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At Unbridled, we firmly believe that in-person corporate events are mission critical. They create key connections between peers, build trust with executives, and enhance company culture in indispensable ways.

But they can also be a huge source of waste and carbon emissions, with studies showing a three-day conference for 1,000 people creates a whopping 12,500 pounds of waste—much of which will end up in landfills.

That doesn’t mean you need to shift your entire event strategy towards virtual, of course. More and more companies are recognizing the power of a smart sustainability strategy for corporate events. According to American Express’s 2023 Global Meetings & Events Forecast, in fact, 80% of surveyed planners take sustainability into account when planning events. “Sustainability has moved from a buzzword to a corporate mandate” argue the forecast’s authors.

If you’re unsure where to begin, here are some easy-to-implement, practical, and budget-friendly steps corporate event leaders can take to keep sustainability in mind.

1. Make Sustainability Part of The Conversation From The Start

Your event’s carbon footprint should be on your mind from the very start of the planning process. Some things to think about: Does your host city’s CVB offer any resources, special packages, or dedicated sustainability advisors to help guide you? Can you work with local vendors to cut down on travel emissions? Is your venue LEED-certified, or does it at least prioritize renewable energy sources, motion-controlled light switches, and more?

There are also a number of free or affordable resources out there to help you calculate your impact. Some of our favorites include Terrapass’s Carbon Footprint Calculator, Clear Current Consulting and MeetGreen’s Digital Event Carbon Calculator, the TRACE platform by event sustainability nonprofit Isla, and Princeton’s Event Emissions Calculator. The Events Industry Council also offers various guides and certifications through its new Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact.

2. Get Smart About Transportation

According to Terrapass, by far the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon footprint is travel, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the carbon emissions from an average event.

When you’re booking a venue, in addition to asking about its sustainable practices, consider the transportation requirements. How far is it from the airport, nearby restaurants, and other places your attendees will need or want to travel? Are there ways to pair up attendees for carpools or shuttles, or provide clear instructions for public transportation?

3. Consider Smaller Regional Events

We recognize that events are part of a larger portfolio, and when you’re thinking through your strategy for the year, we always encourage focusing on the why. Is it absolutely necessary for the entire team to be in one place, or are smaller, regional events—with shorter flights (or none at all)—an option?

Particularly if you have an international cohort, consider whether a great hybrid experience—perhaps utilizing the “hub and spoke method,” where there’s a main meeting hub and additional groups join remotely—can help you meet your needs.

4. Reduce Waste on Site

Taking your ticketing and agendas digital is a simple way to reduce paper waste. For larger budgets, things like digital signage—or even a robust event app that offers real-time updates to attendees—can be a great option. For smaller budgets, even something as simple as a QR code leading to a website can be an easy way to communicate essential information with less waste.

For the printed items that can’t be avoided, like name tags or certain signage, consider recyclable options. Another pro tip? Keep dates off materials and reuse them the following year!

5. Think Carefully About Catering and Gifting

Avoid plastic water bottles by making glasses and water pitchers easily accessible to attendees, and be sure to place recycling bins in clear view—along with easy-to-see labels indicating what to dispose of in each container so there’s no guesswork.

For catering, aim for locally sourced items, and consider vegetarian menus. Serve food in minimal, reusable packaging, or containers that are biodegradable and compostable. Be sure to ask guests to share dietary requirements in advance to confirm final numbers and prevent leftover food—and if there is extra, plan to donate to a food bank or nonprofit. (In the U.S., the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act allows companies to donate food without liability, provided certain safety standards—like temperature controls and time since it was prepared—are met.)

For swag, lean into items your guests will actually want to use, like metal water bottles or reusable totes, rather than the pens or notepads that may be more likely to be thrown away. Again, keep dates off materials so leftover swag can be reused.

Above all else, remember that something is always better than nothing. Take simple steps, and build on your progress every year.

The Impact

According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), employee socialization and engagement are key factors when it comes to employee retention. Internal events solve these issues while providing a host of benefits to the company and your team—including building and maintaining a positive, inclusive company culture that breeds loyalty and productivity.

Whatever the destination, giving your employees time to relax and connect will be important in 2023.

Make sure you’re making the experience for your top employees a powerful one and plan ahead with Top Incentive Trip Design Best Practices. Knowing this year’s Incentive Travel Trends for 2023 can help you decide where to go and what to do as you plan for the coming year.

Make your next event sustainable.

Call us at 800-290-0311.