Sustainable events and the three pillars of sustainability

Before looking into the more specific areas that can affect the overall sustainability of an event (e.g. venue, food and beverage, travel, accommodation, etc.), it is helpful to understand how sustainability in general may relate to an event. Below, we identify a range of factors related to the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability – the three pillars of sustainability – and present how they generally pertain to events.

Economic sustainability factors

Economic sustainability involves the use of available resources in a way that is both efficient and responsible, and ensures all financial obligations over time can be met. The following are examples of general economic sustainability factors:


  • Return on investment
  • Local economy
  • Market capacity
  • Shareholder value
  • Innovation
  • Growth
  • Market presence
  • Indebtedness
  • Risk
  • Fair trade
  • Profit sharing
  • Business performance

Relating to events, it is essential to address economic sustainability in terms of the financial health of the organizer planning it (the event planner) and the company putting it on (the event owner). For example, one may choose to measure the financial viability of an event as a function of revenues minus expenses, or as the level of risk or uncertainty associated with expected revenues and expenses.

For larger events, it’s helpful to expand the lens to include the broader economic impact that an event may have on the economy. For example, a huge international conference held in a relatively small city could have significant impact on the economy – for better (e.g. more patrons for local businesses) or for worse (e.g. greater traffic congestion).

Social sustainability factors

Social sustainability is realized by equitably meeting the needs of all people affected by the planning or activation of an event. The following are examples of general social sustainability factors:


  • Labour standards
  • Health and safety
  • Civil liberties
  • Social justice
  • Local community
  • Indigenous rights
  • Cultural issues
  • Accessibility
  • Equity
  • Heritage
  • Religious sensitivities

Relating to events, social sustainability is concerned with the interests of stakeholders (both internal and external) affected by events. For example, those people responsible for planning an event, staffing it, attending it, and presenting at it are internal stakeholders. They may be interested in things like safe work conditions and equitable pay. External stakeholders may include local community groups, local businesses, citizens of a city in which an event is being held, and certain special interest groups. These groups are likely to be more concerned with the broader social impact that an event may have.


Each stakeholder has a variety of rights, interests, and/or cultural sensitivities that should be respectfully acknowledged and addressed. Like with economic sustainability, the degree of impact will be a factor of the size of an event and considerations should be made accordingly.

Environmental sustainability factors

Environmental sustainability involves making decisions and employing practices that minimize our degradation of the planet. The following are examples of general environmental sustainability factors:


  • Resource utilization
  • Materials choice
  • Resource conservation
  • Energy efficiency
  • Emissions reduction
  • Biodiversity and nature preservation
  • Water pollution
  • Air pollution

Relating to events, environmental sustainability factors lie mainly with the products and services (e.g. venue, food and beverage, transportation, materials selection, etc.) used by the organizer, guests, and other stakeholders while planning, implementing, and participating in an event. An event planner will be able to affect some of these factors directly (e.g. by selecting environmentally-friendly marketing materials or by being careful to order precise quantities of food), while other factors are more the responsibility of suppliers (e.g. waste diversion capabilities at a venue and local food options from an in-house caterer).

An important note to make here is that planning a “green” event does not necessarily mean that it will automatically be more expensive. Indeed, many environmental initiatives can actually reduce costs and uncover efficiencies if done right. This is especially true for large scale events such as conferences or sporting events.

A high-level starting point for your sustainable events

From this high-level perspective of sustainability in general, one can look at how a sustainable event aligns with a company’s other strategic objectives (e.g. a company-wide sustainability mandate may prioritize a diverse workforce or stress a need for sustainability-themed marketing messages). Plus, having an understanding of how the three pillars of sustainability affect an event is a good starting point before diving into all the little nitty-gritty details. This is a great point in which to begin interviewing key influencers too.

If you’ve been thinking of being proactive about making your events more sustainable, look to Green Meeting Ninjas as someone that can help. We’re a lean, mean fighting machine of a startup that is fiercely committed to helping you plan more sustainable events with the greatest of ease. Get in touch with us today.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/marcviln


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