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5 ways to make your next event carbon neutral

By Virginie de Visscher | Oct 5, 2023

More than ever before, environmental, social and economic sustainability is a top priority for leaders across a range of industries, especially when it comes to holding business events.

Organizing an event is no small feat. It is a complex task that requires meticulous planning, coordination and execution. Adding sustainability to the deliverables can seem daunting.

However, at Destination Canada, we started to embrace this challenge ahead of Innovate Canada, one of our signature events, which we hosted in Waterloo, Ontario, in May.

This exclusive event gave clients from across the world a chance to see Canada’s innovation and leadership in the advanced manufacturing sector first-hand.

This carbon-neutral event taught us a lot as we explore ways to make business events more sustainable around the world.

Here’s what we learned.

1. Put sustainability on the agenda from the beginning

When embarking on the journey of hosting a sustainable event, it is crucial to make it a central focus of your planning from the very beginning.

By including sustainability as a standing item on the agenda in all planning meetings, it remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds. This approach ensures that sustainable practices are ingrained in every aspect of the event, from choosing the venues to designing the menus.

Making sustainability a priority from the start means that it becomes a natural part of the planning process, and by consistently discussing sustainability in each meeting, you create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation in finding sustainable solutions.

Team members can brainstorm ideas, share best practices and explore new approaches that align with your sustainability goals.


2. Tackle the components of the event in manageable pieces

If this is your first attempt at creating a sustainable event, it can feel a little overwhelming—especially when you’re approaching it as one massive task.

To make it more manageable, map out the entire event and break it down into bite-size components. Then, evaluate the sustainability of each piece individually. For example, you can split your event into areas like food and beverage, decor, transportation, waste management, etc.

By addressing these elements separately, you can focus on finding sustainable solutions tailored to each specific aspect of the event. This approach allows for a more comprehensive and effective implementation of sustainable practices.

For example, when considering food and beverage, explore options like locally sourced ingredient and vegetarian menus, and find ways to minimize food waste.

When it comes to decor, choose eco-friendly materials and reusable or recyclable items, and also consider the overall environmental impact of the decorations.

Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, this approach allows you to incrementally improve the sustainability of your event until your goals are being met.

Aligning your aims with the UN Sustainable Development Goals is another way to ensure you stay on track and address the sustainability of all your event’s components.

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3. Don’t underestimate the power of communication

Communication is a vital tool when it comes to hosting a sustainable event.

Engage with all stakeholders involved, including hotels, suppliers and vendors. Let them know about your sustainability goals, initiatives and strategies. They may have valuable insights and suggestions that you hadn’t considered.

By involving everyone in the process, you create a collaborative environment that can lead to innovative thinking. Additionally, effective communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and working towards this common goal.

Throughout the planning process, maintain open lines of communication with your stakeholders to explore sustainable alternatives for various services and resources. They may have access to eco-friendly products or offer suggestions for reducing energy consumption or waste generation.

Collaborating with them not only helps in finding solutions but also strengthens relationships and encourages a collective commitment to sustainability.


4. Engage attendees in your sustainability journey

To make a significant impact, it is essential to engage event attendees and educate them about the sustainability efforts being made.

Communicate the sustainable practices you have implemented and explain why they are important—for example, if you’re having vegetarian meals, it can be beneficial to address this and explain why.

This transparency helps attendees understand the purpose behind these initiatives and fosters a sense of shared responsibility.

Encourage attendees to participate actively by adopting sustainable behaviors during the event—like steering clear of single-use plastic products.

By involving attendees, you create a community that shares your commitment to sustainability and amplifies its impact at, and beyond, the event.

Consider incorporating interactive displays, informative signage or presentations that highlight the sustainable features of the event.

Offer opportunities for attendees to provide feedback and suggestions for future improvements. By involving them in the journey, you empower them to make sustainable choices.

And, you never know, by creating an inclusive and engaging experience, you might inspire attendees to become ambassadors for sustainability in their communities.

5. Be transparent about successes and areas for improvement

Honesty and transparency are crucial when hosting a sustainable event.

When the event is over and you’re looking at how things went, take a moment to celebrate your successes and share these accomplishments with delegates, partners and stakeholders to inspire and motivate others.

It is, however, equally important—if not more so—to identify areas for improvement.

Acknowledge the challenges faced, lessons learned and areas where sustainability goals were not fully met. By being transparent about the shortcomings, you create a culture of continuous improvement and learning.

You should not see these shortcomings as failures. It’s all part of the sustainability journey, and this transparency also opens up opportunities for collaboration and innovation in finding solutions for future events.

For example, at Innovate Canada - Waterloo, the Destination Canada team was unable to procure buses that were powered by electricity rather than traditional fuel—simply because vehicles of the required size were not available to them.

While the team offset the emissions to ensure that they stayed on track with their goals, even exploring the opportunity will have started a dialogue internally among their suppliers.

And, by highlighting this area for improvement, Destination Canada’s team is furthering the conversation and showing suppliers that there is interest in such vehicles—and this may lead to a positive change.

Another learning for us was around our alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At Innovate Canada - Waterloo, we chose to align with 12 of the 17 goals.

However, we realized that for future events, we could reduce the number of goals that we focus on. This reduces the enormity of the scale of implementing a carbon-neutral, sustainable event; streamlines efforts; and ensures we can have a stronger impact in the future.


Continuing our sustainability journey

In conclusion, hosting a sustainable business event requires a holistic, collaborative approach that touches every stage of planning and execution.

By working in partnership and sharing the lessons we’ve learned, together we can create change and find solutions to propel the business events industry forward.

To learn more about hosting sustainable events in Canada, visit the Destination Canada website. Alternatively, reach out to me directly: Virginie De Visscher, acting executive director, business events, Destination Canada at or (204) 802-0920.



Virginie de Visscher

Virginie de Visscher is acting executive director, business events at Destination Canada.