Henrik von Arnold

The (Sustain)Ability of Business Events | Part II.

Henrik von Arnold

Sustainability is in everyone’s mouths at the moment. In particular, to speak about all the negative implications that business events result in for the environment, for climate and for the ecosystem in general.

  • – Yes, there is no way to neutralize CO2 emissions due to air travel around the world aimed at visiting and taking part in different gatherings (corporate, association, political, religious, etc.).
  • – Yes, taxis, cars, coaches to and from main event venues and the hotels and airports do not help either.
  • – Yes, there is an over-production of food and beverage for these gatherings, leading to a huge amount of waste generation, not only of food, but also of paper, plastic, giveaways, wrappings, trash…
  • – Yes, energy consumption is sometimes very high when heating up/cooling down large venues.
  • – Yes, the use of plastic products is still quite common.
  • – Yes, towels and bed linen are washed in detergents after a couple of nights, when the hotel room is made ready for the next guest.

So yes, business events have an impact on sustainability. But also in good ways!

There are currently multiple good initiatives and programs (Positive Impact Events, the Global Destination Sustainability Index, the Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact and Legacy Events, among others) which are taking the lead in changing the industry to the better. More and more destinations, venues, hotels, congress organizers, etc. are also working hard to minimize the negative impacts shown above. COVID-19 has proven that many business events can be reduced and/or partly replaced by digital gatherings. And that will remain! Not just for environmental reasons, but also for economic, safety, time-saving, and other purposes.

On the other hand, these online events have shown the urge and the need for direct human interaction. And that gives us some extremely important reasons to meet face-to-face: The abilities of business events.

Let’s take a look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and at how business events will contribute to them, bearing in mind that, for events to happen, travelling and therefore adding to the already high CO2 levels is unfortunately a must. We need to focus on how the enormous economic impact that business events create will be used to reach some of the 17 goals, making up for the negative effects that cannot be avoided at the moment.

On a first look at the SDGs graphic, the goals that first come as those where BE could contribute most are:

4. Quality education. To promote and secure basic and life-long learning and educational techniques in many different knowledge fields, gatherings of teachers and other academic professionals are vital for the development of the society.

8. Decent work and economic growth. Business events consist not only of a few days of gathering for a group of people, they also work as a tool for development and job creation in the service industry, the transportation sector, universities, companies and in the public sector long before and for many years after the event is taking place.

9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure. Many people directly or indirectly affected by different kinds of events have voiced their importance as the beginning of innovative processes leading to new technical, health, knowledge, service and humanitarian developments/conquests. The need for soft and hard infrastructure as culture, architecture, intercultural understanding, peace talks, sustainable political decisions, etc. are also initiated and followed up when people meet in real life.

11. Sustainable cities & communities. If all different stakeholders involved in business events within each specific destination start to take steps to become more sustainable, that will add the sustainable ingredient to the already long list of benefits that an event always brings to a city/region/country and its inhabitants.

17. Partnerships for the goals. As a matter of fact, business events are the basic tool for the human mankind to actually put heads together and find solutions on significant global, national, regional or local issues.

To conclude, it is true, we must do better on the whole range of the sustainable agenda and not forget about the environment, yet we also need to be aware of the important things that happen when we meet, and recognize the ability that business events have on the society.