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Natural Progression: Can the pandemic act as a catalyst for more sustainable events?

October 30, 2020

After long periods of isolation, meeting planners and attendees are breathing a sigh of relief as safe, small meetings resume. Without a doubt, the situation remains fluid and restrictions are changing daily as some countries experience second and third waves, and so there remains a sense of caution. 

But as we celebrate small victories, could now be a chance to seize the moment? Can companies use the lessons of the pandemic to stop paying lip service to “sustainability” and create events that contribute to a new, more meaningful, healthier and equal society; one that exists in equilibrium with nature? COVID-19 has taught us that we can make big changes fast, that the world is – for better or worse – hyper-connected, and we need gatherings more than we thought.

“While ensuring the safety and wellbeing of attendees is by far the top priority for event planners at the moment, creating more sustainable events still remains high on the agenda,” says Armando Mastrapasqua, CWT Meetings & Events' Senior Director for the Southern EMEA region. “We were able to pivot quickly at the start of the pandemic to new ways of working, and we have been able to develop strategies that help clients achieve both these objectives simultaneously.”

Since 2018, CWT Italy has been one of a small number of companies to achieve the ISO 20121 certification for sustainable events. Recently, it has worked with the certification agency, TÜV Rheinland, to add epidemic/pandemic risk management to its ISO 20121 certification and on 14 October, two events organized by CWT M&E Italy were officially certified as “Sustainable Including Epidemic/Pandemic Risk Management”. We asked the team that organized those events for three ways that planners can boost event sustainability while managing risks associated with the coronavirus at the same time. 

Go virtual (or hybrid) – When a financial services company approached CWT M&E to organize a one-day sales conference for 100 people, the team proposed a concept where the speakers would gather at a physical location while complying with local safety requirements, but the attendees would join the event virtually. 

The client’s Italian HQ was identified as the preferred location to host the nine speakers. Specific site inspections were carried out to check that the required safety measures could be implemented, and numerous risk management actions were taken – for example, speakers kept fixed distances on set and each presenter had their own microphone. 

To replace the buzz of an in-person event, participants were sent a gift box which included a cocktail kit. CWT M&E created a dedicated web-based platform to host the event, which participants could access seamlessly by clicking a link sent to them via email. A director working behind the scenes controlled the flow of content to create an experience similar a traditional “live” event.

The event was a success and attendees praised the client for their emphasis on duty of care. Hosting virtual or hybrid events can boost your sustainability credentials, eliminating the risk of infection and pressure on the environment resulting from travel – without skimping on creativity. 

Embrace all – Sensible management and attention to diversity is core to sustainability. COVID-19 has emphasised the need to embrace everyone in the planning of events by ensuring that vulnerable individuals are able to participate. Virtual or hybrid events mean they will not have to leave their home, eliminating the risk of contagion.

Buy local – COVID-19 has put a new spin on the importance of using seasonal, local produce. Supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic highlight the importance of local goods. Plus, buying local provides much-needed economic stimulus for producers and farmers while reducing an event’s carbon footprint. 

CWT M&E organized a two-day virtual team-building exercise for a life sciences client around the theme, “a recipe for success.” A well-known Italian chef led a virtual cooking class. In advance of the class, attendees were sent a “mystery box” packed with, seasonal Italian ingredients needed to create the recipes at home, taking into account intolerances and dietary requirements. The event met the sustainability targets of local sourcing and reduced waste and was fully paperless. 82% of attendees ranked the event highly.

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