By Katherine Beck, Executive Director of Strategy for EMEA

(Stuttgart, Germany)

One of my first initiatives, as a core member of GPJ’s Global Green Team, was to visit the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) & attend several business side events & assess the Green & Innovation Zones surrounding the climate change conference that took place in November in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt.  

Three key questions were top of mind for me to answer during my week-long experience:  

  1. How sustainable are these events & exhibits around COP and what can we learn from this? 
  2. Is this event actually bringing business decision-makers from multiple industries together to collaborate & find solutions and is there value in our clients engaging here in the future?
  3. What can I learn about what GPJ as an organization needs to do in order to accelerate our own Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and sustainable events ambitions?

COP27: A sustainable event?

In flying around 40,000 attendees into a seaside resort in the desert, there was no way that this could be called sustainable.  The organizers of the side events and Innovation zone (New York Times, Bloomberg, World Climate Foundation and Climate Action) focused efforts consistently on 5 areas:  

  • Provision of water fountains (zero plastic bottles) 
  • Catering with crockery, cutlery, linen serviettes (zero single-use trays, boxes or plastic serving containers)
  • Reduced event build through re- & multi- use of LED screens, event furniture, screens & signage
  • Use of locally found materials, upcycling of materials to create canopies, signage & lighting,  exhibits built with 100% recycled materials
  • Charging stations & lighting from solar power

Business Decision-Makers from multiple industries truly collaborating?

The key question for many of our clients who themselves offer solutions for how businesses can become more sustainable, is whether business decision-makers are attending and actively engaging at these events.  The crowds alone, whether at security checkpoint, the registration counter, for the keynote room or workshops showed the demand was extremely high for these events.  Added to that, there were many from Chief Sustainability Officers to VPs to global leaders speaking on panels, leading workshops or simply talking to others about what they are driving, and the breadth of industries and sectors from which they came, signaled that this has become a flagship “moment” for business. 

What does this mean for GPJ and other event agencies moving forward?

In talking to more than 50 attendees from private, public, academia and non-profit organizations onsite, two core themes arose. First, to drive the change to get to net zero in your sector, such in-person events are a necessity to bring different stakeholders – especially decision-makers – together as they enable collaboration.  Second, events themselves need to become drivers of change through significantly more sustainable practices & through design of experiences that focus on action-taking outcomes.

Top Take-Aways

  1. Think LOCAL FIRST  & drive sustainable event design & delivery around local possibilities & needs.
  2. Know Your Supply Chain – where original materials sourced & stop “leakage” with zero waste, local & sustainable approaches
  3. Build proof of concepts – “Motivation for innovation” & showcase it to build trust with other clients.
  4. Each industry needs pathfinders – companies willing to make a move & bring others along.  And events like these help showcase & inspire others to take action.
  5. Becoming a sustainable business requires radical collaboration across industries & requires executives to realise the value of young people in taking a leading role at the same time.  
  6. Set ESG reporting guidelines & introduce sustainability teams, but also know that the real work requires squads of strategic or stakeholder-led experts PLUS technologist/operational experts to design solutions & remove roadblocks.