SB’16 San Diego: Insights from Waste Management on What it Takes to Achieve a Zero-Waste Event

Sustainable Brands (SB) has had a long-standing commitment to reducing environmental impact, sharing their knowledge, and making a positive mark on their host communities. For the third year in a row, Waste Management (WM) Sustainability Services has had the pleasure to support Sustainable Brands’ goals and achievements as their Official Zero Waste Sponsor. During those three years, Sustainable Brands has established the goal of zero waste (90% diversion from landfill) pretty impressive considering the synergies needed between the existing venue operations, activation hub sponsors, a climbing attendee base, and volunteers.

Events like the Sustainable Brands San Diego conference stand out as an incredible platform to reach people in profound ways. Their session content is innovative and inspiring. They are deeply committed to ensure that their operations embody the values of their forward-thinking conference content.


So what really goes on to make an event zero waste?


Policy Development and Vendor and Sponsor Management

To properly handle the waste diversion program, WM provides SB with a ‘Requirements for Acceptable Materials’ document for all conference stakeholders involved – the SB team, the Paradise Point Resort and Spa (PP), sponsors, vendors, and attendees. It is essential to reach everyone to evolve the conference culture towards thoughtful materials management. The Requirements document actually started as guidance, but SB moved to include these expectations in all contracts to ensure that every organization involved only utilizes materials that can be recycled, composted, or donated. This policy also compels SB conference sponsors and vendors to only give away products exhibiting sustainability characteristics. To reinforce these material expectations with attendees, WM works with SB to expand diversion messaging pre-conference and at the event, and publicly reporting the results afterwards.


Program Implementation and Diversion Sorting Operations

Months before the San Diego conference, WM begins coordinating with SB and PP on bins, signage, and material collection operations. This provides an opportunity for SB to make a property-wide impact through the conference. All guest rooms and public containers are included in the diversion calculation, even though SB does not occupy all of these spaces. WM provides wheeled bins to capture materials across the property and PP adapts their operations to accommodate.


Volunteer Engagement

For other events, WM’s recruitment and management of volunteers typically requires a significant time commitment. SB and WM are incredibly lucky to have a partner like the 1:1 Movement. With training and some assistance from WM, the 1:1 Movement volunteers sort through as much material as possible and track all conference-generated material weights as well. And they do this with a smile. It is fun to see the reactions from new volunteers as they encounter the odd variety of materials that turn up in the property’s waste streams.


Comprehensive Reporting and Recommendations

To improve operations every year, WM provides SB with recommendations for the future and insight on selecting new conference venues. People are often surprised when WM offers to provide analysis and suggestions about event energy efficiency, water conservation and greenhouse gas emissions. This elevated understanding of all event inputs and outputs creates deeper insight into the conference’s operations and provides language to share this valuable work with the public.


Lessons to design your event, product, and operations with sustainability in mind

  1. Know where you are going will get you on the right path. Sounds simple, but many organizations fall short of their sustainability goals because they are not defined up front. Consider the various stakeholders and their different level of commitment. Know that sustainability is a journey and well-developed, clear organizational goals will guide the way.
  2. It takes a village – and a plan for every villager. Acknowledge and have a plan to communicate and train all of your stakeholders, whether it be your raw material manufacturers, product and packaging manufacturers, vendors, designers, customers, or influencers. Ultimately, everyone must work in concert towards the established sustainability goals, each contributing efforts around their area of influence. Help them define what those efforts should be.
  3. Record what happens. Metrics will tell you when you have reached different goals. More importantly, they allow you to establish a benchmark from which you can learn, adjust, revise and improve. Organizations are expected to be transparent in reporting their environmental performance. Consider using an interactive dashboard that can aggregate and repackage raw data from multiple sources into useful insights to help you make strategic environmental and business decisions.
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