How to Design a Successful Sustainable Event

29th April 2022

Sustainability has evolved from being perceived as just a buzz word, often considered as an afterthought in business events, to a key factor in how a conference — and city — operates. But how can planners juggle creating a meaningful and memorable meeting that’s sustainable, without compromising on quality or budget? Canada has some of the answers.

Words Lane Nieset

In 2022, destinations are not only reducing waste by eliminating water bottles or incorporating energy-efficient technologies into their operations. Now, they are looking at the issue holistically and providing guidance on everything from how to offset flights, reduce carbon emissions, and leave a positive legacy through local and sustainable sourcing. 

Canada is one of the most progressive destinations when it comes to bringing sustainability to the forefront of the conversation and helping planners achieve their goals. 

“If we are going to do better for people and the planet, it must be a team effort. In many cases, people have looked at sustainability as competitive advantage or differentiator, as a ‘nice to have’, but not an essential element in their event. This is rapidly changing as the world begins to understand the urgency needed to safeguard our earth’s natural systems,” explains Melissa Radu, Director of Social and Environmental Sustainability, Explore Edmonton“Businesses and partners are holding themselves, and each other, to a much higher standard. More open sharing of best practices and cross-sectorial collaborations are necessary to create a more resilient industry together.”

Setting goals

Edmonton, the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta, is one of the country’s forerunners in terms of sustainability. The first city in Western Canada to join the Global Destination Sustainability Movement (GDS-Movement), Edmonton is also a supporter of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC)’s Net Zero Carbon Events initiative, a movement supported by more than 200 organizations in the events industry.

Both the Edmonton Convention Centre and Edmonton EXPO Centre are Green Key and Climate Smart certified, and have launched greenhouse gas reduction plans. These efforts, and the city’s introduction of 13km of light rail transit, are part of the Edmonton’s larger plan to be carbon neutral by 2040.

“At Explore Edmonton, we are finding that with more and more events further along in their own sustainable journey, it’s not enough to simply adopt best practices like eliminating straws or using less paper,” Radu explains. “Today, living in the time of the climate emergency, making real progress requires an accelerated rate of change. Initiatives like our carbon-neutral events initiative are helping to transform the meeting and event industry, and providing better accountability for events that want to help reduce emissions over time, as well as their contributions to climate change.” 

Setting achievable goals, with the help of sustainability experts, is one way to make sure that you’re on track and making progress. In Canada, both Explore Edmonton and Destination Vancouver are just two of the DMOs to offer this type of guidance. Elsewhere, other venues, like Montréal’s Palais des congrès de Montréal, are aligning with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as a way to drive change and help inspire other convention centres to adopt or develop sustainable solutions. 

Picking partnerships

Selecting partners who already have sustainability measures in place can significantly help reduce an event’s impact.

There’s an increasing awareness that, in every aspect of meetings and events, sustainability needs to be woven in, to benefit the environment and host communities in a way that leaves only positive legacies,” explains Gwendal Castellan, Manager of Sustainable Destination Development, Destination Vancouver. “This requires a more sophisticated supplier ecosystem that can support organizers in achieving their goals.”

Vancouver – Aerial view of downtown highrises, Canada Place, Vancouver Convention Centre, Coal Harbour and Stanley Park ©Destination British Columbia

On Canada’s West Coast, in a city known for its natural beauty, the Vancouver Convention Centre stands as the world’s first and only double-LEED Platinum certified convention centre—a showcase of its commitment to environmental excellence. In addition to featuring a six-acre living roof (the largest in the country) with more than 400,000 indigenous plants and grasses, the centre utilizes a seawater heating and cooling system, and local wood products from sustainably-managed forests are incorporated throughout the facility. 

Over in the province of Québec, meanwhile, Palais de congrès de Montréal is leading the way with urban agriculture initiatives like VERTical, a project working with new vertical farming technology, and Culti-VERT, a technological showcase for green roofs and container gardening. 

