially and environmentally responsible decision making into the planning, organisation and implementation of, and participation in, an event. It involves including sustainable development principles and practices in all levels of event organisation, and aims to ensure that an event is hosted responsibly. It represents the total package of interventions at an event, and needs to be done in an integrated manner. Event greening should start at the inception of the project, and should involve all the key role players, such as clients, organisers, venues, sub-contractors and suppliers.


The first time that environmental concerns were raised by the public was at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics in France, which led to the first ‘green Games’ in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee received the UNEP Global 500 Award for setting environmental standards which were absent from previous Olympic games.

The Centennial Olympic Congress, Congress of Unity, held in Paris in 1994, recognised the importance of the environment and sustainable development, which led to the inclusion of a paragraph in Rule 2 of the Olympic Charter. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has acknowledged its particular responsibility in terms of promoting sustainable development, and regards the environment as the third dimension of Olympism, alongside sport and culture. This led to its decision in 1995 to create an IOC Sport and Environment Commission.[1]

Environmental Guidelines for the Summer Olympics were developed to guide Olympic hosts to ensure that facilities are constructed in a more environmentally friendly manner. The Guidelines were successfully used in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. As a result, the organizers of the Sydney Games were honoured with the Global 500 Award in 2001 for organizing the greenest games ever. Since then, other major sports events have also considered their environmental impact.

A major aspect of UNEP’s work is with the IOC. A cooperative agreement was signed in 1994 with IOC and an Agenda 21 for Sport and Environment developed. Since 2002, UNEP has participated in a task force of the UN Secretary-General on the use of sport for the implementation of the United Nations Development Goals. UNEP also supports the IOC in organizing world conferences and regional seminars on sport and the environment.[2]

During the 2006 FIFA World CupTM in Germany, Green Goal was launched, which was also implemented in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World CupTM. The Host City Cape Town Green Goal programme had been awarded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sport and Environment Award. Nominated by FIFA, the award recognised the efforts of the Host City Cape Town to mitigate negative environmental impacts of the FIFA World Cup and to maximise a positive environmental and social legacy.[3]

Event greening is however not only limited to sports events, and other examples include the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Johannesburg 2002, and UNFCCC 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) held in Copenhagen in 2010.


Events are highly resource-intensive, and can have negative environmental consequences for the host city and population. Globally, more and more events are hosted in an environmentally, socially and economically responsible way. Many international companies are making event greening a part of their tender process. Greening your event should reduce the negative environmental impact, but should also leave a positive and lasting legacy for the local community.

The following are some of the positive benefits of event greening for the organisers, participants, service providers and the local community that should be considered:

  • Cost savings: Conserving energy, reducing waste, purchasing local products, and simply consuming less can save money.
  • Positive reputation: A green event is a very visible demonstration of your organisation’s commitment to sustainability, and your support of global actions against the negative influence of global warming.
  • Environmental innovation: Greening efforts promote innovative technologies and techniques, which help us to use resources more efficiently.
  • Awareness raising: Each event offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness among participants, staff, service providers and the local community about the benefits of sustainable living, and enhances environmental best practice in the region.
  • Social benefits: If planned and implemented carefully, the event could benefit the local region through providing jobs, selecting regional suppliers, promoting better working conditions, and acting as a catalyst for social improvement.
  • Influencing decision making: By sharing standards, and introducing new ways of behaviour, other organisations could be motivated to introduce environmental and social improvements in their events as well.
  • Return on investment: By pursuing greening, you will not only reduce costs, but also increase strategic opportunities.

Greening practices[edit]

There are many areas where organisers can have a positive impact when hosting an event. Greening practices [4] are practical things that can be done to encourage sustainable living and the following greening practices should definitely be considered when planning or implementing an event:

  • Eco-procurement or green purchasing
  • Waste minimisation and management
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water conservation
  • Emissions reduction
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Social and economic development

Green purchasing[edit]

The materials, supplies and products used to produce an event all have the potential for negative environmental impacts. Through environmentally preferable purchasing reductions in these impacts can be achieved back up the supply chain. Options to reduce environmental impacts of purchasing can be achieved through such things as; using products which have an eco-label, including organic, fair trade, FSC or other sustainable forestry products, VOC free, environmentally safer cleaning agents, PVC-free paints, sustainably produced foods, products made from sustainable and recyclable materials, etc.

Waste minimization[edit]

REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE : Reducing the total amount of waste going to landfill or incineration is the aim. This can be done through preventing waste from being created in the first place such as not using disposable products, or through diverting waste from landfill/incineration through recycling, composting biodegradable waste (or sending to biogas facilities) and through salvage and re-purposing.

Energy efficiency[edit]

The energy used to produce an event can be provided directly through the mains/grid power or through mobile or portable power generators. Reducing the environmental impacts of event production can be achieved through reducing the amount of energy needed or to provide energy through renewable or zero emissions sources.

Water conservation[edit]

The amount of water used at an event and focusing on its reduction is the key to sustainability in event management in this topic. Reducing the amount of sewage and graywater produced is also an aim.

Emissions reduction[edit]

The carbon footprint of an event is the total impact of the event relating to the total amount of CO2 emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels. This would include aspects such as the energy consumption, the waste generated, marketing, transport, flights, accommodation, and other actions that would contribute to climate change.

The impact of the audience's travel to an event is often seen as one of the largest environmental impact. CO2 emissions as a direct result of transport is the measure used to gauge this. To reduce the impact of audience transport to and from an event, public transport use, filling up all the seats in the car, and coming on foot or by bicycle where appropriate, can be encouraged.

