• The key in holding sustainable events. Environmentally Conscious Event Tips!

The key in holding sustainable events. Environmentally Conscious Event Tips!


Hello, it’s GP Okawa.

The words “sustainability” and “SDGs” have been widely used in the business world for some time now. In every business industry sustainability is becoming indispensable.

Of course, the event industry is no exception. In fact, the event industry is one of the most important industries that must take the lead in the journey.

…… So, what exactly does “sustainable” mean? What is sustainable? The word “sustainable” is not a familiar one for some of us in Japan, but it has spread rapidly, so some people may not have a clear idea of what a “sustainable event” could mean.

In this article, we will provide a thorough explanation of sustainability in events, from the meaning of the word “sustainable” to specific efforts to realize sustainability in events!

What is Sustainable? A Sustainable Society

First, let me tell you what the word “sustainable” means and why it has recently become a buzzword.

The dictionary definition of the term “sustainable”

The word “sustainable” is pronounced the same when said in Japanese.

The dictionary meaning of the word is as follows.

able to continue over a period of time
causing, or made in a way that causes, little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time
Reference: https://dictionary.cambridge.org

The word “sustainable” as used in Japan today is often used specifically to mean “maintainable”, and there is little difference in meaning between the English word and the Japanese word.

But how did a word that means “sustainable” come to be so widely used?

The trigger was an international goal adopted at an international summit in 2015. The SDGs, which have come to be spoken of in conjunction with sustainability, also began at this summit.

The Social Background of the call for Sustainability and SDGs

At an international summit in 2015, the 193 member countries of the United Nations set out to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals over the 15-year period from 2016 to 2030. The acronym “SDGs” stands for this Sustainable Development Goals. Since then, UN member countries have been working on SDGs and reporting on their progress.

After this UN summit, SDGs and sustainability have become topics of conversation through various measures and appeals, and have gradually penetrated.

As you can see in the image above, the SDGs include 17 goals and 169 targets (in-depth methods to achieve the goals), and their contents are quite diverse, such as poverty, education, gender, and environmental issues.

It may be easier to imagine that “SDGs” refers to the goals for achieving the overall theme “sustainability”.

The Meaning of “Sustainability” and “SDGs” in Japan

Thus, “Sustainable” and “SDGs” are words with a fairly broad meaning and background.

However, when “SDGs” is mentioned in Japan, it does not necessarily refer to all 17 goals set forth at the UN Summit. In fact, most of the time it refers to only some of them.

The majority of “sustainable” and “SDGs” initiatives in Japan are about ecology and energy. The above 17 goals include, 7: Energy for All and Clean Energy, 12: Responsibility to Create, Responsibility to Use, 13: Specific Measures for Climate Change, 14: Protect the Abundance of the Sea, and 15: Protect the Abundance of Land, with many specific efforts focusing on ecology.

Given this situation, we can assume that Sustainability and SDGs in Japan at this point in time, we’re mainly referring to the ecological activities.

Two types of “sustainable events”

There is no doubt that the wave of sustainability is global and will become an indispensable perspective, especially for larger companies.

However, only a limited number of companies are involved directly in eco-friendly businesses, right?

Are they unable to hold sustainable events?

No, they are not.

Sustainable events include both,

1: Events with a sustainable theme

2: Events that incorporate sustainable elements.

Events with a sustainable theme

As the name suggests, this is an event that is billed as a sustainable event. The main focus is on eco-friendly events, such as those that include content that emphasizes recycling and reuse, or that exhibit art made from reused materials.

While this type of event can make a big appeal by putting sustainability at the forefront, it also has the drawback that it is difficult to combine it with the company’s regular business activities.

Events that incorporate sustainable elements

This is an event where the program and content remain the same, but sustainable elements are added where they are not always visible. For example, using scrap wood for stage set-up materials, switching from paper brochures to electronic brochures, or using a catering company that uses locally produced ingredients.

Compared to the former, the sustainable element is more modest, but can be applied to any event, regardless of content, in order to incorporate sustainable initiatives into the operation.

It is important to keep this in mind, as the approach will vary greatly depending on whether the theme of the event is “Sustainability” or you’re trying to incorporate sustainable elements into an existing event.

Main agendas in implementing sustainable events

When implementing a sustainable event, challenges may arise that are different from those of a regular event. Here are four typical challenges.

Agenda 1: Budget

Budget is always an obstacle when it comes to event planning. Sustainable events are no different. Some people think that sustainable events can be budget conservative, but this is a big mistake. Sustainable and budget are two very different things. In some cases, the use of sustainable materials can result in a larger budget. It is important to consider how to include sustainability within the expected budget.

