I’m seeing the first signs of renewal and regeneration of spring now. The first small buds on the plum tree, some flowers on other plum trees as I walk the neighborhood. Buds and blossoms on the magnolia trees.
So, I’m thinking about renewal and regeneration. There has been much talk in the event industry in the last year, as live events have returned, about doing things differently. Organizations and companies have talked about how they will focus more on sustainability for both their events and for their organizations.
I love hearing this, and like the new buds on the trees and the signs of regeneration, I see a few signs of starting to take big actions to change behaviors, to invest in sustainable practices and to measure and report actions that are taken.
This is important because it feels like we’re at a transition point. A lot of people that have been pushing the sustainability message for a long time are nearing the ends of their careers. New people are starting to step up into leadership and this generational change makes sense.
I’m reading Yancey Strickland’s book “This Could Be Our Future” and one of the points he makes about change is that big changes are generational and can take thirty years or so. We’re at about that point in terms of when some of the early innovators started thinking about and talking about sustainability in the events industry.
Once change starts to grow it can accelerate quickly and become contagious. It’s also hard to change though when you must do the changing, but on a long timeline anything is possible. We’ve often said that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Change is not overnight, it’s incremental and a lot of change happens over time.
It's often felt like the event and hospitality sectors have been resistant to change and have been very slow to take sustainability seriously, to integrate it into the standard practices and operations of planning and daily operations.
I’m not saying that nothing is being done. I know there are planners and suppliers, designers, show organizers, food and beverage managers, sustainability consultants out there working hard every day to push the message, to push past talking sustainability to taking real actions to move the event and hospitality industries to more sustainable practices.
Perhaps the good news is that the next generation of event and hospitality planners and suppliers were born after the first Earth Day and many of them have lived their entire lives with recycling programs and a focus on not wasting things. They’ve also lived their lives with the threat of climate change an ever-present topic of discussion and have seen some of the first-hand effects of climate change both environmentally and socially.
This brings me back to renewal and regeneration and where we are at this moment. Have we realized and acknowledged that the big issue and the big problem we are all tasked with is reducing our overall emissions, both individually and organizationally? As we talk about renewal and regeneration, are we taking the appropriate actions on a big enough scale to do our part as an industry to mitigate the effects of climate change and work towards a healthy planet with healthy people and an equitable economy?
“While governments and businesses have the most power to reverse climate change, perhaps the best thing we can do as individuals is to hold them accountable, dispel influential myths and shift our collective attention to the actions that matter most. Although the jury is still out on the effectiveness of throwing soup at famous artworks, we know that switching to clean energy, flying less, and adopting a plant-based diet are some of the most effective ways to help save our planet.” That’s from a recent article in the New York Times.
Those three things are likely tough and even controversial for the event and hospitality sectors, though they are not new and have been around for a few years now. It may be time for more serious discussion about them though.
I’m hoping to dive into each topic separately in coming perspectives and I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories on what you’re doing and thinking about relative to renewal and regeneration or the three topics highlighted above.
Paul Salinger has over fifteen years of experience in sustainable events, notably leading event sustainability efforts as Vice President of Marketing at Oracle and co-founding the Green Meeting Industry Council's Northern California Chapter. As a retired individual, he remains committed to advocating for event sustainability as a Board Member of SFSE.