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How to Incorporate Sustainability in Corporate Event Planning

Sustainability is more than counting carbon emissions or recycling plastic water bottles (although it’s that too). As defined by the UN, sustainability has evolved to encompass all activities that work toward “peace and prosperity for people and the planet”.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were first introduced in 2015 with a view to become “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” They are a collection of 17 goals addressing the global sustainability challenges we face including climate change, poverty and inequality. Many corporations, including BCD, have aligned many of their sustainability policies and targets with the UN’s goals. Our collective mission is clear: As individuals and organizations, we all share the responsibility of good stewardship rooted in sustainability to maintain a vibrant world. Connecting a meeting program’s sustainability goals with the UN’s makes it simpler for your stakeholders to understand how their meetings fit into the big picture.

Even though the global COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily shifted in-person events to virtual formats, we can still drive adoption of sustainable practices in the implementation of virtual events.


How to incorporate UN’s sustainability goals into your next virtual meeting


  • Good Health and Well-being
    Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Build wellness activities into your meeting’s agenda: Introduce a wellness challenge for attendees, incorporate movement breaks between sessions (offer desk yoga or encourage everyone to take a short walk), or invite a wellness guest speaker. Remember mental health is an important part of the equation, especially while many of us remain socially distanced. 
  • Gender Equality
    Achieve gender equality and empower all women & girls.
  • Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
    Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and built effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Ensure your content is inclusive, thoughtful and truly represents the diverse communities we serve. Speakers and attendees who are diverse in gender, race, and background are critical components in creating content that resonates with all (or most) instead of a few. This is an area that needs to continuously be addressed to ensure that we as an industry are giving equity to everyone who is part of it.

  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
    Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.Work with vendors with fair employment policies. Review your company’s own practices and values and make sure they align. 
  • Reducing Inequality
    Reduce inequalities within and among countries.

Incorporate a charitable project into your meeting agenda that demonstrates understanding and respect for the local communities. Create ways for attendees to support a cause or engage with an organization virtually. 


18 ways to incorporate sustainability into your meeting or event

Soon, we will be meeting in person and will again have opportunities for incorporating even more sustainably-minded solutions into the process. Now is a great time to update your company’s meetings policy to incorporate sustainable practices for in-person events as we prepare for a post-COVID-19 world. Here are 18 other ways to get started.


  1. Add sustainability as an agenda item to internal event planning meetings. Use this time to discuss client needs related to sustainability, and share resources, ideas and challenges.
  2. Adapt a sustainability preference clause into request for proposals and contract templates that requires vendors provide their sustainability policy and best practices. Use this information in decision making and planning.
  3. Think of two or three supplies that are frequently used at events. Signs, name badges and paper products are a good place for organizers to start. Ask suppliers to research a more sustainable option for each and shift purchasing to make the green choice standard, so customers have to opt-out of the responsible choice.
  4. Consider adding a CSR event to your event to provide opportunities for attendees to mingle and also give back to the community. Read about how we helped weave CSR into one of our client’s programs here.
  5. When planning for an event, try looking for venues that are already implementing sustainable practices into their space. Whether that’s through the way they reduce their carbon footprint, use renewable energy sources, or reducing on-site waste.


Waste Management

    1. Eliminate dates and locations from event branding. Making your signage more generic gives you the opportunity to reuse it in the future and prevent creating unnecessary waste from signage.
    2. Use technology to reduce the creation of waste. If possible, consider using QR codes or other digital resources to share information that would normally be printed on paper and tossed out. It’s friendlier for the environment and also makes it easier for attendees to “carry” materials with them throughout the event.
  1. Think about using a hybrid or virtual format where possible to both extend the reach of your program while reducing the carbon footprint of attendees who would normally travel to a physical event location.
  2. Create a “Stop Doing List” for sustainability. Make it simple. List things to phase out that create waste, for example.
  3. Organic waste and potentially recyclable goods like paper, plastic, and glass are often thrown in the trash. Look for venues that implement a recycling and composting program for waste disposal or develop one yourself.

Read easy tips to start planning sustainable events



  1. Identify one or more sustainability topics to learn about. Possible subjects might include human trafficking, accessibility or climate change. Designate 30 minutes a week to read up on that topic and how it applies events.
  2. Select one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and brainstorm one way to address it at an event. Have more than one recommendation? Summarize ideas and share them as an internal resource.
  3. Research and include green travel tips on the event website, including how to take public transport to and from the venue.
  4. Let people know when event products are sustainable by communicating verified recycled content, organic and fair-trade credentials on the items themselves.
  5. Prepare a few sustainability fun facts to share via social media. Please borrow any from the BCD Meetings & Events Green White Paper.

Incentivize & Reward

  1. Host a Sustainability Happy Hour for an event team with the purpose of generating creative ideas for an event sustainability plan. Consider providing organic food or local craft beverages to promote attendance and stimulate discussion.
  2. Create an incentive that rewards team members who take action to support sustainability goals. It could be simple, such as a thank you gift card, green team wrap party or post-event merit awards. Or recognition could be more formal, such as written endorsements in employee reviews.
  3. If you’re providing swag bags or gifts to attendees, try and use sustainable packaging and products. Consider using a reusable lunch box as the container for your gifts and placing sustainable water bottles, metal straws, or other eco-friendly products inside.


Originally published May 28, 2019 5:29:59 PM
Last updated on Jan 5, 2023 9:29:59 AM

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Written by BCD Meetings & Events


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