Agenda 2: Partnering Companies

Many different companies are involved in the planning, stage setup, gifts, food and beverage, and other aspects of the event. Some of these companies may focus on sustainability, while others may not. If you decide to hold a sustainable event, you may need to select the companies you will work with to organize the event from scratch.

Agenda 3: Waste

When planning a sustainable event, the first topic that comes up is the issue of waste. Since events tend to generate a lot of trash, the first and biggest challenge is what to do with this factor.

Agenda 4: Balance

In Japan, “sustainable” is often associated with ecology, nature, and the natural environment. Some people are concerned that an over-emphasis on sustainability will result in a change in tone and atmosphere from previous events, which may be viewed negatively by the participants. While sustainability is certainly important, an event is only meaningful if the participants are satisfied. It is important to incorporate sustainability into the event while keeping a balance in mind.

Key points for implementing sustainable events

What are some things to keep in mind when holding a sustainable event? While there are ways to proudly incorporate sustainability into the theme and content of your event, it is also possible to incorporate sustainable elements into a traditional event. For example, any event can be made sustainable by following the points below.

Venue (Transportation)

You may be wondering, what does that have to do with sustainability? Here, “transportation” means no unnecessary CO2 emissions. For example, if you choose a venue near a train station or bus stop, you can reduce the number of visitors by car, resulting in a reduction of CO2 emissions. Is something like this making any difference? Yes. For an event with a four-digit number of visitors or more, it makes a big difference whether everyone comes to the venue by car or by public transportation.

Venue Décor

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of event sustainability is venue decoration. There are many ways to go about making an event more sustainable, including designing the venue with reused scrap wood, or using recycled materials in places that cannot be seen such as behind the set, reusing decorations from various events, and using little or no decorations to begin with. This is the easiest way to make your event more sustainable.

Smart Brochure (electronic brochures)

Along with venue decoration, one of the easiest things to incorporate is the introduction of Smart Brochure (electronic brochures). This format digitizes brochures and other materials that were previously distributed on paper and allows participants to view them on their smartphones or tablets. The benefits are easy to understand: the use of paper is reduced, attendees do not have to carry excessive amounts of luggage, and less waste is generated.

Clean Energy Usage

Events use a lot of electricity for lighting, decorations, air conditioning, etc. One of the ways to make your event sustainable is to convert this electricity to clean energy sources. One of the main features of clean energy usage is that it can be done without modifying the planning or content of the event, since all you have to do is “change the electricity source to clean energy”. However, it is important to note that the availability of this measure depends on the venue (if the venue does not have clean energy, it cannot be adopted).

Food Loss Prevention

If your event involves food and beverage, you definitely want to introduce food loss prevention measures. Food loss prevention include local production for local consumption (using local ingredients), cutlery measures (using reusable cutlery), and the use of MSC/ASC compliant seafood (SDGs compliant marine products).

Operational measures can also be taken, such as adjusting the amount of food served to reduce food waste.

Case studies of sustainable events and initiatives

So what exactly are some of the sustainable events and initiatives? Here are just a few examples.

You’ll “Want” to Throw Away the Trash! The Voting Trash Bin

Can we prevent cigarette littering? The “Ballot Bin” was conceived by the Hubbub Foundation, a British non-profit organization. The idea of using ashtrays as ballot boxes quickly became a worldwide phenomenon.

The polls included “Who is the best player in the world? Ronaldo or Messi?” and “Which is a better phone, iPhone or Android?”. In fact, the installation of these ashtrays has had a dramatic effect, improving cigarette littering by 46%.

The “vote by littering” system can be used for more than just ashtrays, and it has a wide range of applications!

Supermarket selling only waste food!

In Berlin, Germany, there is a supermarket that sells only discarded foods.

They are selling food that cannot be sold in regular supermarkets because it has been overgrown or damaged. The prices are, of course, inexpensive. It’s great for the wallet, and it’s also a great way to combat food loss! Furthermore, there are other restaurants in Berlin that make dishes only from discarded foods.

Dye your memorable clothes black and bring them back in style! PANDA BLACK REWEAR PROJECT

Clothing waste is becoming a problem in Japan and internationally. In order to solve this problem, WWF has launched the “PANDA BLACK REWEAR PROJECT. This project is a project to take clothes that are no longer worn because they are dirty or tired and use Kyoto’s dyeing techniques to dye them black and bringing them back in a fashionable way.

This campaign itself has already ended, but the idea of dyeing clothes so that they can be worn again fashionably can be applied to other projects as well.

Summary: Go for sustainable events! Making steady effort is the way to go.

The word “sustainable” has become a hot topic and has a special feel to it, but what is actually needed to make a sustainable event is a steady effort. At the same time, it also means that “a simple twist on an existing event can make it a sustainable event. Why don’t you try to think about how to make your event sustainable and have fun with your ingenuity?