Check List for Eco-Conference Venue Selection

Growing worldwide awareness of sustainability is placing pressure on the events organising industry to move in that direction, or it will surely lose business. Vague statements of being eco-friendly will not do and is simply seen as green washing, writes Des Langkilde.

Professional Conference Organisers (PCOs), Destination Management Companies (DMCs) and their clients need facts, figures or certification to prove unequivocally that the green credentials of a conference venue are above board. The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) held its 2014 conference at the Fair Trade certified Spier Wine Farm for this reason, and found the venue to comply with many of the check list items shown at the end of this article.

Benefits of Event Greening

Many international clients who bring their events to South Africa are making event greening a part of their tender requirements. According to Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom’s opening address at Meetings Africa 2015, South Africa has already secured 177 major international association meetings for the next five years – thereby attracting a quarter of a million delegates with an estimated economic impact of R3,5 billion.

Greening your event should not only reduce the negative environmental impact, but should also leave a positive and lasting legacy for the local community. The following are some of the positive benefits for the organisers, participants, service providers and the local community that should be considered:

Cost savings:
Conserving energy, reducing waste, purchasing local products, and simply consuming less can save money.

Positive reputation:
A green event is a very visible demonstration of your client’s commitment to sustainability, and your support of global actions against the negative influence of global warming. This also increases the marketing value of your organisation.

Environmental innovation:
Greening efforts promote innovative technologies and techniques, which help us to use resources more efficiently.

Raising awareness:
Each event offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness among participants, staff, service providers and the local community about the benefits of sustainable living, and enhances environmental best practice in the region.

Social benefits:
If planned and implemented carefully, the event could benefit the local region through creating jobs, selecting regional suppliers, promoting better working conditions and acting as a catalyst for social improvement.

Influencing decision-making:
By sharing standards, and introducing new ways of behaviour, other organisations could be motivated to introduce environmental and social improvements in their events as well.

Return on investment:
By pursuing greening, you will not only reduce costs, but also increase strategic opportunities.

Yellow wood tree seedlings being propagated at Spier Wine Farm to offset the carbon footprint of conferences hosted at their venues.
Yellow wood tree seedlings being propagated at Spier Wine Farm to offset the carbon footprint of conferences hosted at their venues.

Before you decide on the extent of greening your event, you need to consider the following:

How green do you want to go?
If it is the first time you are doing it, implement a few basic principles that are effective, and improve on these over time. Set goals so that you know what you are aiming for.

Does your team know what to do?
Take time to explain what you are doing, and why you are doing it, so that they can actively participate in the greening process. It should not be a once-off, but a mind shift.

Who are the key role players in the greening of your event?
Consider how you can bring your clients, sponsors and service providers on board to assist you with your greening efforts.

Who is your target audience? What would their level of understanding and expectations be?
International events will have to be more pro-active in implementing event-greening practices.

How do you inform delegates about the event greening?
You need to explain what you are doing, and encourage delegates to actively participate where possible. They can contribute to your greening efforts if you provide a multi-bin system for waste separation at source, or if you assist delegates to offset their carbon emissions for attending the event.

How will you measure your success?
If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. Get a few practical targets that you can aim for, and benchmark them against other events. Build on existing resources, and focus on activities that are achievable. Your goals need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely).

Spier Wine Farm's vlei and reed beds recycle 'grey' waste water for re-use in farm irrigation.
Spier Wine Farm’s vlei and reed beds recycle ‘grey’ waste water for re-use in farm irrigation.

Green Venue Check List

Accommodation establishments make heavy demands on natural resources (water and energy), and create large amounts of waste on a daily basis. With the proper policies and practices in place, it is possible to reduce these demands considerably. The National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism (SANS 1162:2011) was published by the SABS on 31 March 2011. This standard establishes specific minimum requirements for the performance of organisations in the tourism sector in relation to sustainability, and enables an organisation to formulate a policy and objectives, which take into account legal requirements and information pertaining to the impact of these requirements. When considering a venue or accommodation establishment, similar considerations need to be taken into account.

By way of example, I’ve used the Spier Wine Farm to tick-off against the following check list:

Environmental Policy.
Does the venue have one? This should ideally be displayed at their entrance, and should be easily accessible?

Environmental Management System (EMS).
Does the venue have any recognized environmental rating?

Eco-procurement policy.
Does this give preference to environmentally friendly and locally sourced goods and services?

