As surely as we need planners and suppliers to make improvements to event management practices in order to reduce emissions, waste and inequality–topics often covered on this blog–we can also measure the value of events on the basis of their ability to enable and inspire event participants to act on sustainability, as well.
So what role do events play in building a better world for all? An initial brainstorm arrives at three possible ways events can promote sustainability:
REFLECTING AND RESTORING: Providing a space to process feelings arising from ecological crises
We live in a time of concurrent environmental crises that can cause a variety of emotions: despair, anger, grief, fear and anxiety. While meditation, journaling, counselling, or conversations with close friends may help process feelings, so can thoughtfully-designed experiences.
Quiet spaces for reflection within the event ecosystem are one tactic. Another may be featuring a speaker that allows us to see we’re not alone in our feelings and how these emotions might be channeled to improve our well-being, along with that of the planet. Alternatively, dialogues and intimate discussions provide pathways to build professional and personal support networks that enable the discovery of creative solutions that improve mental health and promote action.
(If you are finding it hard to be resilient in the face of our current climate reality, check out Gen Dread.)
CREATING AND INNOVATING: Generating solutions to sustainability challenges through education and action
This intention may first conjure up images of large, global meetings to advance sustainability (meetings that some argue need a reboot in order to more effectively achieve their purpose). Or perhaps conferences that advance research and understanding of sustainability issues.
However, not all solution-oriented events are massive, policy-oriented affairs or educational forums. Effective remedies to sustainability challenges can also be achieved through hack-a-thons and festivals of action that generate community-based enterprises and practical on-the-ground solutions.
CONNECTING AND FULFILLING: Providing a place for individuals to build relationships and act on their desire to help
Not all event participants are looking to process personal feelings related to the climate crisis. Nor do they have a specific sustainability challenge they are looking to solve. Many may just be looking for an opportunity to pitch-in and connect with others. Here is where visible and well-designed volunteer or service projects can provide participants with a sense of meaning and fulfillment through participation. And ideally, a degree of excitement that prompts them to also tell a story about their experience.
The variety here is endless: from local repair cafes where pop-up events promote neighbours helping neighbours, to wide-scale fan engagement in sustainability at international sporting events that drives research and personal action.
For many event professionals, sustainability can feel limiting. Especially where it only takes the form of a series of compliance boxes to check in order to feel less guilty about the impact events have on the environment.
And while it’s true lower-impact logistics must be a priority, the spark of inspiration sustainability brings to experience design can also be fuel that propels us forward. For it is in this space that the practice of “sustainable events” shifts from being an obligatory operational tactic to an experiential super-power.