As corporations pledge to be more sustainable, the event industry seeks lasting solutions
The world, and the event industry, entered a new reality last year when the U.N. climate panel announced that global warming is growing dangerously close to climbing out of control. In an era of climate and pandemic disruption, event marketers are embracing a new chapter that addresses consumer and corporate expectations surrounding sustainability and safety.
In fact, a new events industry initiative, “Net Zero Carbon Events,” developed in November 2021 at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland is serving as a rallying cry for change. By connecting events industry players around the globe, from venues and organizers, to exhibitors and suppliers, the effort aims at achieving solutions to the climate crisis and reaching net zero (balance between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere) by 2050.
And the push toward progress isn’t just coming from the top. Pew research, published last May, found that Gen Zers and millennials, the economic drivers in America and the next and current generations of attendees, are most concerned with the need for action on climate change, and they are choosing and willing to pay more for products and services from brands who align with their values.
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THE PANDEMIC EFFECT
One major factor in the industry’s renewed focus on climate change and sustainability came, ironically, out of the lack of in-person events and reduced business travel, which studies found positively impacted climate emissions. One study reported in the Nature Climate Journal found global emissions reduced by seven percent from 2019 to 2020.
A lasting dependence on virtual events to some degree could help organizations re-prioritize their portfolios to focus on quality over quantity to reduce travel impacts. Brands are exploring holding smaller, more regional events and promoting ridesharing arrangements to deepen their efforts.
Even QR codes made an unexpected comeback during the pandemic for their Covid-safe, touchless technology. This year Subaru rolled out a new COVID-friendly touchless QR code system and sweepstakes platform at its WinterFest event with brand ambassadors on-site to help attendees navigate the technology. And this February, Support HerStory, an online marketplace of curated collections made by small, women-led businesses, celebrated Galentine’s Day with a pop-up shop in Dallas featuring 50 different products and QR codes to learn about each company’s offerings.
Many corporations are including sustainability messaging in their corporate values, but Subaru is among brands that has long considered it a main pillar of business, launching new verticals and creating new types of campaigns that get consumers in on the conversation and increase support for environmental impact goals. The brand encourages its dealers and customers to join in smart environmental practices—reducing waste, safeguarding resources and preserving natural outdoor spaces—as a way of life.
“Nothing is thrown out and put in a landfill when we manufacture a Subaru,” says Matt Barber, brand partnerships and experiential marketing manager at Subaru of America. “That ethos, that commitment to sustainability, applies everywhere for us, including in our events.”
Subaru’s long-standing WinterFest music and mountain lifestyle adventure tour is almost an entirely waste-free event. During the festival, which resumed this year after a two-year pandemic pause, all single-use waste moves through alternative waste streams with hard to recycle items, like snack wrappers and coffee cups or lids, sent to TerraCycle waste management company to be remade into new plastic products.
Strategic partnerships with eco brands Klean Kanteen and Leave No Trace supply consumers with green takeaways like beverage containers and tote bags stuffed with high-end, reusable items that to help them integrate sustainable practices into their lives.
The brand’s Love Promise initiative and partnership with the National Forest Foundation is helping out areas devastated by climate change impacts, like the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, a regular stop on the WinterFest tour, which was destroyed by a massive wildfire.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to just come in and boost the morale,” says Barber, as the brand plans a stop at the resort on its tour this year. “We want to make sure that we bring the community together and keep them excited about the resort and help them get on their feet.”
To meet the increasing demands from event partners, venues and hospitality brands like MGM and Hilton are developing comprehensive guides and consultations for clients.
Globally, Hilton hospitality brand is helping travelers plan more sustainable trips. The brand doubled its investment in social impact to cut its environmental footprint in half by 2030. Kelly Knowlen, vp-sales engagement and special events at Hilton, points to the brand’s Travel with Purpose effort, an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy to drive responsible travel and tourism globally and to redefine sustainable travel.
“Through LightStay and our sustainable meetings offerings, which include Meet with Purpose and EventReady with Hybrid Solutions, we now have the ability to offer carbon-neutral meetings at participating hotels,” Knowlen says. “Customers have the opportunity to align with our hotels to customize our programs to assist them in achieving their individual sustainability goals.”
MGM Resorts International continues to grow its sustainability commitment, which began in 2006 with the construction and development of the CityCenter resort complex that officially opened in 2009. The development is the largest privately-funded LEED Gold development in the world. Since then, all MGM’s buildings are aligned with these standards.
Interest in MGM’s convention segment for sustainable and socially conscious practices has grown as clients seek venues that align with their corporate values, says Brittany Price, director-corporate sustainability at MGM Resorts International. Price even pulls out a “sustainable deck of cards” featuring 52 ideas, from menu selection to décor and signage, to help clients who don’t know where to start.
“Our commitment goes beyond construction and also focuses heavily on the operations of the hotels, from energy and water conservation, responsibly managing materials and wastes, responsible procurement through our environmental preferable purchasing policies, and even working with convention clients on sustainable event programming,” says Price.
MGM also offers clients the option to purchase swag from minority-owned businesses, and partners with various local non-profits to donate leftover swag to the local community.
“We’ve really seen the events industry as a catalyst to help propel that positive change, and when we initially started engaging with clients on the topic of sustainability, it was really primarily focused on environment, but it’s actually much broader than that,” Price says. “Sustainability is social, economic, environment, and it’s a sweet spot when all those are happening in synergy.”This story appeared in the Spring 2022 issue