The Events Industry Needs to Set the Sustainability Standard And Take ActionJune 11, 2019

June 11, 2019

The Events Industry Needs to Set the Sustainability Standard And Take Action

ACF-May-2019-Column-Jane-Scaletta-110x140Jane Scaletta, DMCP, CIS, is president of Dolfin Destinations. Scaletta is both a Positive Impact Ambassador, a member of the SITE Sustainability Committee and author of several sustainability articles. Scaletta grew up in Jamaica, attended boarding school in England and moved to the U.S. in the late 70s. She has worked in travel and tourism for more than 30 years in the U.S. and Caribbean.

Sustainability for events means taking action toward preserving our natural environment, promoting a healthy, inclusive society and supporting a thriving economy.

Associations like the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) are prepared to set the standard on sustainability at the events level by investing time, money and people with passion for sustainability into the very culture of the association.

At a recent SITE Global Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Annamarie Ruffino, immediate past president, announced the launch of the association’s Sustainability Charter. A charter is a written grant by the sovereign or legislative power of a country by which a body such as a borough, company or university is created, or its rights and privileges defined. For SITE, this is a written commitment to ensuring a sustainable future. This charter serves as a written policy and a commitment to action. SITE’s Sustainability Charter suggests ways to support the three pillars of sustainability — environment, social and economic.

What does it mean to set the standard? It means taking a stance and deciding what the standard is going to be. It’s our job to set the industry standard on sustainability at events. How do we go about doing that?

Global Standards

The events industry has an international standard for implementing an approach to sustainability entitled ISO 20121 (Event sustainability management systems — Requirements with guidance for use), which includes creating a policy. ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 164 bodies that set national standards. The work done by SITE aligns with ISO 20121 requirements. This means SITE is committed to helping companies support their sustainability strategy.

As a Sustainability Ambassador for SITE’s Sustainability Committee, trained by Positive Impact, a not-for-profit launched in 2005 to provide education and collaboration opportunities to create a sustainable event industry, I have worked with chapter board members and assisted other chapter members in creating a sustainable roadmap. The process of identifying sustainable issues can be overwhelming, and with the help of Positive Impact’s toolkit of resources, any chapter can create a roadmap to sustainability.

We need to “set the standard” by aligning our event planning with the ISO 20121 management system. Here are several ways we can do that:

  • Lead by example — learn what the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are and implement them into your event.
  • Ask suppliers to offer sustainable options.
  • Appoint a sustainability ambassador on your chapter board.
  • Create a roadmap that shares your objectives.
  • Empower a team to work on sustainable objectives.
  • Gain top management support by signing off on sustainable policies.
  • Share your objectives with your attendees so they can participate in sustainability practices.

There are also dozens of ways planners can implement sustainability practices at events. Some include:

  • Rather than automatically pouring water at events, have attendees ask for water.
  • Rather than have individual plastic water bottles for refreshment, have a water cooler and ask attendees to bring their own reusable water bottle. The water footprint of a conference program, tote bag and two cups of coffee for 750 meeting participants is equal to one Olympic-size swimming pool, or just more than 660,253 gallons of water.
  • Offer chicken dishes rather than beef. Farming chickens emits less carbon than farming cows.
  • Donate left over material and food via the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.

How does this translate to a busy incentive planner trying to be sustainable? What do you really need to do? Take the time to decide on just one SDG to implement into your event. There are 17 from which to choose:

GOAL 1:    No Poverty

GOAL 2:    Zero Hunger

GOAL 3:    Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4:    Quality Education

GOAL 5:    Gender Equality

GOAL 6:    Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7:    Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8:    Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9:    Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10:    Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11:    Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12:    Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13:    Climate Action

GOAL 14:    Life Below Water

GOAL 15:    Life on Land

GOAL 16:    Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17:    Partnerships to Achieve the Goal

An example of Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, can be as simple as reducing food waste after an event through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Also, use local food suppliers, don’t over guarantee for the event, don’t put food out on the buffet lines until containers are empty, use organic products and have an excellent food waste plan in place.

We are fortunate to have a great deal of information at our fingertips to learn and use as examples on how to be sustainable.

Visit SITE’s website ( and review the many documents and case studies under the Motivate portal, or visit the Positive Impacts website ( for tutorials and ideas.

SITE Florida & Caribbean Chapter has implemented an aggressive program called the Sustainable Meeting Plan Program (SMPP) and we have designated several events as sustainable ISO 20121 events for 2019. While we are in our first year of implementation, we know we can learn from our actions and improve on them in the coming years. The most important thing is to start. AC&F

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