As Chrystine Loriaux, Director of Marketing and Communications, Palais des congrès de Montréal, explained: “We have an immense rooftop surface right in the heart of the city, and we knew that by working with environmental experts, we could make a positive contribution by repurposing this vast space. Scientists, engineers, crop farmers, bee farmers, managers and a host of other specialists worked together with the Palais’ building management team to make this project happen, which we believe will inspire other property owners to do the same.”

Looking local

Food management and sourcing play a leading role in reducing an event’s environmental footprint, which is why many destinations in Canada have made working with local vendors a standard. For example, venues focusing on food programs in Winnipeg, such as the Winnipeg Convention Centre, are utilizing suppliers like Circa Catering, which works with local farm FortWhyte to offer seasonal and plant-based menus — and is even making vegan ricotta in-house. The Calgary Stampede, meanwhile, champions the “Grown Right. Here” program, which delivers an authentic western culinary experience through local sourcing.

In the province of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Convention Centre takes advantage of the bounty of regional products on the East Coast and offers a menu that centres around seasonal, readily available organic products – to reduce the carbon footprint of events and support the local economy. Meals are served on porcelain or compostable dishware and, as a way to reduce waste, the culinary team incorporates imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables, that may have been tossed into a compost bin, into their menus.

The Toronto skyline, as seen from The Toronto Islands ©Destination Toronto

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) goes as local as the rooftop of its South building, which features six beehives housing 50,000 bees. These illustrious insects act as pollinators for the city and provide honey for the culinary team. 

When it comes to excess food, venues are also making disposal and donation options seamless for visiting associations, by working with local programs and organizations. The MTCC, for example, considers every event to be a zero-waste event, and has redirected 90% of the waste produced onsite from landfills. The Shaw Centre in Ottawa has a partnership with Food Rescue, developed by Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue organization, and donates surplus food to those in need in the community. Back in Alberta, the Edmonton Convention Centre has a waste management initiative called the Second Helping Program that, in 2019, diverted 177,116 kg (approximately 124 compact cars) worth of waste from landfills and donated 2,306 kg (or 4,243 meals) to the Edmonton Food Bank. 

“The sustainability department at Explore Edmonton is seeing a movement away from sustainable event planning to embrace regenerative event planning. Instead of ‘doing less bad’ through an event, more planners are starting to focus on how they can ‘do more good,’” Radu explains. “Event planners can use events as a mechanism to inspire change through education. For instance, if you can shed light on the waste footprint of an event you may be better positioned to promote food waste reduction programs or single-use-item reduction; both around the event but, also, once people return home.” 

Less is more

When it comes to environmental sustainability, reducing harmful emission output is key. Planners have a number of resources to help improve the environmental sustainability of their events, like working with dedicated sustainability staffs at hotels like the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, or venues that incorporate clean energy initiatives. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre Regina, for example, became the first in Saskatchewan to incorporate green electricity from Canada’s Bullfrog Power

For impartial insights, inspiration and introductions, planners can contact the Destination Canada Business Events team via their website. Or reach out to Virginie De Visscher, Senior Director of Business Development, Economic Sectors, Destination Canada Business Events directly at

On Vancouver Island, Destination Greater Victoria is focusing on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and has become the first major DMO in North America to achieve a carbon-neutral designation from leading climate advisory services company, Ostrom Climate. Emission reduction is also top of mind in Toronto, where the MTCC is working with the cloud-based software platform Voyage Control to reduce traffic, and therefore emissions, during event move-in and move-out.

Small steps, such as traveling differently, can have a large impact when it comes to reducing emissions. And while partners and suppliers have their own sustainable solutions in place, it’s also important to provide attendees with insight on how they can reduce their own impact at an event. 

Thanks to the infrastructure already in place throughout Canada — from Edmonton’s free transport system (available to those using the Show My Badge program) to Calgary’s renewable energy-powered light rail system — this part is easy. 

Kickstarting the planning process

Canada is already leagues ahead when it comes to helping planners create sustainable — and meaningful — events. Take advantage of resources from Destination Canada Business Events and its partners on how to create events that will leave an impact on attendees, while impacting the environment as little as possible.

Hit enter to search or ESC to close