Green shoots: how to wean the events industry off unsustainable practices

The Drum 14 Sep 2021 12:00


Marketers talk a big game about their sustainability initiatives – usually at the same events that leave a trail of trash behind them. The carbon footprint of traveling for pitches, shows and conferences can be enormous; and an industry as global as marketing has those events threaded inextricably into its calendar. As part of our Experiential Marketing Deep Dive, The Drum explores how weaning the industry off unsustainable shows will take time and effort – but is vital if we want to have a viable industry in the future.

If you leave a major event without a hangover, you might consider you’ve gotten away without paying a price. But the reality is that all events

The marketing world in particular has grappled with how to marry its commitment to a greener future with the desire to be seen among our peers at events. Cannes Lions has drawn criticism for (among other things) the glorification of excess, with yachts and huge exhibitions among its biggest selling points.

With the best will in the world, even the clients with a public commitment to sustainability often choose the sustainability options that are best for their pocketbook rather than the planet. Recommendations around carbon offsetting therefore include encouraging attendees to offset their own travel through company donations, in addition to limiting the physical presence they have at the festivals through printed flyers.

But while the future of the events industry is set to include more of the same, there are green shoots that indicate live events are changing for the better. The pandemic has demonstrated that virtual events are not just possible – they are often desirable. After a decade or more of reticence to charge for online events that lack the networking (and partying) of real-world events, audiences are now happy to pay for virtual attendance. There is parity between on- and off-line events in terms of pay, and plenty of huge players are leaping into the business of smaller-scale hybrid events again.

Edward Heaney is strategic development director at PSI. He says: "As ‘sustainable intelligence’ and touchless technologies increase, so does the opportunity for brands to promote their values, sustainability credentials, and services in a more connected way.

John Speers is head of strategy and owner of Kemosabe. Regarding the drive toward sustainability in the industry, he says: “Like any industry from fashion to electric cars, what the consumer wants the consumer usually pays premium for. It’s up to the industry to not treat sustainability as premium but the norm. To regenerate ourselves and our planet we have to change our way of doing things, to live by nature’s rules and create in everything we do the conditions for life to thrive and evolve. This is the central tenet by which our organizations, life and work must revolve.”

From festivals to retail installations to unmissable activations, we examine the avenues open to marketers to reach consumers enjoying their newfound freedom in The Drum’s Experiential Deep Dive.

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Cannes LionsMike White
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