One of the simplest ways to reduce some of the footprint is moving to paperless events. With today's smartphone and tablet technologies, this is easily achieved using mobile conference apps without compromising the attendee's experience. Organizers should be careful though to avoid merely shifting the responsibility to attendees by providing printable PDFs.


The variety of life on earth – its biological diversity – is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals and micro-organisms; the enormous diversity of genes in these species, and the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs, are all part of a biologically diverse earth. Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognise this as an integral part of any approach. Protecting the natural environment, both flora and fauna and the ecosystems in which they live is an important aspect to the environmental management of event production.

Social and economic development[edit]

Event greening is not only about the environment, but needs to consider the social and economic benefits to the local community as well. By stimulating the local economy and social development, the whole community will benefit from the event, and this will support poverty alleviation in the long term.

Initiatives to stimulate the local economy and empower the host community should be incorporated into greening activities whenever possible. This can be done by purchasing local products, skills training and job creation, or considering human health during event organisation. Short-term and permanent job creation and training through the event-greening activities (e.g. training in waste separation, tour guides, translators, use of local suppliers of goods and services, etc.) could result in increased pride, better knowledge about sustainable living and practices, and the power to make more responsible decisions.

High impact areas[edit]

Event-greening practices (as outlined above) can be implemented in all aspects of event management by venues, sub-contractors, suppliers and event organisers, regardless of the size or type of event. Some high-impact areas were chosen as key focus areas, as they can lead to a considerable reduction in the negative effect on natural resources, as well as have a positive influence on social and economic development:[5]

  • Venues and accommodation
  • Food and beverages
  • Exhibitions
  • Marketing, PR and production
  • Transport
  • General, including the office, AV, IT, decor and entertainment

Venue, accommodation and destination[edit]

Ensuring that the choice of destination, accommodation and venue is suitable for the requirements of the event and the attendee demographic can be key in reducing unnecessary travel and boosting local economy. By sourcing local suppliers, the carbon footprint of the event will be reduced dramatically as suppliers will need to transport themselves, products or services to the event.

Food and beverages[edit]

Wherever people meet, there is a need for food and beverages in some form or another. Whether it is a formal gala dinner, a picnic hamper or a hotdog, it has hidden environmental impacts that need to be considered. From the production and packaging of the food, through to the transport, storage, and finally the preparation – these all need to be taken into account when considering the impact of catering in the events industry.


With a trade show or expo, an exhibition may be the core component of the event, while on other occasions, it is done on a smaller scale in support of a larger event. Regardless of the size or purpose of an exhibition, it provides the opportunity to do business as usual, or to think twice about the environmental footprint.

Marketing, PR and production[edit]

Large events usually require a large amount of marketing, which would include aspects such as media, communication, public relations and the associated production. It is an important aspect of an event, but should also be done responsibly, as it contributes to the event’s environmental footprint. Using cloud based services, mobile conference apps, and digital event displays, the majority of the printed event documentation can be provided in digital formats. Offering paperless events not only reduces the conference footprint but is convenient for attendees.


Transport requirements for events produce high levels of carbon emissions, and consume large amounts of energy. Some small changes can have a big impact on the carbon footprint of an event, and can reduce harmful emissions. With international or national events where many people have to use air travel, transport can account for most of the emissions. Even with local events, the transport emissions can be high due to the use of single-occupancy vehicles. Transport is therefore an important area for greening interventions, with the main objective to reduce harmful carbon emissions.


Special events generally require high-impact AV and IT, which can use a lot of energy. Lighting is used to create a specific atmosphere, or to get a message across, which is usually a key requirement of the host. If this can be avoided, it would reduce the carbon footprint of the event. Alternatively, however, it is important for the sub-contractors to have an environmental policy in place, and to ensure its implementation in their day-to-day work.

Monitoring and evaluation[edit]

Monitoring and evaluation is an essential component of event greening, and should be used to make continuous improvement. A detailed plan needs to be in place to ensure that information is gathered on all aspects of the event – before, during, and also after the event. This ensures that information is available to understand the effects of greening interventions (e.g. to what extent was water used, and how did water-saving measures reduce water use), as well as the potential improvements to future event-greening initiatives.

With large events it is best to ensure an independent report, which complies with international standards, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).[6] The GRI Event Organizers Supplement provides organizations in the sector with a tailored version of GRI’s Reporting Guidelines. It includes the original Guidelines, which set out the Reporting Principles, Disclosures on Management Approach and Performance Indicators for economic, environmental and social issues. The Event Organizers Supplement’s capture the issues that matter most for event organizers to be reported on:

  • Site selection
  • Transport of attendees
  • Recruiting and training of the event workforce, participants and volunteers
  • Sourcing of materials, supplies and services
  • Managing impacts on communities, natural environments, and local and global economies.
  • Planning and managing potential legacies
  • Accessibility of an event

The British Standard (BS 8901) has been developed specifically for the events industry with a purpose of helping the industry to operate in a more sustainable manner. The standard defines the requirements for a sustainability event management system to ensure an enduring and balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility and social progress relating to events.

It requires organizations to identify and understand the effects that their activities have on the environment, on society and on the economy both within the organization and the wider economy; and put measures in place to minimize the negative effects. These standards will however be replaced by the International Standard (ISO 20121) for Sustainability Management Systems.


  1. ^ International Olympic Committee, Sport and Environment Commission,
  2. ^ UNEP, Sport and Environment,
  3. ^ City of Cape Town, Green Goal Programme,
  4. ^ Smart Events Handbook, City of Cape Town, June 2010, ISBN 978-0-9802784-5-3
  5. ^ Smart Events Handbook, City of Cape Town, June 2010, ISBN 978-0-9802784-5-3
  6. ^

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