Sustainability need not cost the earth: 3 practical tips

As a CSR manager it’s hard to hear the president-elect of the United States claim that climate change does not exist. Thankfully his view remains very much a minority one and I see daily how venues, exhibitions and conferences are becoming increasingly eco-conscious. There is still one major misunderstanding, however: the idea that sustainability is expensive. This isn’t necessarily the case – in fact, being sustainable can even generate funds and value, especially in the long term.

Pretending that climate change is a hoax will not make the problem go away. Thankfully most people are aware of the importance of caring for our planet. Companies are not isolated entities; they exist to fulfill the needs that exist in our society and they have a responsibility towards that society. It is important to care for the world around us because otherwise we may eventually undermine our very existence.
Within RAI Amsterdam I am responsible for the Corporate Social Responsibility policy. We believe in the power of meetings and creating a context that enables them to flourish, both now and in the future. We invest in sustainable measures and are happy to share our knowledge with all who wish to hear it.

Going green saves
The greatest misunderstanding is that sustainability is expensive. This need not be the case at all, especially when viewed from a long-term perspective. Taking the environment into account is nowadays seen as a ‘license to operate’ and alternatives to the past are gradually becoming the standards of today.

Organisers increasingly ask us how we can help make their event more sustainable as a venue. And I welcome these questions. This means that organisations are aware of their responsibilities and see sustainability as a normal part of their event. It also means they are willing to ask themselves: ‘Why are we doing things this way? Can we make changes or improvements?’ My answer is always a resounding ‘yes’. Below are some tips to point you in the right direction.

  1. Separated waste is cheaper
    At the RAI we see waste as materials looking for a new destination. A full 100% of our waste is recycled, and that demands waste separation. We have designated individual waste streams for materials such as plastic, paper, glass, wood and carpeting. Residual waste is the most expensive type of waste and this also applies to events. Better waste separation during an event means less residual waste and, therefore, more sustainability and lower costs for the organiser. Obviously we provide the facilities to realise this goal.
  2. Preventing waste is easier than you think
    Are printed exhibition catalogues really necessary or do people simply use the app? Should outdoor banners and promotional materials include a date or can they be reused next year? Are give-aways desirable enough that people actually take them home or do most end up in the bin? And, if so, which bin? You can prevent lots of waste by spending a little more time prior to the event considering the trajectory your products take after being handed out. And, as you may have guessed, this also saves on production as well as waste costs.
  3. How better choices reduce food waste
    Event organisers are often worried about offering too few catering options. But are all these sandwich or dinner options really a necessity or just habit? Offering so many varieties results in considerable potential food waste. And they don’t make exhibitors happier either, adding to their decision-making stress and causing dissatisfaction if the preferred choice is unavailable. The solution is simple: offer fewer options while ensuring the quality is so high that no extra options are needed. This is cheaper and prevents wasting valuable food.

Start in time, involve your partners
The great thing about these measures is that they don’t cost a thing and can even result in savings. It only requires a little time and attention during the preparation phase. Make sure you involve the venue, suppliers and other event partners; together you can achieve a great deal.

Positive impact
The best news is that it doesn’t end there. Meetings between people are tremendously powerful so make sure you plug in. Consider the part you play as an organisation. How can your event contribute to positive developments in your world? What sustainable development and growth can you stimulate? I believe that everyone can contribute and that, instead of focusing on how to limit our negative impact on the world, we are better off recognising the positive impact we can make.

The RAI’s CSR policy has three pillars: People, Planet and Progress. We stimulate the development, growth and employability of people, and aim to operate in a CO2 neutral way by using as many renewable sources as possible. These include solar energy (our 8,000 m² solar roof is the largest in Amsterdam) and district heating. In addition, the RAI works in accordance with the ‘Zero Waste’ principle. Our ultimate goal is to stimulate the sustainable development of people and markets by creating and facilitating valuable encounters.

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Stephanie Mathas

Stephanie Mathas

Stephanie Mathas | CSR manager RAI Amsterdam | @StephanieMathas
CSR | Sustainability | Change | Progress | Travel | Dancing | Celebrating life!

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