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Sustainability is collaborative and cumulative

Walking the talk at COP 27.

Is it okay to say I’m proud of my clients, my colleagues, and my industry? I  try to avoid self-congratulatory posts, but we are doing some hard work and, most importantly, we are doing it together. Last week, as part of COP 27, we recommitted to the Net Zero Carbon Events (NZCE) pledge and presented a practical roadmap for meeting those goals. The conference was graciously hosted by Egypt, but most of us opted to present virtually to conserve fuel. I did so from Greenbuild, the largest annual event for green building professionals.

As a member of the CEO Council and one of the first pledge signatories for NZCE, I am a huge advocate the NZCE Roadmap. It sets out a common framework that events industry stakeholders can use to make the net zero journey together. Together is the operative word.

For anyone following issues relating to sustainability, especially within the codependent events, transportation, and hospitality industries, two things should be evident. First, to understand our impact and how we can improve, we need to have metrics in place; that’s the first step in the NZCE Roadmap. Freeman has been measuring our impact since 2018, so we can say from experience that while it is complicated it’s also doable. Secondly, it’s clear that all our efforts are amplified when we work together. Freeman is aligned and allied with the many clients and colleagues (that includes competitors) who have agreed that this challenge is bigger than any one of us alone. Here’s a direct quote from the Roadmap document, which you can read here:

“By working together the full force of the events industry can highlight not only the benefits it brings to the world, but also the support which may be needed to make the required changes in order to achieve net zero.”

Already, over 400 organizations have signed the Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge, which is a good start. I urge everyone to get on board, but realistically I know that many smaller businesses and associations feel that it’s beyond their reach. I get that. My response is to ask people to do what they can.

Although Freeman represents some of the biggest show organizers in the world, where robust sustainability protocols are firmly in place, we were recently challenged to host our own small leadership conference in a sustainable way. Dubbed “Camp Buck” after our founder Buck Freeman, we knew that every dollar spent would come out of a bottom line that had actually bottomed out during the pandemic. But the scrappy people on our team put together an amazing plan. We started by engaging with the hotel property. We prohibited plastic bottles and had water stations set up around the campus (indoors and out) and provided everyone with a personalized water thermos. These and other items were locally sourced; paper products were compostable or recyclable. Instead of printing camp T-shirts for everyone, they brought their own favorite wearables from home and silk-screened them onsite. Our biggest luncheon meal was a plant-based vegan buffet. After the show, our faux grass floor covering was donated to a local animal shelter. Fresh floral arrangements were given to local seniors. And we even hosted our  sustainability team at a short breakout sessions, where our leaders could contextualize and learn from the Camp Buck experience. It was a lot of fun, and we all practiced the basics of hosting a green event.  

Did we singled-handedly defeat the threat of greenhouse gas? Of course not. And that’s my point. No single-handed approach is going to work. Our only victories will be collaborative and cumulative.

I hope the framework provided by the COP 27 Roadmap helps everyone in the events industry pull together to embrace planet-friendly protocols. Even more than that, I hope everyone finds a way to participate in the larger cause. If you can’t commit to the NZCE pledge, pledge to do what you can. Our smallest actions can add up, but only if we act together.

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