Organizing meaningful and impactful events is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. As event professionals, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to use our events as a force for positive change in the world. More and more, audiences expect the events they attend to embody sustainability, inclusion, and ethics across all aspects of event planning and execution.
In this article, we will explore practical strategies, tips, and best practices to help you plan and host events that are environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and reflect the highest ethical standards. Whether you’re organizing small meetings or large conventions, incorporating sustainability, diversity, and ethics into your events demonstrates leadership and adds tremendous value for your attendees, partners, and communities.
Why Organize Sustainable, Inclusive, and Ethical Events?
Before diving into the “how to’s,” let’s first understand why we should aim to make our events more sustainable, inclusive, and ethical. Some of the benefits include:
- Enhanced reputation and trust: Audiences today care about environmental and social responsibility. By organizing events that reflect these values, you boost brand image and establish trust and credibility with stakeholders.
- Attract more attendees and sponsors: 59% of attendees consider environmental/social impact when selecting events. Eco-friendly, inclusive events draw larger audiences and make sponsors eager to get involved.
- Cost savings: Sustainable practices like waste reduction and energy efficiency cut costs on utilities, transportation, and equipment rentals.
- Supporting communities: Sustainable events support local economies. Inclusive events give voices to marginalized groups. Ethical events ensure safe, respectful experiences.
- Innovation and creativity: Pushing for sustainability, inclusion and ethics encourages novel solutions and gives your event a competitive edge.
Now let’s get into strategies across three key areas: environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and ethics and responsibility.
Make Your Events More Sustainable
When it comes to planning sustainable events, consider strategies around venue selection, sourcing, resource use, transportation, messaging, and reporting.
Choose an Eco-Friendly Venue
Look for venues that align with your sustainability goals through features like:
- Energy efficient lighting, heating, and cooling
- Renewable energy sources like solar panels
- Comprehensive waste management and recycling policies
- Water conservation and treatment measures
- Sustainably sourced, non-toxic materials for construction and décor
- LEED or other green building certifications
Also consider accessibility via public transit when selecting an urban venue site.
Implement Green Procurement and Catering
Source food, beverages, materials and supplies sustainably by:
- Procuring locally sourced, organic, seasonal ingredients to reduce transport emissions.
- Using reusable, recyclable or compostable service ware rather than single-use plastic and Styrofoam.
- Ordering eco-friendly printed materials using recycled paper and soy-based inks.
- Renting furniture and equipment from suppliers with green practices.
- Donating excess food and materials to local charities after the event.
During your actual event, conserve resources like energy, water, paper, and more with strategies like:
- Send electronic communications and use online registration.
- Go paperless by uploading handouts digitally vs. printing.
- Use pitchers of water with reusable glasses rather than plastic bottles.
- Power down lighting and AV equipment when spaces are not in use.
- Provide clearly labeled recycling and compost bins throughout the venue.
Promote Green Transportation
Encourage attendees to use public transit, carpool, walk, or bike to the event through:
- Providing directions and schedules for nearby public transit.
- Using a carpool matching service like Zimride.
- Organizing group walks from transportation hubs to the venue.
- Offering secure bike storage for cycling attendees and staff.
- Providing shuttle services from major hotels to limit individual car use.
Track and Communicate Sustainability Metrics
- Use resources like the Event Industry Council Sustainability Calculator to track metrics like emissions, waste, energy use, and more.
- Share the positive environmental impact of these choices with your audiences through signage, social media, and post-event reporting.
By carefully selecting venues, sourcing responsibly, minimizing resource use, promoting green transportation, and communicating achievements, event organizers can significantly reduce the environmental footprint of their events.
Need help greening your next event? Consider hiring an event marketing services agency with sustainability expertise, like We & Goliath.
Make Your Events More Inclusive
A truly inclusive event makes all attendees feel welcomed, represented, and valued. Consider the following strategies:
Build a Diverse Planning Team
Assemble a planning team that reflects the diversity of the audience and brings broad perspectives on accessibility, inclusion and respect.
Feature Diverse Speakers and Topics
The speaker lineup and session content should represent a multiplicity of voices and experiences relevant to the theme. Seek diversity across dimensions like gender, race, age, ability, geography and more.
Accommodate Special Needs
Make events accessible to differently abled attendees through:
- Venues compliant with ADA and other accessibility standards
- Alt formats like ASL interpreters, closed captioning, and text transcriptions
- Reserved seating and wayfinding for blind/low vision, deaf/hard of hearing, mobility challenges, etc.
Foster an inclusive environment via interactive elements like:
- Breakout discussions and Q&A panels
- “Meet-up” sessions for affinity groups to gather
- Feedback mechanisms like live polls, surveys, and suggestion boxes
Set Clear Expectations
- Establish and share community guidelines and codes of conduct covering harassment, discrimination, conflicts, etc.
- Train staff to monitor, facilitate, and effectively address issues as they arise.
By bringing diverse voices to the stage and creating spaces where all attendees feel welcome to ask questions, share stories, and engage with one another, event organizers can design truly inclusive experiences.
Make Your Events More Ethical
Ethical event management means holding ourselves accountable to the highest standards of integrity, honesty, fairness and responsibility. Here are some best practices:
Align with Organization’s Values
Ensure the event vision and objectives map clearly to the values and mission of your business or association. Let ethics guide each strategic decision.
- Disclose important details like funding sources, processes, selection criteria, and more.
- Involve community members and partners through inclusive governance.
- Proactively communicate about any potential conflicts of interest.
Uphold Legal and Safety Standards
- Comply fully with laws and regulations governing events and the event profession.
- Protect privacy and securely handle all attendee data and information sharing.
- Provide a safe, healthy environment by addressing safety concerns, medical emergencies, harassment, violence, etc.
Monitor and Evaluate Outcomes
- Invite feedback during and after the event to identify issues or concerns.
- Conduct risk assessment and audits to ensure policies are being followed.
- Learn from each event and continuously improve the ethical standards.
Authentically Communicate Impact
- Report transparently on event processes, numbers, and results.
- Truthfully convey the event experience for attendees and partners.
- Amplify the voices and stories of those impacted.
By taking a principled approach focused on transparency, compliance, accountability, honesty and respect for all people involved, organizers can execute events according to strong ethical foundations.
Sustainability, inclusion and ethics should be front and center when planning any event. As leaders in the events industry, we must take up the challenge to make our events greener, more diverse, and executed with integrity.
While this takes commitment and effort, the benefits are tremendous in terms of reputation, engagement, innovation and community impact. Use the strategies outlined in this guide as you re-evaluate your own events. Speak to your stakeholders, set bold goals and partner with experts to bring your vision to life.
Let us know how we can support you on your journey! Share your questions and experiences with sustainable, inclusive and ethical events using #eventprofs. And be sure to check out upcoming events that exemplify these values, like Sustainable Brands and [Women in Events] Summit.