Insights/ Sustainability in Events - 2020, 2021 and beyond

Author: Charlotte McCormack

Back in 2019 the world was in the midst of fighting a global crisis, a different kind of crisis to the one we now have become familiarized with since early 2020. With the world’s temperature rising, resulting in the second warmest year in history, record lows in sea ice extent and volume, and global sea levels and greenhouse gases reaching new highs, over 1,737 cities and 30 countries declared a climate emergency [1]. Extinction Rebellion continued their movement raising awareness of the global crisis and gaining a new level of media attention, and teenager Greta Thunberg became the world’s youngest, and arguably bravest, environmental activist, challenging world leaders to take immediate action against climate change.

And the event industry took note. In January 2020, 90% of organisers agreed that an increasing focus on sustainability was important for the events industry. 79% stated that they had increased their focus on making their events more sustainable, and 97% of organisations had implemented some form of event sustainability initiative [2]. Event planners were taking action and increasing their efforts to tackle climate change.

But then, early 2020, a global pandemic shook the world, and the fight against climate change was no longer top of the priority list.

With the impact of COVID-19 and social distancing, event businesses had to shift their focus towards adapting to a new virtual world and overcoming the obstacles that they faced due to the sudden stop of live events. As a result of this, sustainability naturally became a lower priority. In May 2020, only 12% of event organisers said that their business had an advanced sustainability strategy, despite the 97% of organisers back in January implementing an event sustainability initiative. 49% said that they were only just beginning the journey and 42% admitted to not having even started considering circularity (the act of regenerating, restoring and recycling materials) in their event organization [3].

Despite stealing the limelight, COVID-19 didn’t have a negative impact on climate change in 2020. In fact, global emissions dropped by about 7% compared to 2019 [4]. But now as we are (hopefully) coming out the other side of the pandemic, where does that leave our focus on sustainability now, and what will that look like within the events industry in 2021 and beyond?

At the end of 2020 IMEX Group, The Global Destination Sustainability Movement and Marriott International teamed up to write The Regenerative Revolution, a 72-page report on changing the event industry’s relationship with nature. In it they explore the Circular Economy, urging an industry that is typically built on a Linear Economy (take, make, use, dispose), to use this break forced upon us by COVID-19 to reset and rethink, shifting to a Circular and regenerative model, “where the goods of today become the resources of tomorrow” [5]. They highlight the four key principles of this model:

1. Design out waste pollution – identifying environmental wastes (food waste, water pollution, greenhouse gases etc.) in the planning phase and designing them out of the final event

2. Keep products and materials in use – design for durability, reuse, repair, remanufacturing and recycling

3. Design for inclusiveness and diversity – event organisers to design better physical, financial and cognitive accessibility, whilst also increasing diversity of the participants, speakers and sponsors. This is based on the belief that ecosystems that embrace diversity, equality and inclusion perform better

4. Regenerate natural systems – avoid/remove use of non-renewable resources in favour of enabling energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.

They believe that “by integrating the four core principles into the business models, design and operations of events, we will enable a disruption of the old linear systems thinking and accelerate a shift to more purposeful, inclusive and regenerative practices” [6]. And with the events industry currently working to reduce its emissions by approximately 45% by 2030, urgent change needs to happen, and soon.

Over the next few months at Powwow, we will be re-looking at our own sustainability strategies to not only better support our clients with reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the SBTi and Paris Agreement goals, but to also take responsibility for our part to play in the reduction of emissions within the events industry.

The Regenerate Revolution report closes urging us to rethink and redesign a regenerative events ecosystem that can work long-term for our businesses, society, and environment. And speaking on behalf of an industry that loves what they do (and has been sorely missed over the last year), surely change is worth it to ensure the longevity and success of our beloved industry.



[2] page 16

[3] page 16


[5] page 26

[6] [3] page 38