Bringing Sustainable Events to SMM Programs

There is no question that sustainability is the hottest topic of conversation within the meetings and events industry today. And unlike in the past, it looks like it’s going to top the agenda for a long time. A lot has been written about the event planner's environmental impact at the operational delivery stage, but what can you, as the meeting owner, be doing to put this important topic at the heart of your company's program? Here, we detail six steps for establishing a sustainable process within your strategic meetings management programs.

Employees in meeting room discussing sustainability in strategic meetings management  | Global Agency, BCD Meetings & Events

How to Incorporate Sustainability into Strategic Meetings Management Programs

We are seeing a new breed of event attendee whose expectations have changed when they arrive at an event but, there is an equally strong drive from our internal colleagues that we should be harnessing.

At BCD M&E, we are working with our clients to help drive these initiatives with each company being on different stages of their sustainability journey. Below are some suggestions at what areas you should be considering.

Establish your priorities

Ideally, these should linked with the overall sustainability goals and objectives of your company so it’s relatable to everyone within your organization. If there is a drive to reduce the company's CO2 emissions, then there are tools in the market to allow analysis of the most optimal locations based on your attendees' location. Likewise, there are vendor partners who can assist with offsets. A lot of companies are already doing this (or at least have access to the data) with their transient program. The fresh opportunity lies within the M&E data.

Align within your organization

As an enterprise wide initiative, it’s important to get buy-in from management as they should lead from the top down. Consult with your internal environmental team, travel category manager and marketing department to ensure you are on the same page.

Decide on what areas should be in scope

When talking about sustainability, most people will immediately think of recycling but, don’t just focus on this. The principles of sustainability are threefold: economic, social and environment. Consider each of these in equal measure. Does your chosen venue supplier support local community programs or, have the correct governance in place to guarantee a zero tolerance on human trafficking, equal pay or non-discrimination in the workforce? These should be just as important as their approach on single use plastics.

Silhouette of group of people holding world graphic, promoting sustainability | Global Agency, BCD Meetings & Events

Spread the message

Ensure everyone connected with your meetings program is aware of your mission and what you are trying to achieve. There is great power in bringing people along with you on your journey from the event planners to the delegates and showing them how they are making a difference. Consider signposts at your events to promote the amount of plastic you have avoided using by serving water in reusable containers or how the use of your event app has reduced x number of sheets of paper.

Review your supply chain

Look at your whole supply chain, not just hotels, to ensure that your values in this area are shared. Do not make unreasonable demands of your suppliers – there is a lot of good work happening in the events world but we need to be realistic and fair to our suppliers as they implement their own processes. Introduce minimum standards and expectations of your suppliers and include these in your contracting processes. Engage with your third party agency so they can prioritize these areas at the sourcing stage and present during the RFP process allowing it to be included in the decision making process.  

Read about Eco-Friendly Event Venues

Determine how to measure success

Success will depend on your priorities and could include a reduction in CO2 emissions, the introduction of a new area of your policy or the reduction in the use of single use plastics at your events. Its key to create a baseline and then use data points to track your progress and successes and build greater awareness and accountability across the business


Instilling a culture of sustainability can seem like a big job but a lot of time can be spent procrastinating on the best route to take and waiting for everything to be in place. With sustainability, every day counts so don’t delay it’s better to have progress over waiting for perfection!

Ben Hoeksma

Written by Ben Hoeksma

Global Account Director, BCD Meetings & Events

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