Waste Management.
Check on status and availability as well as who manages this, or whether this has to be factored in as an extra cost for your event.

Recycling Programme.
Does the venue have one?
• Check for major waste streams, such as glass, tin, plastic, paper and organic waste. If they do, ask for more details about how this works, and who is responsible to ensure that the waste is recycled and not sent to a landfill site.
• Check whether they (or their sub-contractor) will be able to provide waste separation at source, on-site or off-site, that will comply with the anticipated waste streams of your event.
• Check whether they (or their sub-contractor) will be able to provide you with statistics on the type, volume and weight of the recycled waste and sent to a landfill site.
• Encourage a multi-bin system at source to reduce contamination of waste. Note that venues often have a system in place for their own affairs, but not for events hosted at their venue.

Air Conditioning.
Can the venue give you the option of using natural ventilation? Not only is this is energy efficient, but usually also pleasant for the delegates as opposed to sitting in a cold, stuffy venue. If possible, the use of air conditioning should be kept to a minimum, and should be set according to seasonal demand.

Do the main access areas have energy-efficient lighting, such as CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) or LEDs (light-emitting diodes)? Ask whether it is possible to dim lights (50%) during build-up and breakdown days, and still comply with safety regulations.

Can the venue provide you with energy from renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind or RECs?

Water Efficiency.
Are all toilets and taps water efficient? e.g. are toilets fitted with a dual-flush device, interruptible flush system, small cistern or displacement device, or set optimally in the case of flushmaster systems.

Environmental Training.
Do staff members receive environmental training? If so, enquire about details to determine the level of understanding and support that you could expect from staff members around greening issues.

Is the venue within safe walking or cycling distance to accommodation, shops, entertainment areas, etc? If so, this will contribute to reducing the carbon footprint impact on your eco-conference. At the very least, is the venue close to public transport connections?

Corporate Social Investment (CSI).
Does the venue have a CSI programme in place? If so, ask for details to see how they support their local community, and promote local economic development. You might even be able to contribute to their CSI programme through your event.

Does the venue use biodegradable and/or non-toxic cleaning chemicals?

Can the venue provide refillable jugs of water instead of plastic bottles of water for delegates? Also check whether they can provide glasses instead of disposable cups at water coolers in the venue.

Food and Beverages.
Can the venue provide Green choices? These choices may include:
Local, seasonal and organic:
Menus that reflect locally sourced seasonal produce. Out-of-season items are usually grown in hot houses, or have to be flown in – both resulting in high carbon emissions. Organic food is a good choice, because it is grown without any pesticides, artificial fertilisers or genetic modification.
• Responsible green suppliers:
If using an outside caterer, set a specific percentage of items that have to be local, fair-trade or organic.
Fair trade:
International rating systems provide credibility, and ensure that the benefits (premium paid on the product) actually reach the beneficiaries.
• Food miles:
Refers to the distance that food has travelled from field to plate – it is best to eat food with low food miles, because it would be fresher, and would have a smaller carbon footprint.
• Less meat:
Offer vegetarian meal options, and where possible, minimise the quantity of red meat offered. Meat production accounts for considerably more carbon emissions compared to non-meat products.
Healthy choices:
Provide healthier options, such as seasonal fruit platters, at teatime, and ensure that other main meals automatically include low-GI (glycaemic index) and low-fat food choices. These have the added benefit of regulating delegates’ energy and concentration levels.
Marine conservation:
If fish or seafood in on the menu, ensure that these are sourced from sustainable marine resources. Check the fish species status at for endangered species information.
Leftover food:
Try to establish the exact number of delegates to avoid wastage. Arrange with a local charity organisation to collect leftover food, such as FoodBank
• Cutlery and crockery:
Avoid the use of disposable items, as these mostly end up on a landfill site.
• Buy bulk, and re-use:
Provide beverages in bulk, i.e. fruit juice and fresh water on tables, instead of separate juice boxes and water bottles. Avoid single-use containers, such as sugar sachets, but rather provide a sugar dispenser. Avoid unnecessary disposable items, such as plastic straws and plastic coffee stirrers.

Staff at the Spier Wine Farm waste separation and recycling plant.
Staff at the Spier Wine Farm waste separation and recycling plant.

More resources on the subject of Eco-Confererncing can be found at:

Spier Wine Farm:
Event Greening Forum:
Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa:
Forest Stewardship Council:
Green Building Council of South Africa:
Heritage SA:
South African Bureau of Standards:
Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative:
Energy Star:


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