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Making “Sustainable” Status Quo

Another industry (not to mention global) trend that is permeating every aspect of our business today is sustainability. It often feels as though there’s an infinite amount of chatter about more eco-friendly products, processes, and outcomes aimed at reducing waste and carbon footprints and upping tracking and offsetting. And here were are, penning yet another blog post on the subject! 

Now, we’re all probably acutely aware that much of the chatter is just that: empty, cliché, greenwashing. If we’re going to have a meaningful conversation about sustainability and events, we first have to acknowledge that in-person events are, inherently, unsustainable. In fact, within the event industry, the best, most ecological thing one could do is not to have an in-person event at all. Traveling hundreds to thousands of attendees (plus staff and crew) on airplanes to a single destination and back is the most carbon-heavy aspect of in-person events. Beyond that there’s the consumption, waste, and unsustainable materials that are part and parcel of an event. And with the continued integration of AI into the fabric of events, we have the added burden of extremely high power and water consumption that server farms running AI utilize.

So why even bother? Well, while all of these issues may be factual, an equal and just as weighty fact is that people want, and are going to continue, to gather in groups. We are social creatures, we thrive off of connection with other human beings, and if COVID taught us anything, it’s that we crave and need this human-to-human interaction. While virtual events are inarguably the most sustainable form of events, they will never replace or replicate the tactility, dynamism, and stimulation of in-person engagements. Sharing space and time with each other is a sociological necessity and inevitability.

Given these truths, how do we move forward in a responsible and progressive way? Creating more sustainable business model will look different for every industry and every organization within an industry. If we’re talking about the event industry at large, some steps towards creating more sustainable programs are:

  • Venue Selection: choosing a location that prioritizes sustainability, has a recycling (and composting) program in place, and uses energy-efficient systems. Also, choosing a venue closer to your target audience can help reduce emission from travel.
  • Energy Efficiency: when possible, utilizing renewable energy sources, and engaging suppliers who have demonstrated a commitment to sustainable energy usage.
  • Minimizing Waste: From signage to swag, using more reusable and recyclable materials is key. Implementing a waste sorting system and educating attendees about the system is also essential. Moreover, encourage attendees to bring their own water bottles, and provide filling stations for them. Giving attendees the option to “op out” of swag.
  • Sustainable Travel Options: When possible, promote public transportation, bike rentals, rideshare, or hybrid/electric car use for getting to the event. You can also partner with carbon offset programs to help compensate for any emissions associated with the event.
  • Responsible Catering: Work with caterers who prioritize local, seasonal, organic food, and who are committed to minimizing waste. Food donation programs are also important for reducing the massive amount of food waste that is intrinsic to in-person events.

For a creative production company like TENCUE, most of the above initiatives and supply chains are out of our hands. However, sustainability practices are part of our ethos, and have been for over a decade. From commissioning a white paper in the early days of LED to assess the energy efficiency of LED vs. traditional lighting and projection, to our standardized practice of donating post-event materials to our local organization The Center for Creative Reuse, we believe that creating a more sustainable future is not only a necessity, but tantamount to creating a more equitable future.

And there’s still plenty of work to be done. After employing our own Materiality Assessment, our current takeaways and action items include:

  • Continuing and improving our waste management and material use practices
  • Focusing on client education and engagement
  • Adhering to industry-wide standards and best practices
  • Cultivating an internal culture of knowledge
  • Developing a strong, comprehensive sustainability policy, with a focus on equity and accountability

The road to sustainability may seem like a long and daunting one. That’s because it is. As an industry, a nation, and a race, we have a huge amount of ground to make up to avert climate collapse and ensure a stable, habitable environment for successive generations. But what comes with that sobering truth is the motivating realization that we have no choice but to evolve. Moving the needle increment by increment is how we will institute lasting change. Creating an environment where sustainability becomes synonymous with everyday practices, where, indeed, the modifier “sustainable” becomes superfluous, is a titanic goal, but a goal we will have to achieve, collectively.

Earlier, I quipped about this being yet another blog in a sea of blogs about sustainability. And yes, it is. But that’s kind of the point. When so many voices are joining in the conversation that the conversation becomes status quo, that’s when the notion of sustainability will become so institutionalized it will be an intrinsic part of our day-to-day lives. Creating standards and then living by them influences individuals and organizations in our immediate orbit, who then go on to influence individuals and organizations in their immediate orbits, and so on. We all have a part to play in this evolution, and the more of us who join in, even by just taking the first step, the greater exponential progress we will all make towards a sustainable future.